It's been a long road from the 'American Idol' stage to her third studio album, but Kellie Pickler is better for it. The disc's lead single, 'Tough,' sums up the North Carolina native's struggles and triumphs, despite the fact that she didn't write it. The tune, like the album itself, is the 24-year-old's attempt to give her fans a more accurate portrayal of who she is. While the project's title and release date are still pending, The Boot got the latest scoop on the upcoming album from the songstress herself.

This is the first new music we've heard from you since becoming Mrs. Kyle Jacobs. Congrats on your marriage! How has finding true love changed you?

I had never seen [true love] before. Sometimes it's hard, because we're human, to just go on faith and believe something is there when you ain't never seen it before. I had never, ever, ever seen a relationship that had what he and I have. That is no disrespect to anyone I know or grew up with. I know that my grandmother really showed me how to be a wife, a good wife. I never thought I'd be one though, because I never thought there would be a man out there who could love me. There's more flaws than smooth edges. They're mostly jagged, tattered. I'm really tattered at the seams. I'm very blessed. Kyle is definitely my saving grace.

'Tough' sounds like an autobiographical song, but Leslie Satcher wrote it. How did that come about?

I met Leslie a couple of months ago, and there's a couple of songs on the record that we've written together. After our first time writing, I asked her to make me a CD of her favorite songs she's written that haven't been cut. She asked, "Where are you in the song picking process?" I said, "It's up in the air, because I've been given some great songs by amazing writers but they're just not the right songs for me." People still don't get me. They've had glimpses with 'I Wonder,' obviously, that's my story. But they really don't know Kellie off stage. I love shoes and dressing up, but [only] when I have to work. When I'm off stage I'm in baseball hats, flip-flops, jeans and my Target t-shirts. [laughs]

How did she respond to that?

She said, "Well, who are you?" I said, "Good question." I told her about my life and my story, and I shared some very, very personal things with her that I've never shared with anybody. She went home, locked herself in the room and said, "I ain't coming out until I write Kellie Pickler's first single." She tells me that I speak in lyrics, so she could take my story and what I shared with her and sum it up with one word she used to described me, and that was 'tough.'

How did you react to her word choice?

I thought, "That's interesting. I can't wait to hear it." I did say a prayer before I listened: "Lord, we have listened to a thousand songs, please let this be the one." And it was. Leslie really hit the nail on the head with that one. She really captured 'Kellie.' She captured not just my story, but it's a lot of people's story. There a lot of people who life's dealt them a hand of cards that ain't a royal flush, but it's all how you play the game.

Listen to 'Tough'

The song seems to have a really positive message, though.

Leslie and I had talked about how you don't get to choose the place the day you're born, but you choose what you do with it. You can either let the things that happen to you in life make you weak ... or make you tough. The better option to go is tough. You live longer, too. [laughs] Some of the things that happened to me, and many other people I know, could have put them in the grave if they hadn't gotten some thicker skin. I'm very blessed to have Leslie be a part of my life, not only professionally, but as a friend. She is such an amazing woman. I have learned so much from her. I've only known her a couple of months, but I feel like I've known her my whole life. She's really incredible. She is very much an angel. She handles herself with so much grace. When I grow up, if I ever do, [laughs] I would want people to look at me the way people look at Leslie.

Who are some other of your songwriting heroes on the credits of the new album?

I've been able to write with several writers I've never been able to write with before. Dean Dillon is one. I couldn't even believe that he took the time of day to write with little ol' me. I remember writing with him and Dale Dodson. They wrote one of my favorite songs, Lee Ann Womack's 'Have You Seen That Girl?' In the past five, ten years, that 'Call Me Crazy' album is one of my favorite that's ever been released by a female. From front to back, every song on that record is amazing. I have ruined that CD, I've had to buy more than one copy, just playing the hell out of it. I adore Lee Ann and her work. To be able to write with someone who's written, I don't know how many songs, it's one of those things where you sit in a room and look at him and think, "I hope that when I'm his age that there's someone sitting in the room with me, looking at me the way I'm looking at him." That's what you aspire to be like as a writer.

How does this CD differ from your last?

I'm very excited about the progress and the growth on this album. I've not held back at all. I know I have in the past, especially as far as production. I've never been vocal about what I want. One reason being that I really didn't know what I had a say on. When I [was thrust] onto this, I was 19 and green and had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I liked to sing. I didn't know anything about the studio and the recording process. I knew what went on in front of the curtain, and I knew that I could do that. But I had to learn what to do behind the curtain.

What approach have you used to change that?

Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten are producing this project, and they've done a great job putting up with me and my crazy ways! [laughs] They've been so good about wanting to make it exactly the way I want it. They take all my ideas and thoughts and cram them in together somehow. It's the first time I've ever sat down and gone, "I want spoon, I want fiddle and I want some banjo right here at this point of the song." I had so much fun working with the musicians. The whole process has been a huge learning experience. It's been an emotional healing experience. I've found a lot of closure in different parts of life, making this record, which is really, really good. I'm excited about the rest of the world hearing the rest of the album.

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