Kellie Pickler didn’t win the title of American Idol this year, but the pride of Albemarle, N.C., is still getting a shot at country stardom. She’s on the charts with “Red High Heels,” and just a few aisles over from the shoe department is her debut album, Small Town Girl. Here, the ambitious singer answers questions from fans about finding her talent for writing, being called a ditsy blonde and the country star she’d be honored to sing for.
1. Since doing your American Idol tour, have you noticed yourself relaxing better and not freaking out when you go on stage?
No. (laughs) I’m not necessarily relaxing more, but I am having a lot of fun. I think every time you’re on stage, it prepares you for the next time that you’re on stage. The more you perform and get out there, I guess the more practice you have at it and the better you are and the more comfortable you are on stage.
2. Do you think your being in pageants helped you at American Idol?
I don’t know because I never really was a pageant person. I just did them for a year. I think I’ve done four or five pageants total because I just wanted to sing. Living in a small [town] like Albemarle, there are not many opportunities that come along — or any at that — to showcase your talents. I just enrolled in the pageants to do the singing parts. I had no idea. The other phases of the competition — swimsuit, interviews, evening wear — I didn’t know what I was doing when I was doing those. I think I was as shocked as everybody else when I won. (laughs)
3. How close were you to not auditioning for American Idol?
My grandpa and I went to Greensboro, N.C., together for the audition. There were like between 8,500 and 10,000 people there at the coliseum. I’m not going to lie. We sat down and everyone around us was doing vocal warm-ups and practicing their song. And I was really intimidated. Not just a little intimidated. I was very intimidated by everyone around me. And I looked at my grandpa and I stood up and said, “Come on, Grandpa, let’s go. There’s no way in the world they’re going to give me a second look!” And he said, “Kellie, what have you got to lose?” And I said, “You know what? Nothing. All I have to lose is that job at Sonic, so I’m just going to stay and wait it out.” And thank God I did because look at what I would have missed out on. So, you should never doubt yourself because you never, ever know what’s around the corner.
4. If you could choose anyone in country music to tour with, who would it be?
Dolly Parton. I am the biggest Dolly Parton fan. I love her songwriting. Her songs are just the most incredible songs out there. She’s a great singer, a great performer. She can act. She’s the whole package, and the personality is the icing on the cake. I think she’s great, and I can only hope to follow in her footsteps.
5. Who would you most like to surprise you by appearing at one of your concerts?
Dolly Parton! (laughs) I just really admire her as a person. I think it’s great that someone like her who has had to overcome family obstacles like she has — life obstacles that she has overcome — still walks around with a smile on her face. I think she’s such a pleasant person. I admire her as a person and her career. I would be very honored to think she would sit in the audience and listen to me sing!
6. Do you play a musical instrument?
I can’t read music. It’s really weird. I can play piano a little bit by ear, but I can’t read music. Bucky [Covington, another Idol contestant] was trying to teach me guitar on the tour this summer. Ah, let’s just say it was not going so well. Maybe I’ll take some lessons and get better at it.
7. Based on your life experience, have you considered or are you writing some original song lyrics?
Yeah. I co-wrote five of the songs on the album. The single, “Red High Heels,” I co-wrote that. I think songwriting is a talent I discovered when I was out on the road with American Idol. I had never really written songs before. I was on the road. I don’t know if that’s what inspired me. I got hooked up with a great songwriter here in Nashville, Aimee Mayo. She’s written a lot of great hits for Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Martina McBride. She’s just great. She and I got together. We sat on the phone, I don’t know how many mornings, until like four o’clock in the morning, just writing. She was great. It’s a talent that I just discovered in myself. It feels good to know that I’m getting that intimate with the songs, so the people who listen to them can feel like they’re getting to know me more on a personal level. It makes the songs more personal.
8. Will there ever be any dance remixes of your songs, or would you ever consider remixing for dance music fans?
Absolutely. There are so many different music genres and different styles of music, you can’t really confine yourself to one thing. I’m very open and optimistic. I like to try new things. Absolutely.
9. Are you planning to dance in any of your future music videos?
Oh, yeah! This girl’s gonna break it down one day in a music video! Absolutely.
10. Are you worried that you may be typecast as a ditsy blonde, and would it affect your career either way?
With the ditsy blonde comments, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself naïve. I think I’m very intelligent. I think I’m very smart. People tend to forget that I was 19 when I was on American Idol. I was from a small town. I had never eaten calamari before, and I didn’t know what it was. It’s not about being dumb or stupid. It’s just that I didn’t know. … I’d never flown before. I’d never been in an airport. I had no idea what I was doing when I got there.
People forget that American Idol is a television show, and just like any other television, they’re going to highlight certain points, and that was something I felt they highlighted. I don’t think I’m dumb at all. I think I’m very smart. … I don’t like to say anyone’s stupid. I would be easily taken advantage of in this industry if I was not somewhat intelligent. I consider myself a very smart businesswoman. Of course, there are going to be things I don’t know, and a lot of times I tend to say things before I think about it. I’m very guilty of that. I let the negative comments like that go in one ear and out the other because you have to keep positive in for positive to come out. Surround yourself with positive people and you’ll be a positive person.
11. I was just wondering if you think you will ever get into acting. Have you had any movie or TV offers yet?
TV and film is something I’ve always been interested in. Just making the music video for “Red High Heels” was probably the most fun I’ve had all year. It really made the song come to life. I was really myself, and it showcased my personality. I would love to get involved in TV and film. Right now, my main focus is on the album and getting this out here on the shelves and doing the singing part of Kellie’s career. Who knows what next year will bring? We’re going to look at all the offers and opportunities to come along.
12. Who can make you laugh very easily?
I laugh at about anything. Maybe myself? I know that sounds weird. I don’t talk to myself or anything, but sometimes I say things and I laugh at myself. Sometimes you have to make fun of yourself. It’s my friends usually. … Ellen DeGeneres. Oh, my gosh, love her. Adam Sandler, of course. He is so sweet. I met him at Jay Leno, and he was an absolute sweetheart. He’s hilarious. Dolly Parton makes me laugh, too. When you see her in interviews, she is a hoot. Anyone with a great personality. I laugh about anything. (starts laughing)
13. Your grandpa seems like he is very involved in your life and very supportive. Do you and he have a special bond?
Absolutely. My grandparents took me under their wing when I was younger. They raised me, and they did the best they could do to make sure that I had everything that I have. I’m very close to my grandpa, and I was very close to my grandmother.
14. What’s your idea of a fun date?
I’m a really cheap date. A cheeseburger — and I’m good to go. I love cheese, so like a cheddar cheeseburger, I’m really good. Or pizza. I like to go eat, and I like to go to the movies and get the popcorn — the buttered popcorn because it’s always better at the movies — and then go to Blockbuster and rent a movie and then go home and watch it. I’m just really weird, I guess you could say. I’m a little bit of a nerd. Am I the only person who does that?
15. Do you like scary movies?
That’s one thing people probably don’t know about me. I’m the biggest fan of horror movies and scary movies. I like bloody, gory, blood-and-guts flying everywhere. I love that kind of movie. Is that weird? You wouldn’t think that for me. I’ve always wanted to be in a scary movie. I would love to be the killer, like the villain. I know people would least suspect me to be the killer, not that I’ve ever killed anyone, or am going to.
16. Who is your favorite shoe designer?
I love … correct me if I’m wrong because I don’t know how to pronounce the brand — Christian Louboutin? That’s my favorite shoe designer. Steve Madden is great because it’s very affordable, and I like him, too. I like all shoes. Let’s see, who else. Stewart Weitzman! I love Stewart Weitzman! I wear Stewart Weitzman in the video. There’s a scene where I have to punt the football in these red stilettos, and my feet kept sinking into the ground. They’re all scuffed up and they were brand new, too. Sad. Bittersweet.
17. Do you have any pets? If you do, what breed and what are their names?
I have a dog back home named Comet. I don’t really know what he is. He’s a little bit of everything. And I have a dog here in Nashville that I don’t know how much longer I’ll have because she’s really getting on my nerves right now. She has soiled my carpet! Her name is Ellie and she’s a Maltese. She is supposed to be housebroken and she’s not. She is ruining my new carpet! … We’re going to see how long I can handle her being here.
18. Were you involved in sports when you were younger? What was your favorite?
I used to do gymnastics and dance. I consider those sports because you train for them. They train just as hard as you would for football. I would have loved to have been able to play football in high school because that’s my favorite sport. I love football.
19. Who is your favorite NASCAR driver?
Everyone asks me this! And you know what? I never say because NASCAR is a huge, huge sport in the South — actually nationwide and outside of the country. I never say, because you don’t mix religion or politics with your business or with your work. You don’t mix NASCAR either. I recently did an interview with a DJ who told me that it was a smart decision not to say who your favorite driver is because one time he was on the air and he was talking about who he was pulling for. And he got about 50 e-mails that day from people who used to listen to the radio but won’t listen to it anymore because he was a fan of so-and-so and said that he needs to be a fan of this other person. So I never say because I don’t want to get death threats in the mail.
20. You have found success and have yet to let any of that go to your head. Many of your fans (myself included) feel that you will never change. How do you plan on being the small-town girl while also being a country music star?
Before American Idol, I watched CMT or listened to the radio or saw these artists on television doing interviews and thought, “Gosh, I wonder what it would be like to be in their shoes. What would it be like to live the life of Dolly Parton or another country star?” And now I’ve seen both sides of the fence. I’ve been the person that saw it from the outside and thought, “Wow, I wonder what it’s like.” And now I am the person who’s finally living that dream, and I don’t feel any different. People say, “I wonder what Dolly Parton does for Christmas.” It’s the same. I don’t think you change as a person. You can never forget where you come from or who you are or what you stand for. I feel like I’ve been very grounded throughout the whole process. I still feel like the same girl that used to get up at 6 o’clock and go to Sonic and roller-skate burgers out. It’s just a different job, but I’m still the same person. We all put our pants on the same way. It’s not hard. It’s not hard to be yourself. It’s so much easier to be yourself than try to be someone you’re not. It’s really easy for me.