Kellie Pickler’s Chihuahua is barking. Traces of the sound interrupt our recent phone interview with Pickler from her home in Nashville. It’s something many entertainers would dismiss as background noise, but Pickler cheerily enters a tangent about how the adopted dog has fared in dealing with her cat.
The discussion is brief, but it reflects a relatability beyond talent that drew fans to the Albemarle, N.C., native during her fifth-season “American Idol” run, as well as her post-“Idol” fame.
Early on in “Idol,” Pickler marked the antithesis to a growing trend of polished, camera-trained reality stars.
She was a small-town girl who mispronounced “salmon” and stated on national TV that fake eyelashes felt like tarantulas on her face.
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And then there was the more serious stuff. Raised by her grandparents, Pickler was abandoned by her mother and saw her father go to prison.
“I Wonder,” a single from Pickler’s first album, is devoted to her relationship with her mother. While performing the song at the 2007 Country Music Association Awards, Pickler became emotional, tearing up toward the performance’s end.
The moment showed the humanness that in Pickler’s fame has been just as notable as catchy lyrics and danceable rhythms. “My life has been kind of an open book,” she says.
Monday, Pickler will help host the “CMA Music Festival” on ABC, a country music extravaganza featuring heavy-hitters like Faith Hill, Alan Jackson and Rascal Flatts. “It’s such an incredible, incredible night in Nashville,” Pickler says. She’s joined by co-hosts Taylor Swift and Julianne Hough. She and fellow country star Swift were already friends going into the experience. In fact, the duo wrote a song together for Pickler’s second album, slated for a Sept. 30 release. Hough, meanwhile, entered the country music scene after earning fans while appearing as a professional ballroom dancer on “Dancing with the Stars.” Pickler confirms she was offered a spot as one show’s celebrity competitors, but had to turn it down because of her touring schedule. “I really hope they ask me again,” she says. “I would love to do it in the future.” It’s not her only brush with TV since placing sixth on “Idol” in 2006. As a contestant on the Fox game show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” she appeared mystified at the fact that Hungary is a country. With Budapest as its capital.
She jokes about the experience now, even in news releases, where she cites the knowledge among things she’s learned since releasing her first album.
“Fifth Grader” didn’t turn her off to game shows, either. She tells us she’d love to appear on game show staple “Wheel of Fortune,” a show she watched while growing up.
A guest spot on “Family Feud” wouldn’t be bad either, she adds.In with the new
It’s been nearly two years since Pickler released her first disc, “Small Town Girl,” which sold almost 800,000 copies.
The album generated hits like “Red High Heels,” “I Wonder” and “Things That Never Cross a Man’s Mind.”
Her upcoming sophomore effort, titled “Kellie Pickler,” reflects the many experiences she’s had since entering the music scene, Pickler says.
“I’m really excited about getting some new stuff out,” she says.
But with that new stuff are memories of Pickler’s early fame. The nights when she bantered with “Idol” judge Simon Cowell and perplexedly asked what he meant when he called her a minx.
She doesn’t go back to those clips — “I hate watching myself,” she says — but still praises the “Idol” panel and even the recent addition of a fourth “Idol” judge.
Pickler, apparently, has adjusted to life in the big town.
Once a skeptic of things like salmon and calamari, she can’t name any foods that have appeared foreign to her recently.
This is a girl critics once dismissed as an aspiring Jessica Simpson. Divided “Idol” viewers questioned whether her naivete was real, or all part of an act to gain fans.
And while conspiracy theorists may still ponder the real Pickler, this much seems to be true: After albums, performances and TV appearances, she’s still just a grown-up, small-town girl who still likes to play with her pets.