Albemarle native Kellie Pickler was thrilled to be back in her home state on Thursday afternoon, but at the same time feeling anxious.
The country singer was about to spend three hours hugging fans, mugging for cameras, signing autographs and calling people “baby” and “darling” as part of an event to promote her new CD at the Belmont Walmart. Or so she hoped.
“I asked my road manager, ‘Do you think anybody’s gonna be here today?’” said Pickler, 27, looking exceptionally cheery but also a little weary as she finished up interviews in the store’s training room, still somewhat fresh off a red-eye from L.A. “I always get so nervous, and I want there to be a great turnout.”
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What they couldn’t see was the line – hundreds of feet long – that had begun forming in the garden department 31/2 hours before the event’s scheduled start, already snaking back into paint and home decor and eventually reaching into electronics.
Steve Gravier of Charlotte was at the head of it, toting four copies of Pickler’s new CD. Back a little farther were Jason and Angela Kendrick of Lawndale, with sons Tyler, 15, and Jase, 4.
When the time came, Pickler sat Jase on her lap and gave him a peck on the cheek, then posed for a photo with Tyler, who planted a big kiss on hers. “She was awesome,” Angela Kendrick said as they left with two signed CDs.
It was the first of two public appearances to support “The Woman I Am,” released Monday. Pickler will clog the aisles of another Walmart on Friday, this time in her hometown of Albemarle, where she was raised by her grandparents and where she attended North Stanly High School a decade ago.
“I’m excited to see people that I went to high school with and maybe lost contact with after graduating,” she said. “I don’t want people to feel that they have to treat me differently or look at me differently. I just want to be Kellie, the same little girl that was going out to eat breakfast and lunch with grandpa and grandma.”
Of course, she’s not exactly the same little girl. She’s now a very famous young woman – many years removed from her breakout on “American Idol” in 2006; a recent winner of ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars”; someone who can knock back three shots of Jack Daniel’s on national TV without blinking (as she did on Ellen DeGeneres’ syndicated talk show Wednesday); someone whose last album was named No. 1 Country Album of 2012 by Rolling Stone magazine.
In addition to hanging with DeGeneres on Wednesday, she appeared on “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” for CBS, did radio interviews in Los Angeles earlier in the week, and had back-to-back-to-back chats with Charlotte TV reporters before Thursday’s event.
“Been doing lots and lots of talking about myself,” Pickler said, laughing. “I’m so sick of talking about myself. I want to talk about you! What do you want me to know about you? What do you have to say?”