By all rights, Kellie Pickler's third album 100 Proof should've been a blockbuster. A savvy update of classic country in the Tammy Wynette tradition, the 2012 record confirmed that Pickler could be a hell of a country singer, but the record stalled out on the charts, moving just a handful of copies -- a significant decline from 2008's eponymous album, which almost went gold. BNA Records left her behind and she signed to the independent Black River Entertainment, working once again with 100 Proof producer Frank Liddell but also Luke Wooten, coming up with The Woman I Am, a record that's a bit bright and sweeter than its predecessor.
After two albums that were as bland as Simon Cowell's wardrobe, Kellie Pickler turned around her career by following the bad-girl path of fellow reality-show alumna Miranda Lambert, which continues on The Woman I Am. On the ebullient breakup song "Ring for Sale," Pickler gets revenge on a cheating fiance by selling her ring. (Lambert would probably shank the jerk.) She also continues to wring vibrant drama from her crazy family; having already sung about the mother who abandoned her and her jailbird father, Pickler cowrote "Selma Drye," country's first great great-grandmother song, about a feisty ancestor who "kept a .38 Special and a can of snuff" in her kitchen apron.
Of all the critiques lobbied against music-competition reality shows — they’re stilted, they’re unimaginative, they’re ineffective at finding stars — the argument that they don’t reveal much about their contestants has always been the least convincing. Sometimes, record labels grow young talent in petri dishes out of public sight, but shows like “American Idol” “The X Factor” and “The Voice” show all the seams, all the pimples. Who you are for several weeks in front of a national audience is very likely who you’ll be when you take a shot at your recording career.