Kellie Pickler Shares Her Secret to Keep From Going Crazy

Former American Idol Finalist Releases New Album and Joins Sugarland Tour

Kellie Pickler first made a name for herself on American Idol, but she firmly insists that there are no more reality shows in her future.

“I’ve been offered so many reality shows just to have people follow me around,” she tells CMT.com. “I don’t see why anybody would want to follow me around all day because I’m really not that interesting. I told my manager, ‘I can’t do it. It’d be like ‘bleep bleep.’ They wouldn’t be able to show anything. It’d be like a whole television show of nothing. It would be muted the whole way. There would be no talking, and I’d probably get committed into some home. … They’d probably take me away to some psychiatric ward because I’m nuts. But, yeah, I can’t have one unless they have it on, like, HBO at night.”

Instead, the 22-year-old native of Albemarle, N.C., is promoting her new, self-titled album by touring as an opening act for Sugarland‘s Love on the Inside tour. She introduced herself to lead singer Jennifer Nettles during a dress rehearsal for an awards show, and Nettles immediately replied, “I just love you, Kellie Pickler!”

Nettles is not alone. Pickler’s heartfelt video for “I Wonder” won three fan-voted CMT Music Awards in April — the most of any artist that night. In the poignant song, taken from her 2006 debut album, Small Town Girl, a daughter comes to terms with being abandoned by her mother. Pickler, raised by her grandparents, co-wrote the song based on her own experiences and she still tears up when she sings it live. She admits that she has a hard time drawing a line between her work and her personal life. Breakup songs in particular — both lighthearted and devastating — permeate her second album.

“They always say you should leave your bags at the door and pick them up on your way out, and I totally agree,” she says. “But in my case, I can’t do that. My bags are my songs. ‘I Wonder’ — that’s a bag that I have to carry with me every time I go onstage. It’s really hard to draw that line between my private, personal life and my music because I don’t know how to sing about anything that I don’t believe in. I can’t. I’ve had hundreds of songs that have been pitched to me that the label thought, ‘This is Kellie Pickler. She needs to cut this song.’ And I hear it and I’m like, ‘There is no way I’m gonna sing this song. It is not me.’

“I just feel like it’s important to carry out the tradition of country music — and that is keeping it real,” she continues. “You know, you can’t listen to a Dolly [Parton] record and not feel like you’re getting to know her, because her music is real. So I really want to convey who I am in my music, as well.”

She catches herself rambling and quickly asks, “Does that make any sense at all? It’s really hard to draw that dividing line and separate anything. It’s kind of one big chunk. One big mess, one hot mess.”

One of Pickler’s best friends, Taylor Swift, insisted that they write a song together after Pickler couldn’t seem to get past a rocky breakup. The resulting song, “The Best Days of Your Life,” taught her the value in writing things down — and then letting them go.

“I strongly encourage anyone who’s going through any kind of heartache or loss — or maybe they’re happy and they’re just so excited and they want to get it out — the best thing to do is to write it down,” she says. “You know, talking’s great, but actually writing it down on paper is so therapeutic, and it’s a way of releasing things and throwing it out there and getting it out. Because my mind is so crazy, I’m really so ADD. I’m all over the place all the time, I really am, and I am constantly going in 40 different directions nonstop all the time. It literally keeps me up. I didn’t go to bed until 5 a.m. this morning. I lay in bed, and a lot of times, I just have to get something and write. I have pens and paper everywhere I go, and I just write all the time, just write stuff down, just to get it out so I’ll shut up and stop thinking about it. But I encourage that for anyone that’s crazy — if they are crazy like me.”

Everybody’s had a good laugh about Pickler’s TV antics, like when she didn’t know what calamari was or how to pronounce “salmon” or that there was a European country called Hungary. (“I’ve heard of Turkey, but Hungary?”) But off-camera, she’s fired several members of her management team, making these serious decisions when she was just 20 years old.

“I don’t think I realized the kind of responsibility I was signing up for, and it’s so crucial that I do play a number amount of shows a year, and I do make the right career choices,” she says. “That’s where it’s so important to have a great manager that’s going to help you make the best career choices, long term. Because it’s all about the long term, not the sprint. What might seem like a wonderful opportunity today, 10 years down the road, you might come back and think, ‘Wow, I shouldn’t have done that.’”

Asked if people underestimate her because of her public persona, she says, “Yeah, and I think that’s good. I think it’s great because I’m like a snake. I like to sneak around and they don’t know, they don’t expect it, and then I bite their ass. … It’s so funny because people watch a five-minute clip of me on TV and they think they know me. I’m like, ‘You do not know me. I’m crazy. There’s so much more to me than that.’ But it’s probably a good thing they don’t see.”

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.