HOT DISH: Kellie Pickler Talks About Boyfriend, Fans and Country Music

Dierks Bentley, Reba McEntire and Hank Williams Jr. Are in the News

(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

I got the skinny from Kellie Pickler. First off, she is set to ring in 2009 in New York City with Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest, and is she excited! And she says she has a boyfriend -- songwriter Kyle Jacobs, a Minnesota native.

"He's really a great guy, but no sound of wedding bells." she laughed. "We wrote two songs for my self-titled album coming out Sept. 30. I co-wrote five of the songs. This album is so me. I was involved totally -- start to finish. My first album was done in such a hurry after American Idol, but we took time with this one." Her new producer is Chris Lindsey.

Kellie says she enjoys doing live television, including the CMA and ACM awards shows where she loves to look down at the faces of heroes like George Strait and Kenny Chesney smiling back at her. And she loves touring.

"Country music has the best fans in the world," she said. "Touring is the way to get in touch with the fans and to stay in touch with them."

A couple of weeks back, she got to spend a weekend in Albemarle, N.C., visiting family and friends. Kellie's crazy about her 8-year old brother. And she loves her grandpa who lives at the beach. "A real country guy, he loves fishing and privacy," she says.

Dolly Parton is still Kellie's No. 1 idol. After Dolly, she just loves classic country music such as Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. She doesn't watch much TV but does enjoy the Discovery Channel's Planet Earth, her chance to learn about the world.

We had a good 10-minute conversation about Jamey Johnson's new album. As it turns out, the one in her CD player is the same one in mine. We agreed that Jamey does not write one throw-away word in a song. Kellie says she tells fans on the road about Jamey and his songs.

Just starting a new tour with Sugarland and Ashton Shepherd, Kellie is looking forward to getting back on the road. In fact, she was on the bus heading out of Nashville when she called me. I love that little North Carolina-born Kellie.

"What are you driving these days?" I asked in closing.

"Aw, a big ole black SUV Escalade," she replied.

Now, that's a hillbilly!

More News for You

Thank God, Hurricane Ike has finally blown away. Like a lot of angry men before him, Ike left a path of debris and destruction. Sending prayers to survivors. Rebuild. Faith helps.

Back to the music, Brad Paisley captured No 1 with "Waitin' on a Woman," Kid Rock is in there boating with 2008's best summer song, "All Summer Long," while the cowboy -- King George Strait -- is climbing charts yet again with "Troubadour." All the while Taylor Swift's "Love Story" is fast becoming a runaway smash.

Dierks Bentley, who's anxiously awaiting fatherhood, has a new single with a hot title, "Feel That Fire," and Capitol Nashville is beginning the push for airplay this week. Meanwhile, Dierks' labelmate, Darius Rucker, heats up phone lines chatting to radio about "Don't Think I Don't Think About It."

Darryl Worley's Tennessee River Run has become quite the event. Besides Darryl, there were performances by Keith Anderson, Restless Heart and 38 Special to hit another homer for charities in and around Worley's hometown of Savannah, Tenn.

Raking in some serious moola on tour, Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift recently played four concerts that grossed right at $1 million each. Four shows ... that's $4 million. Tell me one more time so I'll understand: Isn't that enough entertainment dollars for Rascal Flatts to be in the running for the CMA's entertainer of the year? Or am I just plain stupid?

John Rich boarded an American Airlines flight at LaGuardia in New York last week and traveled first class. After all, he had to get to Music Town for the latest installment of his Get Rich All-Stars talent competition at the Exit In. These are artists who were eventually whittled down to Rich's chosen few during a series of showcases at another Nashville club, 12th & Porter. The acts that blew Rich's socks off will have an opportunity to blow the socks off major label giants who drop by. Stay tuned.

Reba and Hank Jr. Being Honored

On Oct. 13, Reba McEntire will be honored with the prestigious Golden Note award at the Ryman Auditorium during the ASCAP Country Music Awards honoring songwriters and publishers. ASCAP senior vice president Connie Bradley says, "Reba is one of the greatest singers in country music. She's always stayed true to herself and to country music."

And Hank Williams Jr. will be honored by BMI on Nov. 11 at the performance rights organization's Music Row offices honoring top songs of the year, as well as the publishers and songwriters. BMI president Del Bryant and vice president Jody Williams will host the event.

On TV and Elsewhere

I was royally entertained last week when Jamey Johnson and his two-piece band performed on Imus in the Morning. Jamey was in New York City to open for Lee Ann Womack at Lincoln Center. Clicking to another channel, there was guitar-toting Brad Paisley with Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts and the entire kit-and-kaboodle of Good Morning America walking past fields of corn and soybeans in Gustavus, Ohio, to an outdoor stage where Brad performed on the election promotion the news show has hatched up. What a great morning -- and I never left my house.

Following Saturday's (Sept. 20) premiere of the 9 to 5 musical at Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, Dolly Parton is scheduled to appear Monday (Sept. 22) on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. She has several concerts on the books before winding down her Backwoods Barbie tour on Nov. 18. Looking into next year, the 9 to 5 musical is set to open on Broadway in April.

Willie Nelson's Honeysuckle Rose 4 bus that runs on biodiesel fuel was recently parked outside the CBS television studio in New York City. Harry Smith, host of The Early Show, was chatting with Willie about a variety of topics, including Farm Aid and his new book. Saying adieu, Smith mentioned something about riding on the bus with Willie. With a knowing grin, Willie said, "And just forget it all." As most people suspect, that bus is Willie's place to do just that -- forget it all.

Celebrating Keith Bilbrey's 40 Years in Radio

WSM/Nashville disc jockey Keith Bilbrey was honored on the 40th anniversary of his radio debut with a surprise party hosted by his wife Emy Joe at John A's, a restaurant on Music Valley Drive, and attended by Country Music Hall of Fame members Carl Smith and Tom T. Hall (and wife Dixie Hall), along with Grand Ole Opry members Jimmy C. Newman, Jeannie Seely and Jim Ed Brown. Other well-wishers included two of Elvis Presley's band members, guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana.

During the heyday of Waylon Jennings and Tompall Glaser, Keith and Don Cusic (now a Belmont University professor and noted music historian and author) kept I-40 hot from Cookeville, Tenn., to Nashville on Fridays when they'd drop by to hang out and learn from Captain Midnite and yours truly. Hmmm. Wonder how Cusic and Keith got so old and I didn't?

I've got to share one of the stories that was told during the part for Keith. Years ago during his presidency, Bill Clinton was visiting Nashville, so Keith went on the air live with Johnny Counterfit, who's one of the best in the world at impersonating voices, to call Tennessee Gov. Ned Ray McWherter. The governor's assistant told Bilbrey, "He's in a meeting." However, when Counterfeit got on the phone and delivered his incredible Clinton imitation, the governor's assistant immediately said, "I'll call him out of his meeting." Afflicted with cold feet and good sense, Bilbrey quickly hung up the phone. Thank goodness, this happened in the days before everybody had caller ID on their phones.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Peach Ice Cream.

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