Monday, February 20, 2006

Kellie Pickler

This is a great article about Kellie Pickler in The Charlotte Observer.  I couldn't help but post the entire thing - she really is inspirational and I believe - the next American Idol.

Spunky Kellie Pickler and her fellow "American Idol" finalists are the "It" gang of Hollywood this week, notching record TV ratings and making the celebrity rounds.

It is a heady trip for the 19-year-old waitress at Sonic, a long way from both her hometown of Albemarle and a sometimes heart-breaking childhood, she says, one that included abandonment and a child-custody battle that landed her in the compassionate embrace of her grandparents.

She shared her story with the Observer Thursday, the day after being chosen one of 24 contestants for "Idol's" fifth season. It underlines the charm of America's No. 1 television show, one that draws real people (with real-life struggles) from across the country into a swirl of glamor and a once-in-a-lifetime shot at fame.

Fantasia Barrino, the 2004 winner, for example, revealed in her autobiography that she was a teenage rape victim and got pregnant in high school with no option but welfare. But Barrino, who now lives in Charlotte, persevered and battled her own illiteracy to seek a GED diploma and is now one of the nation's best-known recording artists.

Like Barrino, Pickler is forthright and unsoured by the crushing grief she faced. "My mother left me when I was about 2 years old," she said via telephone between rehearsals in Hollywood. "I don't know where she moved to, somewhere in California. ...

"My dad was a drug user and an alcoholic. So I lived off and on with my grandparents. Whenever my dad would get locked up, I'd move in with my grandparents and wait until he got out and got straightened out again."

Unbeknownst to Pickler, her mother returned to Albemarle (about 40 miles northeast of Charlotte). Their paths crossed in a chance encounter when Pickler was in the fourth grade.

"My grandparents and I were eating out and my mother was in there with some of her friends. I don't know how I knew it was her, but we made eye contact. She went to court trying to fight for custody of me."

Her mother won, Pickler said, and for the next two years had custody. "That whole time my grandparents were trying to get me back."

They eventually succeeded. Pickler's mother left. She and her daughter haven't been in contact for years. Her father, meanwhile, was arrested several times in North Carolina -- drunken driving, assault, armed robbery. "He'd get out of prison, get on drugs really bad, get tied up with the wrong people," she said.

Father tries for new start

After he was released in July 1998, he decided to leave Albemarle.

"In a small town, your reputation is easily ruined," Pickler said. "It's hard to gain trust back from everyone. He needed to go somewhere nobody knew him. Unfortunately, he got tied up with the wrong people again.

"It just shows you can't run from your problems. They follow you everywhere."

In January 2003, her father stabbed a man in New Port Richey, Fla., on the Gulf Coast. He ran from police. When they blocked his path, he tried to use his car to ram an officer's cruiser.

He is now serving a three-year sentence at Florida State Prison in Starke. Pickler hasn't seen him since he went in. They exchange letters often.

Their bonds are strong

Some people would find it strange, she admitted, but she's still crazy about her dad.

"I've always been a daddy's girl, despite all the obstacles we've had to overcome. We're really close. I know a lot of people wouldn't understand. He's happy for me and he's pulling for me from where he's at."

Clyde Pickler's current release date is May 22. Another coincidence. That's the same week the "American Idol" finals are scheduled in Los Angeles.

"If I make it to the finale, he should be able to come," Pickler said. "Which would be really great."

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