The charming bumpkin you saw on "American Idol," the corny cutup you've seen on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and the wannabe crossover diva you heard on her second album -- those aren't really Kellie Pickler.
"The past couple of years that I've been in Nashville since I signed my record deal, I've struggled to figure out where my place is," said Pickler, who will play a soldout show Saturday at Mystic Lake Casino. "There's a lot more to Kellie Pickler than the first two albums let you in on."
It took a heart-to-heart with a North Carolina childhood friend -- remember, Pickler had never been to an airport until she flew to Hollywood for "Idol" in 2005 -- to get her on the right path.
"Summer Townsend Herlocker sat me down and she said, 'Kellie, I love your records. But where's you?'
"'Red High Heels' [her first single] is me. I've got pieces of me that are scattered throughout both of my records. I need to make an album that is consistently me."
So Pickler, 24, has spent the past year and a half working with patient, simpatico producer Frank Liddell, the force behind Miranda Lambert's success.
"He's not about rushing it," Pickler said recently from Nashville. "He said, 'I want people to hear on your record what I see in front of me.' I know what I love, but how can we do that with today's styles? I want to go in and cut the most country, backwoods -- some dirty country music. But I've got a lot of people to answer to and I've got to make certain people happy because you have companies investing a lot of money into you. I'm patient, and I'm paying my dues."
Her Minnesota hubby
Pickler has been writing songs with such Nashville pros as Leslie Satcher, Dean Dillon and Minnesota-bred Kyle Jacobs, whom she married Jan. 1.
Originally from Bloomington, Jacobs is a successful songwriter best known for co-writing "More Than a Memory" for Garth Brooks. Pickler has come to Minnesota to visit Jacobs' family, including Christmas 2009.
"That was the first time I'd ever had a white Christmas," said the chatty Pickler. "There were several feet of snow. It was an experience. It was nice."
What do the Jacobses make of her North Carolina accent?
"I don't feel like I have an accent. So I always mock everybody there," the ever-feisty, often-playful singer said. "Kyle's mom [Sharon] and I pick at each other about it. She tries to talk like me and I talk like her. We do get a lot of laughs out of where I came from versus where Kyle came from. We grew up eating grass on opposite sides of the fence."
They were introduced by friends at the Tin Roof bar in downtown Nashville. The next day, they set up a songwriting session and began dating. Two years later, in the summer of 2010, they got engaged and then eloped on a private island in the Caribbean. She's been encouraging Jacobs, who has been in Nashville for 13 years, to record an EP.
Pickler doesn't keep up with the other Twin Citian in her life, Paris Bennett, who was eliminated from "Idol" in 2005 right after Pickler. But she is tight with "Idol" runner-up Katharine McPhee, who was going to be a bridesmaid in Pickler's formal wedding before she eloped instead.
In the six years since she took that flight to Hollywood for "Idol," Pickler can't believe that she's gone from a small-town trailer park to a beautiful Nashville home, from a Sonic Drive-in waitress who was "19 and green" to a country recording artist who has toured with Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift. (One of her best friends, Swift helped Pickler write her biggest single, "Best Days of Your Life.") She counts her blessings but also gives herself a reality check.
"I define success by happiness," she said. "I'm glad it's happened at the pace it has. I just hope I finally get the [next] single out before I'm 30."
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719 Twitter: @jonbream