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NOV
11
12 MOS

'American Idol' Alum Kellie Pickler Graduates From 'Small Town Girl' to 'The Woman I Am'

The season five standout and "Dancing With The Stars" champ gets personal on her just-released album.

Kellie Pickler

She’s a recording star, an American Idol alum and a Dancing With The Stars champion, but to hear Kellie Pickler tell her life story in song, she's still a small town girl and quite possibly the best friend a gal could want for.

Take, for instance, the track "Ring For Sale" from her new album The Woman I Am (out Nov. 11). It's classic Pickler: a story of love gone bad told with zing and humor -- "Well I found out he been running around with a low class Jezebel / Now he’s got a monthly payment and I got a ring for sale,” she sings.

“A girlfriend from home is going through this as we speak," Pickler tells The Hollywood Reporter. "She had asked me in the middle of her whole divorce thing what she should do with the ring and I said, ‘Sell it and go do something nice for yourself; I think you have earned that right considering what he has done.' So I heard that song and I played it for her and it made her smile. So I thought, I’m going to cut this for my friend. And when I sing it, I am going to be thinking of her, even though it’s written in first person."

Pickler is just that kind of pal -- the sort that will hold your hand through a crisis, cut off all her hair in solidarity with a friend fighting cancer. In fact, she did just that to support her friend Summer  Holt Miller, and Pickler says she'd do it again.

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“That’s a phone call you never want to get, that someone you care about that has to go through this battle," says Pickler. "But she’s such an important person to me, like the big sister I never had, and we made that pact that we would shave our heads together and she was never going to experience any of that on her own. I am so glad I did it. ... People are much more important than all this other mess.  And she’d do the same for me."

Of course, there are many layers to Pickler, but interestingly enough, when asked which of her songs best captures who she is as a person, she says she hadn’t written it yet.

“I have personal songs, and [debut album] Small Town Girl, which is about where I grew up, but that’s not all of me. ... That’s through the eyes of the young girl that I was in that particular time of my life.”

As for that one definitive song? “My husband came home from work, and we wrote 'The Woman I Am,' which is perfect. I guess nobody knows me better.”

Produced by Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten, The Woman I Am marries Pickler’s love of traditional country with contemporary flourishes. She co-wrote several of the songs with her husband, Nashville songwriter Kyle Jacobs (Garth Brooks, Kimberley Locke), and created an album  that she says best represents where she is right now in her life -- from the breezy "Buzzin” to the autobiographical tale of her great-grandmother, “Selma Drye” to the circus-like life of a performer in “Little Bit Gypsy,”  Pickler takes the listener on a journey that gives a mirrored glimpse of how Jacobs perceives his wife.

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Take, for instance, “I Forgive You,” a song she's wanted to record for years. “It has such a powerful message," Pickler explains. "I have had a tattoo on my foot that says 'I forgive.' We all have people in our lives that have hurt us, and people we have hurt. Nobody’s perfect. And we want to be forgive. I think it’s something we all have to learn to do."

Now 27, the North Carolina native credits new label Black River Entertainment with granting her creative freedom, surprised to have on her team, “people who really care about you and want to see you do well.”

Pickler continues: “I signed with them as soon as I was out of my other record contract [with Sony Nashville]. They have been so good to me and they are all about the music and all about the people and that is so important. It’s like a family run business in a family office. You really get that vibe when you go to the Black River building.”

Patience was key in the making of The Woman I Am, which Pickler reveals she recorded during her stint on season 16 of Dancing With The Stars. “Poor Derek [Hough] -- he had to fly with me whenever I had a show," she says of her dance partner. "We would rehearse wherever we were. I’m sure people were surprised if they saw Derek and Kelly tango-ing through the airport, because that may have been the only time we had to practice.”

The DWTS champion says choosing her dance partner for the sexy and romantic video, “Someone, Somewhere, Tonight” was a no-brainer. “When the show was over, that was our opportunity to shoot and my director, Roman White, had sent me this video treatment and said ‘I really think you should tie these two together. Nobody has done a video like this in country music. I think it could be really artistic and beautifully shot.’”

She continues: “He said, 'I could see you and Derek dancing through an old historical house that's empty and you can tell the story of the song through the power of dance. I called Derek, and literally four days later, we were shooting the video. He came to Nashville and we didn’t even rehearse. It was choreographed on the spot. I was able to tie in two of my passions -- country music and my new love for dance.”

Pickler hopes listeners find “at least one song off this album that they identify with and hope it speaks to them.” After all, "we all come from somewhere, we just don’t get to choose that place that we come from,” she adds. “We get to choose what we do today."

Twitter: @MicheleAmabile