For some of us, she’s still the Sushi Girl, the Calamari Kid, and that’s cool with Kellie Pickler.
“I think people are still hung up on the calamari thing, on how I pronounced the ‘l’ in salmon and called it salllmon,” Pickler tells me, referencing her “ditzy blonde” rep on the fifth season of “American Idol,” a lifetime ago in 2006.
Indeed, tasty squid is no longer a mystery to the Albemarle, N.C., native. And neither is her confidence as genuine artist.
When we first met Pickler, her magnetism was more robust than her talent on “Idol,” at least as far as we could tell sitting on the collective couch of the country.
And her backstory, a vanishing mother and an incarcerated father, was sold as far more compelling than her voice, a twangy, unpredictable holler.
“I wish I would have been more confident with myself back then,” she says. “Chill out a little, take it easy, not be so impatient. I’ve always been a strong person, but I’ve always been an insecure person, too.”
If Pickler can’t quite match the sheer vocal kapow of fellow show alums Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, the 27-year-old country star has turned out to be one of the more bankable artists the Fox hit has produced.
Pickler has released three albums, with a fourth, “The Woman I Am,” co-written with husband Kyle Jacobs, due out Nov. 12.
Each has been a plucky, girl-strong pleasure, with some cuts, such as the playfully acidic “Best Days of Your Life,” co-written by close pal Taylor Swift, being downright great.
Helping juice her post-Simon Cowell fame was a championship spin on the “Dancing With the Stars” parquet this year.
“I was terrified because I didn’t know how it was going to be received in Nashville,” she says of hoofing it with Derek Hough. “I’d never ballroom-danced before. ... But the whole town came together.”
Pickler has tried to push for a more Opry-ish vibe, but she often gets pushed back by label heads and tastemakers. “It’s so frustrating being told something is ‘too country,’ ” she says. “What does that even mean?!”