There’s a famous Oscar-winning actress that’s all smiles and warmth when a camera is on her, but once the interview’s over and the videographer shuts down his rig, America’s sweetheart turns into a monster spawned from the seventh level of Hell. It’s a story that many people in the biz know about but keep it to themselves for fear of reprisals from her or her publicists.
It turns out that many of the million-watt smiles you see out there are merely a product of a fine-tuned performer who knows when to turn it on for those that expect their ingenue to act, well, a certain way.
I saw Kellie Pickler for the first time about four years ago at one of the many “Guitars for Girls” breast cancer charity events to which she has donated her time and immeasurable talents over the years. She was a little younger, full of spunk and a dollop of down-home charm. Ms. Pickler shared the stage with the band Gloriana and Lauren Alaina, another American Idol alumnus. Without question, all the attention was on Kellie and not for her tight tank top and platinum blonde tresses, but for the way in which she commanded that stage.
This woman, I thought back in 2013, was anything but arrogant. She carried herself with such sweetness; a wholesomeness that was betrayed by a sly smile and a tight tank top that made me think of her as someone who knows where she’s from and isn’t going to be changed by the record labels, managers, or machinations of the entertainment industry.
Tonight’s show at the Hard Rock Rocksino showed that she not only still has that swagger, but it’s simmered a little more like a jug of sun tea on an August Georgia afternoon. She took the stage and told us we’d all be saying “y’all” by the time we were finished with the show.
The Albemarle, North Carolina native’s five-piece backing band consisting of drums, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, keys, and bass, were all tight; this is a great touring ensemble that hit all the right notes, both musically and otherwise. Pickler’s voice has grown stronger over the years and the tunes in the set showcased her range as a vocalist.
Her set list was peppered with selections that she made popular after her fifth season appearance on American Idol. She closed the night out with her two most popular songs, “Best Days Of Your Life” and encored with “Red High Heels.”
Early in the show a raggedy sign held together by a ton of scotch tape was tossed onstage. Kellie took a moment, put her mic down, and attempted to decipher the sign. She held it up to the audience, showing the proclamation “I sang with you in Afghanistan.”
The woman holding it up, a thirty-something Army vet, told Ms. Pickler that several years ago on Christmas day in Kandahar, Afghanistan both Kellie and this woman sang a few Christmas carols during a USO visit that the singer made to the troops. Ms. Pickler jumped down off the stage and exchanged hugs, posed for a few selfies with her and said it was great to see her “on this side of the world.”
The army vet then walked back to her seat, all smiles, greeted by high fives and thank yous from the audience for her service.
If there were any nits to pick, it’s that the sound mix wasn’t quite right throughout most of the evening. At times, she fussed with her earpieces. It was a muddy mix with the band amped up and sometimes drowning out her vocals. Towards the encore it was perfectly blended; the techs must have finally got it right. Her vocals on “Best Days” were note perfect.
So, after the show ended I made my way to my car, parked in the back of the casino parking lot. Who did I see exiting the venue? Why, Ms. Pickler nonchalantly strolling to the bus wearing the same sleeveless black outfit she had on while onstage. A few women screamed her name and asked for an autograph. Ms. Pickler ignored both her handlers and the twenty-two degree temperatures and strolled over, all smiles, to pose for pictures and sign a few autographs. Her arms were all chicken-skinned as she braved the bitter Cleveland wind but her face was lit up like a Christmas tree, once again displaying that down home sweetness that her grandma raised her with.