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Kellie Pickler: ''That kind of hurt my feelings''

‘American Idol’ castoff Kellie talks about song selection, the judge’s criticism, and being a country girl in the big city

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Kellie Pickler: Ray Mickshaw/WireImage.com

It was a ”two-strikes-you’re-out” situation for preternaturally peppy Kellie Pickler on Wednesday’s American Idol, when after back-to-back weeks of badly timed and off-key performances, the country girl got sent a-packin.’ Not that Picker’s complaining. She knows she’s got a bright future ahead — or at least a few new pairs of shoes.

You’d never been in the bottom three before last night and then you got sent home. You must have been a little surprised.
Gosh, no. I’m never surprised. To be honest, I thought I was going home last week so I was lucky to hang in for one more week. For the past two weeks, I’ve had rough performances. So it was expected. I deserved to go home.

When Simon said he’d been overly harsh on one person’s performance and was ready to apologize, did you secretly think he was talking to you?
No, I knew from the beginning it was Kat. I told her after her performance, ”You were absolutely stunning. You did great and you’re not going home.” She’s great, as well as the other contestants. But she had nothing to worry about. She deserved the apology.

So what went wrong for you these last two weeks?
I don’t think I’m the best at delivering ballads. It was two weeks of slow, ballad love songs, and I love the fast up-tempo ones ’cause I can swing my hair around and everyone can tap their feet.

One of your more memorable performances — Queen’s ”Bohemian Rhapsody” — was a major gamble, and a lot of people expected you to tank on that one.
Oh, I absolutely love Queen. They were like the highlight of the whole journey. I knew it was a hard, hard song to do. I knew I would be stepping out of my element. I felt like I was getting so much criticism though. I felt like I didn’t get a lot of credit for things I’d done, so I thought maybe if I take a risk and pull it off, people will say something nice.

One of the nicer things said about you was when Simon Cowell said he liked you more than Carrie Underwood. That was a promising moment in your fledgling career.
Oh my God, did you see my face? I was completely shocked when he said that. It’s a compliment, but I met Carrie and she is one of the sweetest people I ever met and I would never compare myself to her vocally. She is phenomenal. I thought it would really hurt me because it would make a lot of Carrie fans upset. I would never say that about someone because I imagine it probably hurt her feelings. At the same time, I know she knew it’s just a TV show and it’s about ratings. You can’t take what they say personally. You smile and just say thank you.

Or, in your case: ”I’m sorry.” When the judges trashed you, you always apologized. Didn’t you ever want to stand up for yourself, Kevin Covais-style?
No, I felt like in the beginning of the show they get us through the first few rounds and they saw the potential in me. They see more potential than you do. It’s hard to see it when you’re on the inside looking out. I felt like I let them down.

But weren’t you ever angry?
I’ll be honest with you. It’s really hard to get on that stage in front of millions of people and have the judges pick you apart. But at the same time, this is what we signed up for. In this business, if you can’t take constructive criticism, then get out and run fast. That’s what it’s about right now, though, taking constructive criticism. That’s what they’re there for. I would rather them say, ”Kelly, you need to work on this” than tell me what I want to hear.

Did they have any tips for you after the show last night?
All three said, ”You’re great. You’re gonna go places.” Of course, why did they have to save that for the end? No, they were very complimentary. At the end of the day, they do what they have to do. When the cameras are rolling, they aren’t there to be our friends or be nice to us. But when the cameras go off they’re the sweetest, nicest people you could ever meet. I hope in the future I’m able to still have friendships with all three of them.

Why did you try out for American Idol instead of Nashville Star?
I never thought I would ever make it on American Idol. Before Carrie Underwood, I was not planning on auditioning because I didn’t think a country person could win. I planned to audition for Nashville Star this season if I had not made American Idol. But fortunately I made American Idol.

Maybe it’s not too late for you with the Nashville Star auditions?
Hopefully I won’t have to do that now.