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> 'We're all the same'
post Aug 24th 2011, 12:58 AM
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'Idol' star Kellie Pickler to share her story on Arts Center stage
August 18, 2011
By A.M. WERTZ ([email protected]) , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

It hasn't been that long since Kellie Pickler first warmed the hearts of "American Idol" fans. Pickler reached the Top 12 on the hit show in 2005. Although the then-19-year-old didn't win - Taylor Hicks beat out Kathryn McPhee and Chris Daughtry that year - she was never placed in the "bottom three" until her elimination. She was a surprising favorite of unbreakable judge Simon Cowell.

Despite her farewell to the show, the Southern sweetheart, a product of Albemarle, N.C., has been on the road ever since. Although she is now married and has a house in Nashville, she calls her tour bus "home." Pickler will make a debut performance at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.

"My whole life has been a 180 completely," Pickler said. "I was 19 and green when I got in line for 'American Idol.' Now I'm a lot older and I've seen the world, which I truly believe is the best way to learn. To travel and put yourself in places that you've never been. I've grown so much as a person. I'd never really been anywhere before 'Idol' happened. I had a small-town mind."

The country girl said that everything on the show was a first for her. She flew for the first time, she visited a big city - Hollywood - for the first time and she'd never seen a gossip magazine until she bounced into co-contestant Mandisa's bedroom to discover her "business - some right and some wrong - on pages of the magazine."

"I still get kind of weirded out by stuff like that," she said. "I don't personally feel any different as far as the way I treat myself, so I want the people around me to treat me the same way as they've always treated me. I've never even heard of those magazines. My grandma would not buy that sh**. That was not something they spent their hard-earned money on."

Pickler said the process of "American Idol" was emotionally exhausting because "your whole life changes drastically overnight." She went from making minimum wage as a waitress on wheels at Sonic, to being on the biggest television show in the world and showing up in everyone's living room.

"It's impossible to digest it all. There's still times today, and it's been five or six years, when things hit me - things that I did on tour then, like hanging out in the Oval Office with the President. I remember the day that I woke up to do that. I was so exhausted and I had just gotten into D.C. and feel asleep and I didn't wake up. A friend called from North Carolina and woke me up. I was totally on auto pilot, just trying to keep up. Of course, it really is the most incredible thing that's ever happened to me."

With few regrets, Pickler did say there's one thing she wishes she would have done differently. Most fans of the show can tell you that Pickler's mother left when she was very young, her father had some run-ins with the law and she was raised by her grandparents in Greensboro, N.C.

"If I would have known what I was signing up for, I wouldn't have been as open as I was. You know, you're a small-town girl and you trust everybody until they give you a reason not to. I was an open book. I was honest, open and naive, and I wasn't ready to be asked about my dad. I wasn't prepared to be asked about my mom. Those were things I didn't talk about - until one day I was sitting on the front lawn with a camera crew. But I had nobody to guide me, no one to help me at all. Had I had someone with stability with me to give me advice and whatnot and say, 'you know what, you should let people in on this part, but maybe you should not talk about this or that,' I probably would have dealt with things differently."

Now Pickler has a team that keeps her on solid ground. She's said she's gotten better at managing the stress of being on "auto pilot," and continues to celebrate firsts with her entourage. Her tours have taken her all over the world, including the Persian Gulf, Germany, Kosovo, the Middle East and all over the United States.

Perhaps the highlight of her career, she said, has been being a part of the United Service Organizations Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides morale to members of the military. Pickler's great respect for the military drives her to fearlessly share her talent in the midst of war zones.

"I have a great pride in that and I think it's important to let our military men and women know that we appreciate what they're doing - putting their lives on the line, not having them home for Christmas morning. It's so wild how much of a sacrifice that they make for us everyday. To be able to go to Afghanistan or anywhere like that and see first-hand what's going on and the living conditions gives you a whole new respect. I've always had a great deal of respect. The most incredibly wild thing I've ever done was to sleep in one of Sadam's palaces."

Pickler released her first album, "Small Town Girl," in October 2006, which hit number one on the country charts. "I Wonder," "Red High Heels" and "Things That Never Crossed a Man's Mind" from the CD all were Top 20 singles. A second album, self-titled "Kellie Pickler," includes "Don't You Know You're Beautiful" and "Best Days of Your Life," co-written by friend Taylor Swift.

For the most part, Pickler said a variety of songs are performed at her shows, along with a couple of covers from some of her favorite artists in the traditional country music genre. She was raised on and loves artists like Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Hank Williams. She recalled a moment from her childhood "stage."

"Anytime I sing a Tammy song, I pretend I'm her for a minute," she said. "Grandpa Pickler could tell you, I had a little bitty karaoke machine that some friends had gotten me from Walmart and I would sing Tammy Wynette songs in my bedroom when I was little and I would pretend like I was her. I'd get my stuffed animals set up and that was my audience. Sometimes I close my eyes and if I'm singing a Tammy or Dolly song, I'll see those stuffed animals."

Pickler hopes her newest songs inspire listeners in the same way. She enjoys writing about the different things she's going through and working with songwriters and friends who can help bring the songs to life.

"The best is when I look out into a crowd and see people singing along to something that I've written," she said. "Especially when I sing songs like 'I Wonder,' and I'll look out and see different people tear up and get really emotional and it makes me wonder how they relate, what their story is, because it obviously hit a chord. It makes me wonder how they're coping with life and dealing with the thing that they've been through. It seems to break that wall, the barrier that separates the artist and the people. We all go through the same stuff and so it's nice to write songs about your life and show people that I'm just like you. We all got the same things: problems. And there's nobody on this earth who's sh** don't stink. We're all equal. We're all brought into the world the same way."

Pickler plans to release a third untitled album in the fall. A new song, "Tough" just hit country radio and is available on iTunes.

"I'd love for it to be my first No. 1," she said.

Tickets start at $30 and are available by calling 326-2424, at the Center's Box Office or at One hundred balcony seats will be offered for $25 - $5 off - for those who mention the code SMALL TOWN.

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