Kellie Pickler may have a major-label album coming out in less than two months, but she hasn’t lost an ounce of the aw-shucks charm or loopy sense of humor she displayed as a novice vocalist during season 5 of American Idol. EW.com caught up with her during a break from the ongoing Idol tour to get the scoop on her red high heels, her TV aspirations, and a mysterious man named Uncle Pickler.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So let’s talk about your upcoming CD.
KELLIE PICKLER: It’s called Small Town Girl, and there’s actually a song on there called ”Small Town Girl” that I wrote. I’m really excited — I’ve cowritten a lot of the songs. [It] drops on October 31, on Halloween. It’s kind of like two holidays in one for me. [Laughs.]
Any decisions on the first single?
My single actually comes out the day after the tour ends, on September 25. It’s called “Red High Heels.”
Hmm. I wonder what your inspiration was on that one.
The title comes from me and my obsession with shoes. I have these favorite red high heels, and so I created a girls’ anthem around them. It is so hilarious. And it’s really sassy and upbeat.
Did you do a lot of songwriting before Idol, or is this a talent you recently discovered?
It’s something I kind of discovered of myself after Idol, and while I was on the tour, on the road. You have so much downtime. Joe Galante [chairman of the RCA Label Group-Nashville] had set me up with a few songwriters in Nashville, and I talked with them, and we just clicked, and one night we sat up and wrote, like, three songs together. I’m learning new things about myself every day.
Any writers or producers our readers would know?
Aimee Mayo. She’s written many songs for Martina McBride, Kenny Chesney, Tim and Faith.
So what’s your goal artistically? And how do you avoid the problem a lot of Idol alumni seem to have had, where their debut releases suffer from lackluster material?
As I’m in the process of putting this album together, I feel like it’s going to be the best it could possibly be. I have such an incredible team that I have high expectations for the album. It’s kind of like gambling. You’re investing all this money and all this time into putting this album together, just hoping that it sells. But I honestly believe America will really love this album, because for every song, I’ve taken parts of my life and put it in there. There’s a song [called “I Wonder”] that I’ve written about my mother, whom I haven’t spoken with in many, many years. She left me as a child. And I think as long as you’re passionate about the songs, and you kind of live the songs, I think it’s easier to sell them because it’s more believable to the audience. And they really feel like they’re gettin’ in touch with a part of your life. I have a lot of very sentimental, close, personal songs on the album.
Were you surprised to get picked up for a record deal at all, considering you only finished sixth this season?
Yeah, you know, the Wednesday that I got the boot, my manager called me and said, ”Joe Galante wants to fly you out to Nashville and meet you.” I was like, ”Oh my God, this is my chance!” and I tried to go in and dress up and look my best, put on a good face and attitude, meet this man and hope he signs me. [Laughs.] But the second we made eye contact, there was chemistry. We were both on the same page, we both wanted to produce the same kind of album with the same style of music, and he was just so nice.
Your release comes out around the same time as fellow season 5 graduates Taylor, Katharine, and Chris. Any worries about that?
I’ve never been a competitive person. I’ve always wanted to succeed, but I want to see other people around me succeed. And the thing about this year [is], all of us are so different, and our audience targets are completely opposite.
But you do have the same target market as Idol‘s season 4 champ, Carrie Underwood, and, of course, Simon drove that point home by comparing you two on the show this year.
When Simon said [on the air] that he preferred me to Carrie, I thought that was really going to hurt me, and make all her fans mad. I would never have put myself in the same caliber as her. But I think as soon as this album comes out, people are gonna say, ”They’re nothing alike.” We both have blond hair and like country music, but our style of country music is very different. We have two separate albums, and I can only hope to be half as successful as she is. If I get compared to her, I just take it as a huge compliment. And she’s a really, really sweet person.
Any chance you’ll do a duet with any of your fellow Idol finalists, or anyone else for that matter?
No, I kind of want to establish myself individually as a country artist. But if I could choose anyone to sing with, it would be Dolly Parton. She’s definitely my idol, and if I had made it to the finale, she’s who I would have chosen to sing with. She’s definitely a role model for me — she’s inspired me in so many ways.
Interestingly, Dolly has done more than music. She’s done movies, TV…
Dolly Parton is one of the few who has the whole package. She’s outrageously gorgeous, can sing, is the most incredible songwriter ever, and she’s in acting, and she has the best personality. I can learn a lot from her.
So while we’re on the subject of expanding your career horizons: After you guest-hosted The View this summer, the show’s newest panelist, Rosie O’Donnell, wrote about it on her blog, calling you ”perfection” and saying she ”triple-loved” you. Would you consider signing on for a gig like that?
I would definitely have some big shoes to fill, but absolutely, I really want to get into TV and film as well, and hosting would be a lot of fun. I really enjoy doing the correspondent work for Jay Leno, and The View was so much fun. It’s like, ”God, people actually like me, and I’m just being myself.”
It seems to come very naturally to you.
I’ve been myself from day one, and you’re gonna have people who are in love with you, and people who don’t care very much for you. But that’s okay, it’s life.
Speaking of that, you were on the receiving end of some tough gossip while you were on Idol. There was one website talking about your past, saying you were very calculating, that your sweet persona was just an act. You also had Constantine Maroulis from season 4 talking about you, implying you’d blown him off once you became a success on the show. How did you feel about all that?
That’s one of the hardest things about being part of the industry. Like I said before, some people are gonna love you, and some people won’t want you to succeed and will talk ugly things about you. But you just have to block that out and surround yourself with positive people. You can’t believe everything you read and see on TV. There was speculation Constantine and I dated, which was never the case. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve seen each other, and I haven’t even talked to him since the finale. It’s weird to see people say you’re in a relationship with someone you hardly know. And I already have a boyfriend. [Laughs.] But I feel like if this is as bad as I’ve got it, I’ve got it good. There was a man on the radio while I was on American Idol saying he was my Uncle Pickler, doing these long interviews, and I don’t have an Uncle Pickler. My dad is an only son!
Very strange. So any parting thoughts for your fans?
I’m ready to have the album be tangible, ’cause I’ve been working my butt off, as well as everyone else on this project. I’m ready to have it sealed and dealed and delivered…signed, sealed, and delivered! Wait, that’s Lisa Tucker’s song! [Laughs.]