Kellie Pickler Thrives on Dancing With the Stars

Despite Her American Idol Past, She Doesn't Consider Herself Competitive

For Kellie Pickler, Dancing With the Stars has a family connection. And even though she had to turn down previous invitations to join the cast, this time the timing is perfect.

“I think my Grandpa Ken is more excited than anybody because it’s his favorite show,” Pickler tells CMT Hot 20 Countdown segment producer Tim Hardiman. “When he heard that I was asked to do it again, he said that if I didn’t do it, then I wasn’t his favorite granddaughter. And I’m his only grandchild, so he’s stuck with me. He has to like me. I can’t let Grandpa Ken down.”

The upbeat singer is teamed with dance partner Derek Hough this season, and she has already earned raves for her dancing skills. She’s shy about her own natural talent, though.

“I’ve always wanted to do the show. I don’t know why — because I can’t dance,” she says. “Hopefully, the whole purpose of the show is to step outside of your comfort zone and learn to dance, learn something new. So I’m really excited.”

CMT: What are you most nervous about and what are you most looking forward to?

Pickler: I think the thing I am most nervous about is, it’s always scary when you are stepping outside of your comfort zone. I think the hard part is not only learning the technique. That’s going to be very difficult because it is very different than anything I’ve ever done before. I think one of the biggest challenges is going to be juggling learning all these dances, rehearsing, doing the show, and at the same time I’m recording an album and I have tour dates. So it’s going be exhausting, I know. I’m really going to have to take care of myself because I have a lot on my plate right now. So I’ve gotta try to eat it all. But I’m really excited. And it’ll be fun going from the recording studio to the dance studio. And it’ll be fun trying to juggle both. I have to. I ain’t got a choice now. Too late to back out.

Do you think those people who didn’t get to see you and your personality on American Idol will get to see you on Dancing With the Stars and become familiar with your music?

I think so. A lot of people have been comparing the two shows. The thing is, American Idol is so different than Dancing With the Stars because they’re two totally different competitions. Idol is about singing, and everyone that gets in line with that show thinks hopefully that American Idol will launch their career. And I was so blessed to be a part of Idol, and I love the crew and everybody I got to work with on the show. They were so good to me.

But Dancing With the Stars is a whole different thing because that’s just not what I do! (laughs) I’m a country singer. I’m not a dancer, by any means. I think the only thing they have in common is the voting process. The fans are involved, which is really cool because they get to see you grow each week. Just like on Idol, they get to see you grow each week. And they are very much a part of your success, and they determine how far you make it. It’s really neat in that aspect. It’s similar, but it’s very different.

Do you think you’ll get to perform on the show?

I would love to. … Maybe for the finale they would let Wynonna and me get out there and sing. That would be fun, together. Or maybe next season, we could go back and sing. That would be a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to sing on the show. I’ve not had the opportunity to do that yet, but I’m hoping that’ll be next.

You are starting a new chapter in your music career. A new album and a new record label. Is that kind of bittersweet since your last album was so critically acclaimed?

Well, I’m so happy about the last album. I was blown away by the reviews. I could not believe it when I found out that Rolling Stone and Billboard picked it as the best country record of 2012. … I was doing a little happy dance because I worked so hard on that record and so did everyone that was involved in that project. We all worked really hard to make that album come to life and make it possible, and it just showed that the hard work paid off.

I’m so pleased with it, and I love country music. That’s the only type of music that I want to do. It’s where I belong. This is where I belong. … Country music and Nashville, Music City — I want this to always be my home. This is my sanctuary, I guess you could say. I’m very happy with how the record came out, and I’m even more excited about working on the new album. Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten, who produced the last album, 100 Proof, are producing this one, as well. We’ve got a lot of the same musicians that played on that record that are playing on this record, as well. I mean, it’s just Kellie country. I think everyone’s definition of country music is different, and I think there’s room for all of it. So I hope there’s at least a little bit of room for me, a little bit of Kellie country, but we’ll see.