(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 hosts CMT's Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at CMT.com.)
CMT's Southern Fried Flicks is never more fun than when Kellie Pickler drops by. The Albemarle, N.C., beauty is completing her third album with producer Frank Liddell, husband of Lee Ann Womack. Liddell is spreading his production from Miranda Lambert to the Pistol Annies and Kellie.
Kellie, one of the most available ladies in Nashville, hauled off and got married to songwriter Kyle Jacobs on New Year's Day. The girl couldn't help it. She was on the Caribbean island of Antigua, and it was so beautiful, she just had to say, "I do!"
She's been busy writing songs and finishing up a new album she hopes to release by December. Plus, she's been hard at work doing concerts from shore to shining shore.
"Ms. Hazel, I've been working everywhere!" Kellie said as she chowed down on her vegetarian lasagna. Yes, she's a vegetarian. Will wonders never cease!
She and Kyle reside in the Green Hills section of Nashville in the house she purchased last year. I was thrilled when I saw the picture of Kellie's home. Friends, it is very definitely a giant step from the trailer she was raised in back in Albemarle. As a matter of fact, her grandpa got rid of that trailer when he moved down on the Carolina coast to fish and enjoy life.
Kellie was a runner-up on American Idol and, no doubt, is one of the most beloved contestants to ever perform on that show. She still pronounces calamari as "calamerry" as she did on Idol, and she has yet to lose her accent. She still speaks with that Carolina drawl like all our kin and friends back home in Carolina.
For the past few years, Kellie has been a part of the USO tours, going to far-off places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran. Many friends accompany her on her journeys to entertain the troops -- folks like Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser and Kid Rock, among others, who fly the American flag with pride.
"I will always support our troops," she told me. She has the word "pray" tattooed inside her right wrist to remind her to be ever aware of those serving our country.
I'm really proud of Kellie -- her streamline figure, her chic coiffure and her love of her fans. She's very proud of the fact that she's mostly performing as a headliner these days. She has a six-piece band that travels in one bus, and she travels in the other, which means Mrs. Kellie Pickler is now a two-bus act.
"Does Kyle travel with you?" I asked.
"Yes," she said with her brown eyes shining. "I like it when he travels with me!"
She admitted to me that she lost weight after she became a vegetarian. She drinks lots of water, eats no meats, considers herself to be perfectly healthy and is happier than she's ever been.
Kellie still isn't focused on cooking and all that goes with the kitchen, but she does enjoy eating healthy foods. She also enjoys songwriting and songwriters. She became very close to Leslie Satcher, who penned her current single, "Tough." Leslie wrote the song after meeting Kellie for the first time and hearing her story about growing up in a trailer park.
Kellie and Kyle have co-written a song for the new album. She smiled with pride and said, "I wrote or co-wrote five songs on this project."
George Jones' 80th Birthday Celebration
Let it be known George Jones has been my favorite singer for my entire life, and "He Stopped Loving Her Today" has been my favorite song ever since I first heard it on my car radio and had to pull off the interstate and weep.
George celebrated his 80th birthday on Tuesday (Sept. 13) even though his birthday was the day before. The party started at Rippy's, a restaurant and bar in downtown Nashville. Stars and friends such as Travis Tritt, Joe Diffie, T.G. Sheppard and the Kentucky Headhunters were all there for the celebration. And the Possum said he was drinking water -- spring water. He also admitted that his beautiful wife Nancy is one reason he's still alive today.
"Nancy and God," he said.
Born in Texas, Jones began singing on the street as a kid and hasn't stopped since. Departing Rippy's, he headed to the Grand Ole Opry House for the Tuesday night Opry where friends like Jamey Johnson, Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack welcomed him and Nancy.
It was another George Jones party that will never be forgotten. He's one of a kind, and I'm proud to say he and Nancy are friends of mine. I'm so thankful she helped him through the good times and bad. The woman is no doubt an angel.
Dolly Parton, Superstar
One of the biggest international stars is the great Dolly Parton. Some 29,000 fans saw her perform at the Hollywood Bowl. Another 35,000-plus filled the 02 Arena in London. Everywhere she played in Europe was sold out during her recent tour. She'll perform at the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday (Sept. 25).
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Fudge Pie.