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.
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.
Bankrate: Now that you are famous, have you gone out and allowed yourself a big splurge?
Kellie Pickler: I’ve always been a big shoe person, so my splurges almost always involve shoes somehow. I don’t care what brand it is, as long as the heel is really high and they look good on my feet. I honestly don’t know how many shoes I have because half of them are still boxed up from when I moved to Nashville, but there are a lot … I don’t spend my money as freely as much as I did before. It’s so funny, when I go into a shoe department and see something I like, I remember I already have them in my closet. So it’s kind of taken the fun out of it.
Bankrate: You were raised by your grandmother and didn’t have a lot of material things in life. What was the first financial lesson that you had to learn the hard way?
Kellie Pickler: I have never been one to get in over my head when it comes to finances. I can’t stand the fact of not owning what I have, and I think that comes from my upbringing. I just think that you can’t spend what you don’t have. You can’t assume that you’re going to make a certain dollar amount, because you don’t know until you get that paycheck, especially in my business.
Bankrate: Have you invested or saved?
Kellie Pickler: Yeah I’ve saved, but I also spend a lot, too. I’m not a role model when it comes to spending your money wisely. I think I’m guilty like a lot of people of throwing money on so many things you don’t really need. It’s things you might really want, but you don’t really need.
Bankrate: What would you say are things you’ve noticed as you’ve gotten older?
Kellie Pickler: I think I’ve grown more mentally. They always say that wisdom comes with age but I don’t believe that. I believe that wisdom comes with experience, and I think I’ve experienced a lot in the last couple of years. As soon as I finished “Idol,” I was pretty much taking on the responsibility of a house. I employ people. I have a lot more responsibility than what most 19 year olds would have. For once, it was like it’s not about me; I have a team of people around me that I have to make sure are taken care of. If I don’t work, my band doesn’t get paid, (and) my manager and driver don’t get paid.
Bankrate: How do you combat stress?
Kellie Pickler: I write. I love to write and that’s probably the biggest stress-reliever for me. I just put it all down on paper. I write a song about it, and it helps me deal with anything that is causing me stress. My writing has definitely matured over the years. There is one song on my new CD called “I Just Want Somebody To Love Me” and I’m so proud of it. I think we all go through times in life where we’re all searching for that big acceptance, and we all want to be loved by someone. I went through the same stage that every other woman goes through.
Bankrate: It seems like you’ve had a big learning curve over the last year or so. Do you think Nashville looks at you differently and takes you more seriously?
Kellie Pickler: Yeah I do, especially since the CMAs. That was my first time ever performing at an awards show and in front of the Nashville music industry folks. I think I got off the track of being a dumb blonde, because they now know I do write my own material. I can say just a couple of things, and that image sticks with me forever. People will remember one bad thing before they remember 100 good things.
Bankrate: If you could meet an historical figure, who would it be?
Kellie Pickler: Goodness, I won’t get into politics. In the music world, how cool would it be to sit down and hang out with Elvis or The Beatles? That would be so cool. How ’bout Tammy Wynette? I would love to talk to those legendary singers. I think we’d have a lot in common.
Bankrate: “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful” has also received a lot of positive feedback from fans. How does that make you feel?
Kellie Pickler: Great, I’m in love with that song. You kind of think it’s talking about the beauty on the outside, but it’s not. It’s talking about the beauty of a person on the inside. When people think about beautiful, they think about the outward appearance. But what it’s talking about is capturing that inner beauty. In the first verse, it’s telling a little girl who’s looking through magazines and (who) wants what is in there that you shouldn’t put a value on who you are … it’s not on a price tag, but comes from within. Your heart is more beautiful than those designer jeans.