When it comes to country music, the reality star keeps it real


Kellie Pickler knows well the serious nature of reality television competition: She gained fame on American Idol in 2005 and won the Dancing With the Stars trophy last year. But the North Carolina native hit a new level of serious on her fourth studio album, The Woman I Am. “I’ll fight for my creative freedom,” she says. “I’m not going to be stuck in a box.” Pickler, 27, remains steadfast in her pursuit of blending traditional elements into today’s modern sound. “I don’t care about being pop or rap,” she says. “There’s no place I’d rather be played than country radio.”


How’d you approach this album?

I knew I couldn’t do the same thing we did with my last album, 100 Proof. The response to 100 Proof was great, and the critics loved it. But when we went back into the studio we wanted to capture where I am in my life. Each song on this album is a different chapter. I spent a lot of time reflecting on my life. The song “Selma Drye,” about my great-grandmother, is real life. Even songs like “Someone Somewhere Tonight” and “I Forgive You” make you think and feel something.

How do you pick songs?

When I look for songs, I have to be able to say, “That’s my story.” There are so many wonderful songwriters in Nashville, and I want to find these songs and shine a light on them. I don’t have to be the one who wrote them. When you listen to Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette, you don’t think that they didn’t write the songs. There was a tear in their voice. I want to make people feel the same way.


Was it a fun recording process?

I’m so happy. My team’s been so good to me. I’m their No. 1 priority. With a bigger record company, you can get lost in the mix. Black River Entertainment has guided me and supported me every step of the way.


What’s your first musical memory?

For my 8th birthday, my dad gave me the option of having a little handheld television or radio. I wanted a radio. It was my greatest treasure. You could carry it with you, or you could plug into the wall. I wore out my George Strait cassette. I didn’t know what country singers looked like back then. When I first started in my career, I’d be backstage at an awards show and wouldn’t even recognize some of the artists.


How has reality TV changed you?

Television is a powerful thing. Sometimes I relive that moment being on Idol, and I can’t help but appreciate it. I will never be upset that people ask about Idol. That’s like biting the hand that feeds you. Before Idol, I was roller-skating at Sonic. Suddenly, I went to bed and woke up in everyone’s living room. Being on Dancing With the Stars, well, you can’t really compare the experiences. To tell a story through a form of dance, it’s intense—mentally and physically. I’m so grateful they gave me the opportunity.


Have you entertained other offers?

As much as I love TV, country music is where I want to be. I’ve turned down sitcoms and other shows, and the opportunity to move to L.A., just so I could do this. When you go to radio stations and look at the DJs’ desks, there are thousands of CDs. What’s different about mine? I don’t have any sense of entitlement. If this single, “Little Bit Gypsy,” isn’t the right song, I’ll come at ’em with another one.

–Blake Boldt


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