The Tragic Life Of Hallmark Star Kellie Pickler

The following article contains references to domestic abuse and suicide.

Some of the most memorable alumni of "American Idol" are those who not only launched successful music careers after the show but also overcame incredible personal odds to make it on in the first place. Kellie Pickler stands out among them. The country singer from small-town North Carolina became an instant favorite with viewers in Season 5 as much for her hard-luck backstory as for her impressive vocal chops. Pickler's efforts weren't quite enough to claim the championship — she faced tough competition from Katharine McPhee, Taylor Hicks, and Chris Daughtry — but she finished a respectable sixth.

From there, Pickler went on to join the ranks of Adam Lambert, Jennifer Hudson, and Clay Aiken as an "Idol" non-winner success story. Her first album alone, "Small Town Girl," sold nearly a million copies. In addition to her singing career, she won the coveted mirrorball trophy on "Dancing With the Stars" in 2013. She also ventured into acting with featured roles in three Hallmark movies.

Pickler is one of the lucky ones. If not for "Idol," she might have been destined for a lifetime of poverty, and her traumatic childhood could have led her to make regrettable life choices. Instead, she made the most of her sudden fame and even drew on her personal pain to craft poignant songs such as "I Wonder" and "Mother's Day." The star's courage in the face of adversity continues to inspire fans to this day.

Kellie Pickler lost the only mother she really knew

A native of Albemarle, North Carolina, Kellie Pickler had a childhood straight out of a soap opera. Her mother, Cynthia Morton, was a teen mom who left her family when Pickler was two years old. Her father, Clyde Pickler, had substance abuse issues and was frequently in jail. "He was always in trouble with the law. Always," Pickler told The Boot. "So it was a battle to have to go and visit him in the penitentiary as a child, but that was so normal for me. Looking at it now, as an adult, that's not normal. That's not the way it's supposed to be."

Pickler was primarily raised by her grandparents. She was particularly close to her grandmother Faye Pickler, whom she credits with nurturing her love of singing. Faye was the inspiration for the song "My Angel," which includes the lyrics "You were like my mother / You were my best friend." Sadly, Faye died of lung cancer when Pickler was just 15. The singer once told Guideposts, "If I thought I knew what emptiness felt like before, I was wrong."

In 2006, Clyde was released from prison once again. Pickler tried to reconnect with him briefly, but it wasn't long before he was incarcerated once more, and the two lost touch. Her father died in 2019, and her grandfather, Clyde Sr., died three years later.

Kellie Pickler and her mother don't speak

Kellie Pickler briefly went back to live with her mother, Cynthia Morton, when she was 10. It was hardly a heartwarming reunion. Pickler claimed in an Us Weekly interview that her mother inflicted both physical and emotional pain during that time (via New York Post). At one point during a fight, Pickler said, her mom even encouraged her to take her own life. "Of course, I would never have acted upon it, but it's done a lot of emotional scarring," she said. After two years, Pickler's grandparents successfully sued to reclaim custody on the grounds Cynthia was an unfit guardian.

Cynthia has denied being abusive to her daughter. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer, she defended her decision to leave her family, explaining she was escaping a violent relationship (via Star News Online). Her subsequent marriages were no healthier; at one point, she was beaten so severely as to need surgery and physical therapy. "I'm not as bad as they say. I just made bad choices," she told the outlet. Only after seeing Pickler on "American Idol" did Cynthia realize her daughter was on her way to fame.

Although Morton forwarded her contact information to Pickler, the two have never reconnected. In 2008, the singer told People, "I'll never have a relationship with [Cynthia] or the relationship with my father that I want. You need to grieve, be hurt and angry, and cry. Then you got to get over it."

Kellie Pickler struggled with mental health

Kellie Pickler's popularity on "American Idol" quickly led to a record contract and an almost immediate career as a country singer. Her first album, "Small Town Girl," climbed the charts thanks to songs like "I Wonder," drawn from Pickler's experience growing up without her mother. But the stress of overnight success, coupled with her own unresolved pain, led to depression and grief. She told People, "I was a basket case. I was polished for the cameras, but in my dressing room, I'd crumble."

  Pickler was prescribed antidepressants but didn't like the effects and stopped taking them shortly before appearing at the 2007 Country Music Awards. The shock of withdrawal was coupled with an even bigger shock when the singer learned her mother was being interviewed on TV about her success. "I hadn't seen her in years. I felt like, 'Tonight I'm good enough?'" she recalled. "It really hurt." During the broadcast, Pickler broke down in sobs as she performed "I Wonder."

Her healing came in the form of support from her friends, her work, and her relationship with songwriter Kyle Jacobs, whom she married on the first day of 2011. Pickler said his strength and caring helped her reclaim her self-esteem and feel stable enough not to need medication.

Pickler suffered another devastating loss

Kellie Pickler and Kyle Jacobs seemed to have an unbreakable bond in and out of the studio. Jacobs co-produced his wife's hit single "Feeling Tonight" and helped co-write some of her songs, including "Mother's Day," a heart-wrenching song of regret over her lack of a healthy mother-daughter relationship. They shared some of their personal adventures with viewers on the reality series "I Love Kellie Pickler." Pickler described the show to Entertainment Weekly as "'I Love Lucy' meets 'Friends.'"

Then Pickler's life took another heartbreaking turn with the death of her husband. On February 17, 2023, Jacobs died by suicide in their Nashville home. An autopsy report showed no sign of drugs in his system, though it did indicate other medical issues such as alcohol use and pseudoseizures. Fans flooded the singer with messages of support, which she told People "has truly touched my soul, and it's helping me get through the darkest time in my life."

Pickler has been largely absent since her husband died

Kellie Pickler stepped out of the spotlight after the death of her husband, Kyle Jacobs. Her last post on Instagram was in May 2022, her Facebook page still features a photo of the couple as her profile pic, X was still Twitter in December 2022 when Pickler last tweeted, and the "News" section of her website stalled out in 2019. "One of the most beautiful lessons my husband taught me was in a moment of a crisis, if you don't know what to do, 'Do nothing, just be still,'" Pickler shared with People after his death. "I have chosen to heed his advice." 

The "Red High Heels" singer disappeared from her SiriusXM gig, hosting "The Highway" show every weekday afternoon. She started the radio show in February 2022. In April 2023, a new host was announced, without word on where Pickler had gone. Some sources have reported her contract simply ran out, while others note the timing of her on-air departure aligned with Jacobs' death.

No concerts, new music, or USO tours are on the schedule for Pickler, but there is one tragic item on her agenda: selling her Nashville home. Pickler bought the house in 2010, a year before her wedding. It's where the couple filmed their reality show "I Love Kellie Pickler," and also where Jacobs ended his life. It's been rumored the Hallmark star hasn't been able to stay in the house since his death.

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