Although she never went home with "American Idol" title, Kellie Pickler was one of the show's best alumni. She was born Kellie Dawn Pickler on June 28, 1986 at Stanly Memorial Hospital in Albemarle to Cynthia Morton and Clyde Raymond Pickler. Her mother was only 16 when she was pregnant with her. It was a harsh childhood for Pickler because her father struggled with addiction for drugs and alcohol while her mother left her when she was only two.
Morton returned to take her custody for a couple of years, but Pickler admitted that it was not all well. "I remember my mother and I were in the kitchen and I said, 'I wish God would take me away, I'd much rather be dead than live here with you.' She took a knife out, set it on the counter and said, 'Here, do it then.' I was in fourth grade. Of course I never would have acted upon it, but it's done a lot of emotional scarring," she said. The court eventually handed Pickler to her grandparents when she was 12 and Morton did not show up for the hearing.
Pickler was raised by her grandparents throughout her life, citing them as the major influence in her life. The grandmother Faye Pickler died from lung cancer in January 2002 and she was continued raised by the grandfather. Pickler graduated from North Stanly High School in New London, North Carolina.
Her showbiz career was kicked off with her participation in beauty pageants. At age 17, she won Miss Stanly County and subsequently competed in Miss North Carolina. But she dropped out of the competition to focus her study on paralegal while working as a waiter at a Sonic Drive-In franchise in 2005.
"I just did them for a year," Pickler said about entering pageants. "I think I've done four or five pageants total because I just wanted to sing. Living in a small [town] like Albemarle, there are not many opportunities that come along - or any at that - to showcase your talents. I just enrolled in the pageants to do the singing parts."
Nineteen years old Pickler auditioned for the fifth season of "Idol" in the fall of 2005 in Greensboro, N.C., accompanied by her grandpa. "There were like between 8,500 and 10,000 people there at the coliseum. ...We sat down and everyone around us was doing vocal warm-ups and practicing their song. ...I was very intimidated by everyone around me. And I looked at my grandpa and I stood up and said, 'Come on, Grandpa, let's go. There's no way in the world they're going to give me a second look!' And he said, 'Kellie, what have you got to lose?' And I said, 'You know what? Nothing. All I have to lose is that job at Sonic, so I'm just going to stay and wait it out'," Pickler recalled.
As it turned out, she was sent to Hollywood and advanced all the way to Top 12. Judge Simon Cowell took a liking at her, predicting that she would be in the final three. It was also her charming and bubbly personality that made her a favorite on the show. She was eliminated when the show's reached Top 6. Taylor Hicks went on winning the competition.
After her elimination, she appeared in numerous shows promoting the TV show including the annual "Idol" tour. She signed a record deal with 19 Recordings/BNA Records in 2006 and the first single, "Red High Heels", was ready to be launched in the third quarter of that year. The single's music video received a nomination for the CMT Video Awards for "Breakthrough Video of the Year". The debut album followed in October 2006 under the title "Small Town Girl".
In its first week, the album sold well over 79,000 copies, entering the Billboard Hot 200 chart at number nine. "Small Town Girl", which includes songs about her personal struggles, was certified gold in January 2007. She was nominated for Top New Female Vocalist at the 42nd Academy of Country Music Awards. She also toured that year with Brad Paisley, hitting at least 37 cities across North America and Canada.
Pickler received songwriter award at 2007 ASCAP Awards for co-writing "Red High Heels". She made a memorable performance at the 2007 CMA Awards when singing "I Wonder", a song about her difficult relationship with her mother. She was obviously distraught while singing and struggled to finish the song between tears. The performance received a standing ovation nevertheless.
Pickler returned to the studio for her second album with 19 Recordings. "Don't You Know You're Beautiful" was picked as the lead single, performed at the ACM Awards in May 2008 and released to radio a month later. She released a self-titled album in September that year. It sold over 43,000 copies in the first week and debuted at number nine on Hot 200. She was once again nominated for New Artist of the Year at the CMA Awards. At the same time, her other single, "Best Days of Your Life", became her first Top 10 hit on the Hot Country Songs chart.
Together with Taylor Swift, Pickler hit numerous cities across United States for the first leg of Swift's Fearless tour. Pickler released two more successful singles from "Kellie Pickler" before announcing a third studio album. She got hitched to songwriter Kyle Jacobs first on January 1, 2011 in a "small, intimate ceremony on a private island in the Caribbean". Jacobs proposed to her after two-and-a-half years of dating.