The story of Kellie Pickler couldn't be more perfectly suited for a 21st century country singer had it been made up: A fast-food drive-in waitress from a tiny town in North Carolina, raised by her grandparents after her mother gave her up and her drug-addict father went to jail, catapulted into the pop spotlight via new-millennium TV sensation American Idol. Pickler was eliminated from the competition early on during the show's fifth season, but she persevered, hitting post-Idol pay dirt with "Red High Heels" (Number 15 Country; Number 64 Pop, 2006) and the autobiographical "I Wonder" (Number 14 Country; Number 75 Pop, 2006).
She was born on June 28th, 1986, in Albemarle, North Carolina, to her then-18-year-old mother Cynthia Morton and father Clyde "Bo" Pickler, Jr. When the singer was two, her mother gave up her custodial rights, and Kellie was raised by her paternal grandparents in the nearby village of Palestine. (Pickler's hit song "I Wonder" ponders what her life would have been like had her mother not abandoned her.) In 2004, she graduated from North Stanly High School and sang LeeAnn Rimes' "On the Side of Angels" at her commencement ceremony. After school, she continued living with her grandfather while working at the Sonic Drive-In. That year, she also won the Miss Stanly County beauty pageant and competed in the Miss North Carolina contest.
In 2005, with the urging of her grandfather, she auditioned for American Idol in Greensboro, and made the cut. Inspired by Dolly Parton, Pickler lasted several rounds into the contest and was a favorite of Idol's curmudgeon judge, Simon Cowell. Although she was eliminated from before reaching the top, her country-bumpkin personality and Jessica Simpson-like ditzy humor charmed the show's fans and judges alike, and she signed a record deal with BNA Records, the label of country superstar Kenny Chesney. A week after her elimination from the contest, her father was released from prison, where he had served three years for aggravated assault.
Pickler's first album, Small Town Girl (Number One Country; Number Nine Pop, 2006), came out in October 2006 and sold 79,000 copies in its first week. Pickler's down-home and unpretentious personality has landed her on an array of TV shows, from prominent spots on The View and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. In late 2007, she won a songwriter's award at the ASCAP Awards for "Red High Heels" and later, at the Country Music Awards show, received a standing ovation for her tearful performance of "I Wonder." Pickler's second album — which she says will include songs of a very personal nature about her rocky upbringing — is due out in 2008.