2008 flashback: Etowah High School wins contest to host Kellie Pickler

Kellie PIckler showed up at Etowah High School on June 17, 2008 after she held a contest where this particular school texted 500K to win a contest.

Kellie PIckler showed up at Etowah High School on May 5, 2008 after she held a contest where this particular school texted 500K to win a contest.

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed May 5, 2008

Kellie Pickler did graduate high school. (Really!) But she readily admits: “I’m no role model.”

Dr. Kellie Pickler or attorney Kellie Pickler doesn’t quite sound as apropos as country singer Kellie Pickler. And she’s built an impressive fan base – especially at Etowah High School in Woodstock.

And for kicks, Kicks 101.5 and her record label at Sony BMG took an idea that worked in Philadelphia: kids from the high school who sent the most text messages got a free concert from said Pickler.

Etowah High School principal Ron Dunnavant heard from his brother that Etowah a few weeks back was in third place in the contest. So he went on the P.A. system that Monday and told kids to push them to No. 1. He wanted to celebrate a great year in which Etowah was named a “School of Excellence” by the state, one of only four schools this year.

His students did not disappoint. They ended up texting more than 500,000 times, averaged out to 227 per student. Junior Cole Arnold, a Pickler fan, contributed 120,000 all by himself by hooking his phone up to automated text messaging software for an entire week. Overall, metro Atlantans sent a whopping 2 millon texts (more than doubling Philly.)

“It’s like American Idol all over again!” she said.

Kellie Pickler performing at Etowah High School in May of 2008. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

Kellie Pickler performing at Etowah High School in May of 2008. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

Originally set up as an acoustic set in the gym, the label was so impressed by the response, they drove from Nashville an entire band and set the concert up in the football field for 4,000 Etowah middle and high school students.

With a sea of posters (including “I love Kellie like a stalker” and another shaped like a pickle with her head on it), she sang for 40 minutes, including a couple of new tunes and she even teared up after “I Wonder.” “I feel like I’m singing to my peers, ” said Kellie, who graduated in 2004. The cheerleaders presented her an Etowah Eagles football jersey, a megaphone with her name emblazoned on it, plus a yearbook signed by hundreds of students.


Pickler has been running almost nonstop for two years. The sixth place “Idol” finisher was the first one out of the box with a CD before anybody else from the Class of 2006. After the show and the tour, she began promoting her album with a radio tour that led her to a Douglasville mall. She generated three top 20 hits over the next 18 months with almost nonstop touring, including stints opening for Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts. She has sold more than 740,000 albums, more than Taylor Hicks and all the other Class of ’06ers except Daughtry.

I spoke with her for a few minutes in the media center. (I guess they don’t call them libraries anymore.).

Do you text message?

I’m not a very big phone person. I’m not carrying it around. But I’d rather text than to talk to people on the phone!

Why aren’t you a big phone person?

I’m around people all day long. I like my space where I don’t have to be talking all the time. It’s important to have me time.

What phone do you have?

I have an iPhone. I go through phones like people change their clothes. I probably have had every phone out there. I’ve had four a Blackberry, I had a Pearl I dropped down four flights of stairs. I had a World phone on the USO tour. Pretty much blew that up. And I dropped an iPhone into the commode at a Cheesecake Factory. Luckily, it was before I used the bathroom!

I saw you opening for Rascal Flatts a few months ago and you cried after singing “I Wonder.” (the autobiographical song about her mom, whom she is estranged.) How often does that happen?

Every once in awhile it really hits me. It’s such an emotional song. It’s so personal yet I’m doing it in front of thousands of people. It becomes overwhelming. I can put the microphone down and hear everyone singing the song. You look into the crowd and see a mom holding her child, a little girl. That gets me sometimes.

You handling this whirlwind life okay so far?

It’s just crazy! The whole thing is sort of surreal. It becomes overwhelming constantly on the go. It’s very rare for me to slow down and absorb everything, the whole experience and the atmosphere. Sometimes, after a show, I have to lay down in bed and tell myself to slow down. I’m still adrenalized, still pumped from getting off the stage. I think, ‘Am I really doing this?’ This is what I wanted since I was a little girl.

Kellie Pickler's red high heels. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

Kellie Pickler’s red high heels. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

How was the USO tour?

It was amazing. I knew Toby Keith had done it. It was an incredible learning experience, really eye opening. It just makes you appreciate your life. You learn not to take even small things for granted.

What’s your favorite moment with a soldier?

There’s this song on my record, “Small Town Girl.” It’s actually one of the first songs I ever wrote about my hometown [Albermarle, N.C.] I had one soldier say when I sung that, he closed his eyes and it felt like he was back home. That was one of the coolest things someone ever said to me. It motivated me to want to go back.

So are you still getting flak for not knowing your European countries on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”

I have ot say I’ll have to tell these students to pay attention in class or you’ll look like a dumb*ss on television. But I don’t know anybody but a handful of people who knew that Budapest was the capital of Hungary. A lot of people won’t admit it but I was honest. I say what I think!

Are you touring this summer or working on a new album?

I’m doing both. I’m hitting some fairs and festivals. I’m doing a fair with Kid Rock in South Dakota. Hopefully nobody hits me over the head with a pool stick!

[Someone then said, “Don’t join him in a Waffle House!” Not sure if she got that!]

Finally, what’s on your iPod?

I can’t get mine to work. I’m computer illiterate. I do listen to CDs. I love Dolly Parton and Fergie. I love John Mayer. He’s one of my favorites. Keith, Kenny.


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