HOT DISH: Kellie Pickler Is a Superstar in the Making

What You See Is What You Get With Former American Idol Contestant

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

On Friday, Jan. 19, Kellie Pickler was co-hosting ABC-TV’s The View in New York. The next Friday, she was in my kitchen in Tennessee.

I just naturally love Kellie Pickler. As my daughter-in-law, Sharon Collie Smith, observed, “She talks just like your grandnieces.” When Kellie speaks, I hear the sounds of home. She remains exactly the same person I saw on American Idol in the auditions in Greensboro, N.C., and when she performed in competition on the show from Los Angeles. Like Earl Scruggs, Randy Travis and Charlie Daniels and yours truly, we are what we are — and are the same people we have always been. Like Kellie, we are North Carolina proud.

There was a song titled “Country Girl” that went, “I’d be the same in Hollywood/Right in my own kitchen/I believe in fussing when I’m mad/And scratching when I’m itching.” That describes Kellie Pickler verbatim. What you see is what you get.

Photos don’t do Kellie justice. At age 20, she is the most beautiful female singer in all of country music. You can quote me on that.

When Kellie came to my house to tape CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith, I learned she has more than a country attitude. Being from the same part of the country, I knew what Kellie, more than likely, enjoyed eating, so I floured and fried up some tenderloin and made a pot of pinto beans, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, cornbread and fudge pie. And did that girl smack her lips. I think she said she had three helpings of mac and cheese and three slices of fudge pie, and she kept on eating pinto beans.

Kellie said she has a new stove she’s never used because she can’t cook. She’s made instant oatmeal a couple times in her microwave.

I told Kellie to her face that she is like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. Like those two legends, when Kellie opens her mouth to sing, the truth comes out. Kellie’s eyes got all teary when she heard me say that. She’s dying to meet Dolly, her all-time hero.

Kellie Pickler is the real deal. Don’t forget to watch on Feb. 18 when she appears on CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith.

Fugitive’s Story Is Like a Country Song
No, you don’t know him, but here’s his unbelievable tale. We first met Christopher Gay via TV news after he escaped from a prisoner transport van in South Carolina while he was being taken from Texas to face charges in Georgia. After the escape, authorities say he stole a Wal-Mart truck in Manchester, Tenn., and drove to a community north of Nashville to visit his mama who is dying of cancer. With the law in hot pursuit, he drove within 50 yards of her home but abandoned the truck after miring down in a field. He managed to flee on foot into the woods evading officers.

An all-points bulletin with a photo was issued to other law enforcement agencies. His sister cried and talked about her sweet brother while being interviewed for TV news.

The plot thickened when news surfaced that Crystal Gayle’s blue Prevost tour bus was missing from the White’s Creek area near Nashville. Before long, Gay showed up behind the wheel of the bus at a race track in Lakeland, Fla. He told security guards he was there to pick up NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. The track’s manager knew Stewart hadn’t scheduled any such transportation, so he took down the tag number and called police. One call verified that Gay was driving Gayle’s bus.

The bus was finally recovered Jan. 26 after Gay was seen dropping off a prostitute in Daytona Beach, Fla.

In an interview, Gayle said she talked with her sister, Loretta Lynn, about the incident and noted that Loretta was beside herself. It seems to me the sisters need to put music to this story and sing it, but singer-songwriter Tim O’Brien has already done it.

Bayers’ Birthday Surprise
Renowned Nashville session drummer Eddie Bayers was recently surprised with a birthday party hosted by wife Lane Brody at their Nashville residence, and all his friends were there. One of their neighbors, Dr. Bill Bacon, kept Bayers busy while the Bacon family assisted Brody with the surprise. When the doctor and Bayers returned, his house was filled with buddies such as Rodney Crowell, Steve Buckingham, Rob Crosby, Jason Bennett, Ilya and Melissa Toshinsky, Martin Clayton, Sara Ingram, Dr. Suzanne Franks and Terri and Jonathon Walker, as well as Music Row’s A-team of pickers, including Michael Rhodes, Brent Mason, John Hobbs, Paul Leim, Kerry Marx, Larry Paxton, Brent Maher and Kevin “Swine” Grant. “They pulled one over on me,” Eddie allowed to me.

More News
It comes as no surprise, Jewel admitted to pop journalist Marilyn Beck she is gearing up for her first country album. The co-host of Nashville Star says she’s been writing country songs since she was 16.

Meanwhile, I hear that members of Bon Jovi have been hanging around Music Town and will release a country album with Dann Huff producing. Huff also serves as producer of Rascal Flatts and Faith Hill.

Look for Keith Urban on Today‘s concert on the plaza on Feb. 16.

According to a Harris Interactive survey, folks aged 8-18 are convinced Carrie Underwood will be the big winner Sunday (Feb. 11) at the Grammys.

Taylor Swift had to drop out of the New Faces Show at the upcoming Country Radio Seminar in Nashville because she’ll be performing with George Strait in Kansas City on March 2. Trent Tomlinson will fill Taylor’s spot. Other performers on the CRS show include Rodney Atkins, Eric Church, Jack Ingram and Miranda Lambert — an all-star list if I’ve ever seen one.

When Dierks Bentley performs on The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson on Feb. 12, he’ll be joined by the Grascals. They’ll do “Prodigal Son’s Prayer,” a song the group recorded with Bentley for his current album.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Squash Casserole.