Kellie Pickler may have entered the public consciousness by competing on American Idol, but the North Carolina native's love of country music, and her path to a career in the genre, was established well before that. "It's been so long ago, I feel like an antique Idol now," Pickler says with a shrieking laugh. "I'm a dusty Idol!"
As the singer prepares to re-release her latest album, The Woman I Am, on vinyl, she opens up about the personalities — from country legends to her own family — who made her that titular woman.
"She is one of the reasons I fell in love with country music. I have sat on my bus and YouTubed videos of her singing. I just close my eyes and I feel like she's right there with me, singing. I'm hanging on to every word. And I love that she just stood there and sang her songs."
"We did a show a few years ago with Loretta Lynn in Canada and it was just her, her band and her big sparkly dress. She stood there, behind that microphone, and just sang hit after hit, and everyone was hanging on every note, every lyric. She didn't need people swinging from the rafters to get their attention. She had the power of a great country song. Tammy and Loretta both did."
My Dad, Clyde Pickler Jr.
"People have a perception and opinion of him and his past [Pickler's father served time in a Florida prison for a 2003 stabbing], but my dad inspired me in so many ways. I've always been a daddy's girl. He was never not a part of my life. He struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and we all fight our own demons. Sometimes it's hard to get that demon off your back. He loved me and took care of me the best as he could. I watched him completely turn his life around. He's clean and sober. And he went back to school. It's inspired me. I watched this man, that I call Dad, transform into a completely different person."
"She is another big reason I fell in love with country music. For me, her life is a country song. And she is a true…I don't like to say 'Cinderella story,' because she made it on her own. She didn't depend on a man on a white horse to come save the day. She did it herself. She is just a true rags-to-riches story."
Hank Williams and My Grandfather, Clyde Pickler
"My grandpa Pickler had a big role in raising me. He was an electrician and after he retired from the Marines, he got his electrical license. I'd go on jobs with him and help him run wires up houses. I was tiny. I was like 5. We'd sing Hank Sr. songs. And 'My Bucket's Got a Hole in It' was of the first song I ever learned. It's one of my most fond memories as a child, being with my grandpa in his big red work truck and being his little assistant, handing him tools. I was such a little tomboy."
My Grandmother, Faye Pickler
"My grandma is the woman that I called 'mom.' She raised me. She had rheumatory arthritis and gout really bad. Her hands and feet were crippled and she couldn't get around a lot. So we spent a lot of time together at home. We'd go out in the yard and she'd tell me where she wanted flowers and I'd do the planting. She had these little children's books and hymns and we'd sit on her front-porch swing and I'd sing her favorite hymns, like 'Old Rugged Cross.' A lot of my musical background came from being a little girl with big dreams in a tiny town with grandma and grandpa."
"I love Patsy's voice. And 'I Fall to Pieces' is one of my favorite songs. Most everything was predominantly country in our home. I really wasn't educated on a lot outside of traditional country music until I did American Idol and had to sing Rod Stewart songs or a Queen song, which I knew. Everybody knows Queen."
My Husband, Songwriter Kyle Jacobs
"My husband Kyle changed my life. He is my sanctuary and my safe place to come to. We write together and we work together some and he brings out the best in me. We wrote my album title, 'The Woman I Am,' together. I was doing a phone interview earlier that day and was asked, 'If I were to play a song for a friend who didn't know anything about country music, what song that best describes you would it be?" I said I hadn’t written it yet. So I told my husband about the conversation and we wrote it. He makes me a better person and a better artist."
Fellow American Idol Alumni Katharine McPhee and Mandisa
"When I was on Idol, Katharine McPhee and Mandisa became my Idol sisters. Mandisa is such a powerhouse, one of the most amazing singers I've ever heard sing live. She is such a woman of God and grace. And Kat is like a sister. I love her to pieces. She introduced me to a different world of music. She grew up on Barbra Streisand and had such a musical theater background that I was intrigued by that. Kat and I came from two different worlds and somehow our paths led to one another and she helped introduce me to a whole different world. You become a family on the show because you live together and spend so much time together. We don't talk all the time because we're all so busy and live in different states, but thanks to modern-day technology, we can keep in touch."