February is Cat Appreciation Month, but as country singer Kellie Pickler says, "I appreciate cats all the time. I've been a critter lover all my life."
After singing her way to 6th place on "American Idol" in 2006, Pickler moved to Franklin, TN, where she soon adopted Pickles. The orange tabby became a frequent source of funny stories for Pickler on TV talk shows. "I was crazy about that cat," she says in a phone interview.
Unfortunately, songwriter Kyle Jacobs, Pickler's husband since 2010, and his mother, are allergic to cats, but they can tolerate dogs. It took three dogs to replace Pickles, who now lives with a friend of Pickler's. The trio includes Moo-Moo, who Pickler says looks like a "pig dog"; Maddie; a Pit Bull/Labrador Retriever mix who was dumped in Chicago and somehow landed in Minneapolis before Pickler rescued her; and Pixie, a Chinese Crested.
Pickler now gets her cat fix by wearing them. With fashion designer Geren Ford, she's created a limited edition cat sweater for Cat Appreciation Month to benefit the ASPCA. Pickler is quick to point out that 100 percent of sale proceeds will go to the non-profit animal welfare group. Also, for each fan who posts a cat photo at www.facebook.com/freshstep in February, Fresh Step will donate $1 (up to $100,000) to the ASPCA. Learn more at www.aspca.org.
"You'll like these sweaters; they're really nice -- not like crazy cat lady sweaters or cheesy Christmas sweaters," Pickler says.
"Really nice" describes Pickler, too. She's one of those celebrities fans feel they can connect with; it seems that what you see is what you get. Her music is earnest and heartfelt. In some ways, she's very much like Dolly Parton.
"Well, thank you," Pickler says. "I am pretty honest. But some of my life does stay inside my house; some of me will never make it to a song." For those who want to know Pickler better, her new CD, "100 Proof," is her most personal, yet.
"This CD is what I wanted to do; it's the kind of country music I heard growing up," she says. Pickler rather famously had a rocky start in life, raised in a trailer by her grandparents. Her mother forged checks and eventually deserted the family, and her father was jailed for aggravated assault.
"Listen, my life has been a country song," Pickler says and laughs. "I never could have dreamed of seeing all the places in the world, and going on USO tours, and meeting people like Dolly Parton."
For others, including future "American Idol" contestants, Pickler advises: "Be yourself, and be authentic. I was lucky. I just jumped and hoped my parachute opened."
Her chute certainly did open, and as a result Pickler is able to give back -- which she does big time for the USO and a long list of charities, including several animal-related groups.
"Growing up, I listened to Dolly, Tammy (Wynette), Conway (Twitty) and Hank (Williams Jr.)." she says. "The songs on '100 Proof' are like that – real, authentic country music. But the songs on this CD are also authentic to me."
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services