Kellie Picklers life has played out like a classic country song. From her hardscrabble, small town roots to center stage on American Idol to the top of the country charts, Kellie has proven that talent, beauty, hard work and determination are a potent combination. Like her heroes, Dolly, Tammy and Loretta, Kellie has captured the loyalty of the country audience with her gift for being genuine in her life and art.
Never has that been more evident than her new album, 100 Proof, a collection of songs that reverberate with an emotional intensity hinted at on her first two albums, but fully blossoming in this new season of the young artists life. "When I auditioned for American Idol I was not an artist," the season five alum admits. "So from Idol to the first record to this record, I really tried to find myself because theres a difference between a singer and an artist."
On 100 Proof, Kellie revels in that difference. Always engaging, her voice has become more compelling as shes found a way to tap into her life experience and produce art that resonates profoundly. "For me country music is about telling stories and behind every country song there is a story about somebodys life," Pickler says. "Its about real things. Our fans gravitate toward things that are relatable so when they get into a car and turn on the radio and hear a song like I Wonder or Mothers Day, they might identify with that story and feel they are not alone."
Despite her tender age, Kellie has lived a lot of life and shes a master when it comes to crafting songs that strike a universal chord. "I Wonder" is the emotional hit that elevated her from vivacious new country bombshell to a heartfelt songwriter and serious conveyor of songs. She continues along her path of self-examination with "Mothers Day," a song on her new album that finds Kellie in an exceptionally vulnerable mode as she again examines one of lifes most complicated relationships---mother and daughter.
"At first I thought I dont know if I want to sing about this again because I talked about it a lot with I Wonder," she says of dissecting her feelings about her mother in her music. "But every time I think that, some little girl will come to my meet and greet that day and tell me thats her favorite song."
If fans relate to Kellie, its because shes always been an open book. She wears her heart on her sleeve and is never hesitant to discuss her past and its impact on her present. Her story is now familiar. She was raised by her grandparents in tiny Albemarle, NC. Her mother abandoned Kellie and her father was incarcerated much of her young life.
American Idol opened a door for Kellie to start making her dreams come true. She finished sixth on the fifth season of the popular competition and signed with 19 Recordings/BNA Records. Her debut set, Small Town Girl, launched with the sassy hit "Red High Heels." Kellie continued to earn fans with "I Wonder" and "Things That Never Cross a Mans Mind." Her self-titled sophomore album further built on her reputation for delivering songs that were both substantive and entertaining, including the hits "Dont You Know Youre Beautiful," "Best Days of Your Life" and "Didnt You Know How Much I Loved You."
In recording her new album, Kellie teamed with producer Frank Liddell (Miranda Lambert, Lee Ann Womack) and Luke Wooten and credits them with helping her discover who she really is as an artist. "I just really got to explore with this record," she says. "We went into Javelina Studios. Elvis Presley and Tammy Wynette recorded there. When you listen to the record, youll be able to tell we sang and played in the same room. None of the instruments were closed off. We were all playing together. The drums are bleeding in with the bass and steel. Some of the musicians that played on the record had played for Tammy back in the day and played for George Jones, people that made me fall in love with country music."
"Stop Cheating on Me" is a traditional country tune that would make Tammy proud, and it reveals Kellies ability to wring every nuance of emotion out of a powerful lyric. "Thats one of my favorite songs on this record," she says. "Chris Stapleton and his wife Morgan wrote that. They are singing the harmony on it as well."
"Wheres Tammy Wynette?" is the lively opening track that kicks the album off with a slice of tongue-in-cheek fun and a nod to a country icon. Penned by Kellie and pal Leslie Satcher, "Unlock that Honky Tonk" is a gutsy song for wronged women looking to relieve their pain. "Little House on the Highway" is a spirited ode to life on the road. The song, "Tough," is an anthem that Kellie delivers with grit and conviction. Satcher penned the song specifically for Kellie.
"We got to talking about my life, how I grew up, how I got to Nashville and how I got to where I am," recalls Kellie. "I didnt know she was going to do it, but she took my story home and she wrote Tough that day. She said, This is how I would describe you. This is my song for you, and its so wild because she just hit it right on like what I feel inside."
It is no secret Kellie possesses the feisty attitude to turn any up tempo number into a bonafide event, but its on the ballads where she especially shines. Kellie co-wrote the bulk of the album, including two highly personal songs. "Mothers Day" shares the feelings she wrestles with on that particular holiday while "The Letter" is an emotional missive to her father with whom Kellie now has a good relationship.
"During my childhood we communicated a lot through letters. I still have a box with every single letter that he ever sent me when he was incarcerated," she says. "Ive always wanted to be able to sit down and write this letter to my dad. I wanted there to come a day that I could write Im so proud of you for overcoming this."
Kellie admits to having reservations about sharing so much of her life with her audience, but feels honesty trumps privacy when it comes to songwriting. "Theres not a wall there," she says of the distance between herself and her fans. And shes thankful to those who paved the way for that kind of bond. "I would be devastated if Dolly would not have released songs that shed written because they were too personal. Gosh we would not have songs like I Will Always Love You. We wouldnt have Jolene. If Dolly, Loretta and Tammy did not record the songs that were so personal, then we wouldnt have that connection with them that we do."
Kellie is all about establishing that connection with her audience, and the title track is yet another example of life imitating art. Its a song, Kellie, who wed songwriter Kyle Jacobs on New Years Day 2011, can relate to every time she sings it. "Ive been both girls in this song," she says. "Ive been the girl that Im singing about in the verses that is not in a good place and not in a good relationship. Ive been in there so if I would have heard this song four or five years ago, I would never have cut it because I didnt have that love. I didnt have 100 proof, but Kyle came along and now Im the girl in the chorus. Im that girl and we are that couple. Im glad to be on the other side."
Kellie Pickler will be the first to tell you that these days shes on the other side of a lot of hard times, and shes a stronger woman because of it. "My life did a 180 the day I got in line for American Idol. My whole world completely turned," she says. "I really do think that music heals. It has healed me in so many ways and I want to write about it. I dont know how to write about something thats not real. My life is a country song."