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Former 'Idol' bringing 'Kellie country' home

Kellie Pickler grew up in North Carolina, so she knows a little something about allergies and pollen-coated cars.

Now, of course, the country singer who shot to stardom on “American Idol” in 2006 lives in Nashville, and knows a lot about the yellow stuff.

“Oh my gosh, it’s so bad. It’s about 10 times worse here,” says Pickler, 25, fighting through sniffles Tuesday during a phone interview from her home. “Nashville’s like a bowl. Everything falls down in it. And our winter wasn’t that good of a winter, so it makes the pollen even worse.”

She’ll get a bit of relief – and a hero’s welcome – when she returns to her native state for a pair of charity events: the Nicholas Sparks Foundation’s Celebrity Family Weekend in New Bern on Sunday, and Monday night’s Kat Country Jam at The Fillmore Charlotte, benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The stop in Charlotte is part of a U.S. tour that continues through 27 more cities as Pickler promotes “100 Proof.” That album, released in January, strays from the mainstream country music she flirted with on her first two CDs and roots itself in the traditional sound that the 2004 graduate of North Stanly High School grew up with.

Q. It’s been a year since you performed in Charlotte. Are you excited for Monday’s show?

Yeah, I get so excited and I get a little nervous, too, when I perform back home. Albemarle’s still gonna be home; my family still lives there, most of them. I always want my show to be a little bit better than the last time I was there. And it’s great because those are the shows that my Grandpa Pickler (Clyde Pickler Sr.) is able to come to, because he can’t travel a lot. He’s getting older.

Q. Do you get back here often, to just visit?

I don’t get back much unless I have a show, so my best friends that still live in North Carolina, I’ll fly them out and they’ll just come on the road with me for a few days. So I kind of have to bring North Carolina to me. But I’m working on trying to come back in May or June, before summer hits too hard.

Q. How is Monday night’s concert going to work?

I think this is gonna be more of a guitar-pull kind of a thing. We’re all on stage together and we’ll just go back and forth and throw it back and forth to each other. I’m not sure how many songs – I guess as many as they let us do. But we’ll be ready to sing however many or whatever you want to hear. It’ll be fun.

Q. I’ve read that you wanted this to be “a dirty country album.” Can you elaborate?

Well, I love traditional country music. My Grandpa Pickler taught me my very first country song, and that was Hank (Williams) Sr.’s “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It.” I love that classic sound. On the old records, the music sounds live. The band – it’s like they’re all playing in the same room, live. That’s how we made this record.

If you do the same thing every time, nothing changes, nothing grows. I really got to make my record. It’s Kellie country. On this record, the only rule was you’re not allowed to color inside the lines. You play what you feel.

Q. Do you have a favorite song on the album?

It’s probably “The Letter,” the song I co-wrote with Dean Dillon and Dale Dodson. It’s just a song that shows the love between a father and a daughter. (Clyde Pickler Jr. spent much of his daughter’s childhood behind bars.) Even though we’ve been through hell and back, there’s an unconditional love and a forgiveness in that song. I found a lot of closure writing that song.

Q. What was your dad’s reaction to it?

He loved it. I was so curious as to what he was gonna think, and I wasn’t sure how he was gonna take it. I wanted him to take it exactly the way he took it. I was in New York on the album tour when he heard it. We cried over the phone. But it was really sweet. It was a good moment for us to share. That song helped bring us even closer, and that was my goal.

Everybody has their opinion about he and I and our relationship, and it was a good way to set the record straight. I’m a daddy’s girl, and there are a lot of things that have been said that aren’t true, things that have been stretched. It was just a really good way to get the last word.

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