She recorded her first album in between dates on the grueling 60-city/90-day American Idol tour. Every day off I was in the studio, she recalls. The album Small Town Girl, a reference to Kellie’s upbringing in tiny Albemarle NC, was released on Halloween Day, 2006, and Kellie was off on another whirlwind of radio visits, media appearances and concerts, meeting and rubbing shoulders with her childhood heroes—particularly Dolly Parton; opening Brad Paisley’s tour, where she became fast friends with another country newcomer, Taylor Swift. Her album was certified Gold just three months after its release, and yielded three top 15 singles.
A crucial part in getting where she is now was taking charge of her second album, and she embraced the challenge wholeheartedly. The first year after my record came out was a crash course in the music business. I was barely 20 years old, and I had to learn how to basically be the CEO of a company, the Kellie Pickler Company. I had no training for anything like that. I had never been anywhere and wasn’t exposed to anything outside of Albemarle. When most girls my age are picking what classes they’ll take and what sorority to join, I was trying to decide on a manager, a lawyer, a business manager, hire a band, record an album, sing in front of 50,000 people, and sell enough records to keep all that going and pay all those people who rely on you. I know from some media I did that people may have thought of me as ditzy or not very bright. But you can’t survive in this business and not be knowledgeable, or you won’t be in this business very long.
Kellie Pickler is positively exuberant these days. Through loneliness, uncertainty, vulnerability and heartbreak, the naive 19 year old small town girl has blossomed into a strong, independent, fearlessly feminine young woman who is nobody’s fool. If I could have told the girl that I was anything, I would have told her not to be ashamed, to love herself. I would have given her self-confidence. The last two years have taught me that. When you’re starting out everyone thinks they know what’s best for you, that they know you better than you. And you’re so new, you don’t want to make anyone mad. I wasn’t completely able to be myself. But this is me, this is who I am. I look forward to every day. I’m happier than I’ve ever been and I feel ready for anything.