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Q&A with country singer Kellie Pickler

Kellie Pickler It didn't matter that now 22-year-old Kellie Pickler came in sixth place during the fifth season of "American Idol." Immediately following her loss, the young girl from North Carolina signed with BNA Records, and her debut CD "Small Town Girl" was released in October 2006. It quickly went gold, selling more than 650,000 copies in the United States alone, producing three top-40 singles.

Born in Albemarle, N.C., the singer-songwriter credits her personal heartaches, tough times and the grandmother who raised her for her accomplishments and recording success. Her personal hardships include a mother who abandoned her and a father who has never really been a major part of her life. In fact, he served a 3-year, 9-month prison sentence in Florida and was released a week after Pickler's elimination from "Idol," the same day she returned to her hometown for a parade and reunion with her dad.

In 2006, her first hit single, "Red High Heels," was nominated for "Breakthrough Video of the Year" at the CMT Music Awards, and she was later nominated for "Top New Female Vocalist" by the Academy of Country Music Awards. She went on tour as the opening act for Brad Paisley in August 2007 and landed in the Bahamas for a live performance on "Live with Regis and Kelly."

Pickler is going on tour with close friend and singer Taylor Swift this month. But through all the disappointment and defeats, accolades and accomplishments, the country music sensation says she has remained true to herself.

Bankrate: What was your first paying job?

Kellie Pickler: I was a waitress at 16 at the local Sonic.

Bankrate: When was the first time you sang professionally?

Kellie Pickler: Probably after "American Idol." But I remember singing in church all the time. I sang on stage when I was about 15. That was at a festival in my hometown and it was "Independence Day" by Martina McBride.

Bankrate: How does your new single, "Don't You Know, You're Beautiful," compare to the music on your debut CD, "Small Town Girl"?

Kellie Pickler: A lot has happened in the past two years. My new album is more current in the Kellie Pickler world. I've just been in different relationships, had people come in and out of my life, figured out who I am ... I was 19 when I auditioned for "American Idol" and I'm 22 now, so I'm crossing over into womanhood.

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Bankrate: Who is Kellie Pickler today?

Kellie Pickler: Who am I? I've found that everything I've been through and every obstacle that I've had to overcome, that I'm just allowing all that to make me a strong woman. I'm starting to feel like a strong individual and now accepting who I am. I'm happy with who I see when I look in the mirror.

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