In today's country music, staying true to the genre's roots can still entail putting a rap interlude on a song. Kellie Pickler truly stayed true to her roots with her stellar 100 Proof, one of Rolling Stone's picks for the Best Country Albums of 2012. Though the album suffered dismal sales and failed to produce a Top 20 hit, the Southern beauty refuses to reinvent the wheel on her next set of classic country-leaning tunes, which will likely hit stores later this year.
"I've made records where I'm trying to make everybody else happy and say what other people want me to say. That was miserable," Pickler tells Rolling Stone. "If you go in and you're honest, people will either like you or not. You can't please them all, so you might as well be happy with it yourself. It's your face on the cover. You can't change who you are to please other people."
So the singer who counts Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette among her heroes is sticking to her country guns. Pickler promises her fourth studio album to be what she calls "Kellie country," stories about real life accompanied by plenty of fiddle and steel. The first taste of the project is the tender ballad, "Someone Somewhere Tonight," a song previously covered – but never released as a single – by both Kenny Rogers and Pam Tillis. Cutting the song in between Dancing With the Stars rehearsals, the 27-year-old musician brought a little mood-enhancer to the recording session.
"I had my wedding video playing in the studio so that I could see my husband (acclaimed songwriter-producer Kyle Jacobs) while I was singing," Pickler explains. "We didn't see each other a lot when I was on the show, so I got even more emotional singing, because I missed him."
Jacobs was not present for the filming of the song's steamy music video, which was probably a good thing. The clip features a gorgeous and overtly sensual dance between his wife and her Dancing partner, Derek Hough. As intimate as their scenes are in the clip, the Season 16 winners insist it's all an act.
"We'd be dancing and then start busting out laughing," Pickler recalls. "Derek is like a brother to me. Since I know him and have danced with him so much, I'm comfortable with him and trust him. And Kyle trusts me! I've never given him a reason not to. I'm not a fool – I'd never do anything to jeopardize what I have with him."
The singer, who never danced before the show (unless you count high school cheerleading), has discovered not only a new talent but also a heightened confidence. Pickler says the show has given her the itch to broaden her horizons.
"It's neat to watch people step outside their comfort zones and discover a passion they never knew they had," she muses. "I've always expressed myself through writing and singing, so now I've discovered another way to express myself. You don't have to say anything. You just show how you feel with your body."
Long before her Dancing days, the North Carolina native was fielding television offers right and left. With her notoriously humorous, uncensored appearances on chatfests such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Pickler is ratings gold. She says keeping her TV persona from overshadowing her music career is a problem she's happy to have.
"Music is my number one priority. But if it's the right role, I would do it . . . Maybe the right Broadway role. I don't see why you can't do it all. Just look at Dolly. I like putting myself out there to try new things. But it would have to be worth the sacrifice of taking time off from music. People who know me get that. People who don't will, if they ever meet me."
With her Dancing With the Stars mirror-ball trophy now at home in Nashville, Pickler is busy putting the finishing touches on her upcoming album. Though the track list is not yet finalized, the singer is rooting for a song she wrote with Jacobs that she describes as "very autobiographical." In fact, she's trying to craft an entire collection that reflects what she loves most about country music: honesty. And she honestly doesn't care for anyone's approval.
"I didn't sell a lot of records with [100 Proof], but it's my favorite album I've ever done because I went into the studio and said what I wanted to say and made a more traditional record. Had I gone in and made the same old shit, then Rolling Stone and different music critics wouldn't have picked it as one of the best albums of 2012. That showed me that I made the right call. It was tough, but I'm glad I stood up for myself."