Kellie Pickler
Credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

On Tuesday, we sat down with country star Kellie Pickler to discuss her new work with the ConAgra Foods Foundation and Feeding America, a charitable organization dedicated to fighting hunger in America. “There’s no reason why we can’t beat this,” says the singer, who reveals that she knew various peers growing up that had to worry about having food on the table. Pickler’s main goal right now is to get people over to ConAgra’s Facebook page to learn about how to help with their Hunger Free Summer campaign.

Still, since we had a hold of her, we had to ask about her recent split with label Sony Music Nashville (she was on BNA, with whom she was contracted for three albums), and Pickler was quite open about the whole shebang.

For those who don’t know, Pickler’s third album 100 Proof has struggled more than her previous efforts and sold 74,000 copies (versus Small Town Girl, which sold over 800,000, and her self-titled sophomore disc, which passed 400,000). She looked back on making the record and looked ahead to her next step.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s interesting that this split comes after 100 Proof, which was easily your best work so far — at least in my opinion. Before we talk about the record deal, I’d like to hear about making the record.

KELLIE PICKLER: Luke Wooten and Frank Lidell — they helped me discover the artist in myself. Since American Idol, it’s been like a blur. I’ve been pulled in a hundred different directions by a hundred different people. You know, signing contracts that I couldn’t read, but I was 19 and green and it was, “Sign this contract or go back to working in fast food,” and I didn’t want to do that. Luke and Frank sat me down and I got to just sit with an acoustic guitar and I got to sing songs to them that I grew up on. You know Tammy, Merle, Waylon, Al Dexter, Kitty Wells. I could just go on and on and on. I just love traditional country music. They saw that in me, and that’s real. That’s me. When this album came out, the people that know me, my friends, went, “There’s Kellie. There you are.”

So was it at all frustrating for you to make this rootsy, strong, self-reflective album and then to split ties with Sony?

Well, it wasn’t promoted. When my album came out, I didn’t even have a song out on the radio. Nobody does that. [The label was] spread thin. When I was making my record, the CEO left. He retired. They brought in Gary [Overton]. My A&R left. They brought in somebody else. I went through four heads of promotion when my record was coming out. The only consistency was inconsistency.

Did that make recording tough?

Recording this album, to be honest — and I don’t mind saying this — the process was hell. We couldn’t agree on songs. The thing is, my life is a country song. I don’t need to be manufactured, and I don’t need anyone to tell me what to say or what to sing.

It was certainly your most critically well-received album.

It’s the only album that I’ve ever had that the critics have embraced. You know why? Because it’s me. You listen to songs like “The Letter to Daddy.” That is the most intimate, personal song that I’ve ever written or released. That song is so special to me, and I’ve had fathers that have kids come up to me and say, “Thank you for writing that song. It helped my daughter and I heal.” There was a girl — her father was an addict and he ended up dying two days before she got to meet me, but that song helped them. That right there just showed me that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and doing exactly what I’m supposed to do.

Is this pursuit of a more traditional sound a recent desire? Have your tastes changed since you signed a deal at 19 years old?

This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. The first time I ever walked into Sony, and I saw Dolly Parton’s plaques hanging up on the wall, that’s all I could talk about — Dolly! I want to make a record like her or Loretta Lynn. I wanted to make a hardcore country album. That’s who I am. There’s one place that I’ve always known I wanted to be, and that is on country radio. I don’t give a damn about being on any other format’s station. I respect it, but it ain’t me. I am a diehard country music fan. My life has been so inconsistent. I was tossed all over the place growing up, which I guess prepared me for the music business, but the one thing that has always been there, that has never ever left me, has been country music.

So do you know where you want to go business wise from here?

I’ve thought about the major labels versus the more independent ones. The ones that actually can probably do more for you. They have more to prove. [You want] to sign with someone that is about the music and gets you.

What do you think, country fans?

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