Country music artist Kellie Pickler has a pretty good idea of the woman she is.
A happily married rising star, counting down to the Nov. 11 release of her fourth studio album, The Woman I Am, Pickler reflected lightheartedly this week on her life these days.
About the man by her side, the “children” she’s raising and how it’s all come together for the small town North Carolina beauty queen, as she’s waltzed to worldwide television fame through “American Idol,” and “Dancing with the Stars,” to a critically acclaimed third album that has her compared to a blossoming version of country music’s soulful greats.
“I kind of have kids, they’re called my band,” she joked Monday afternoon, from a telephone call in downtown New York City, where she’s on a radio tour promoting her upcoming release.
“I have to pay child support,” Pickler pointed out, as her band members carried on in the background.
Set to appear Saturday evening at Apalachicola’s Battery Park, at a concert highlighting the 50th annual Florida Seafood Festival, Pickler at age 27 has convinced critics she’s for real, packing even more to her artistry than the grace she’s shown as reigning champion of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars with her partner, four-time champion Derek Hough.
“I love that I was able to tie in two of my passions,” she said. “It’s really neat to be able to tell a story through the power of dance.”
Ever since her first album, Small Town Girl, debuted seven years ago, Pickler’s career has been on a steady trajectory upwards, her most recent album, 100 Proof, achieving critical acclaim, including the coveted title of the No. 1 Country Album of The Year by Rolling Stone magazine.
But Pickler isn’t letting it go to her head, even taking a moment to rue the album didn’t achieve financial success commensurate with the view of critics such as USA Today, which cheered it as “a pretty fantastic country record.”
“I don’t know. I guess it wasn’t as popular as I thought it was,” she said. “It wasn’t radio friendly.”
Six of the album’s 11 songs she co-wrote, and one of them, “Mother’s Day,” she collaborated on with her husband, songwriter Kyle Jacobs. Three years ago, she eloped to a private island in the Caribbean to marry Jacobs, a songwriter under contract with Nashville’s Curb Music Publishing.
This week, Jacobs was holed up in a songwriters retreat at Blackberry Farm in the foothills of Tennessee's Smoky Mountains. But when he’s not in the studio, he’ll join her on the road, and that’s a special time for her.
“I love it,” she said. “We actually like each other. I know that’s surprising.
“My greatest treasure is my husband. He’s my best friend; I would absolutely be lost without him,” said Pickler. “I don't think you have to have a bad marriage to be a great artist. I don’t think that has anything to do with it. I’ve definitely experienced heartache in different ways, and I can pull from that.”
As for children, Pickler said she and Jacobs are raising four canines: Pixie, a Chinese crested hairless from Arkansas; Mumu, a black and white Chihuahua from Portland, Oregon; Maddie, part pit bull and part Labrador retriever from Minnesota; and Tina, a Maltese from California.
Despite the stress of being apart, Pickler was clear about knowing where her heart lies.
“I would never do anything to tarnish what we have. He is my best friend, he’s number one,” she said. “He is a safe place for me to come to. I would never, ever, ever jeopardize what we have.
“The most sacred thing and important to me is my marriage,” said Pickler. “What we have is my greatest treasure. I’m not a fool.”
Like the barefoot style she shows in the music video with Hough that features her upcoming album’s lead single “Someone Somewhere Tonight,” Pickler is stepping with sure feet through the intensity of her fame.
“I think regardless if you’re a singer or you’re a waitress or you work at a bank, there’s always somebody watching you,” she said. “You’d be surprised; people are always watching you.”
“To me I’m not perfect. I’ve never met anyone that’s perfect…” she said, stopping suddenly to acknowledge the raised hand of her guitarist, before correcting herself. “Other than Drew my guitar player.”
“I just love my life. I don’t think you can go through life trying to please everyone,” said Pickler. “I am the only person that has to live with me. I think it’s important. I’m happy with myself.
“Nobody has to live with you but you,” she continued. “It’s not fun when you don’t like yourself. I don’t try to be anything but myself.
“It’s so hard to be something you’re not. That’s a fulltime job,” said Pickler. “I already got a fulltime job.”
As for the fulltime job she brings to the stage, Pickler is promising “nothing fancy” for Saturday night.
“It’s just me and my band. We just get out there and we play music and we have a good time,” she said. “We’ll do some songs from my first three albums, throwing in some new songs off the new album.”
She’s not familiar with eating oysters, but Pickler, a vegetarian for the past five years, does plan I’m sampling the seafood. “I do love fish, I’m a piscetarian,” she said. “That’s the only type of meat I eat.”
Beyond to the demands of her busy career, Pickler has taken the time for some personal outreach. On Sept. 2, 2012, she shaved her head on Good Morning America in support of her friend, Summer Holt Miller, who started chemotherapy after breast surgery.
“She’s doing good,” said Pickler. “She’s handled all of this with such grace.”
Sinc2 2007, she’s done seven tours with the USO, performed before more than 30,000 troops in eight different countries.
“I love doing it, it’s something I find so much joy in, that I can take a little piece of home to our servicemen and women,” she said.
“The thing about country music is it’s about life,” said Pickler. “Someone, somewhere, someone is experiencing love and heartache. We've all experienced those things. I think it's really neat you can put your life in the form of a song, whether it’s a sad song or a love song. As long as you’re making people feel something.”