Last week, Kellie Pickler appeared on "American Idol" to sing "I Wonder," a song she co-wrote about growing up without the mother who had abandoned her at age 2. The poignant lyrics include:
"Sometimes I think about you
Wonder if you're out there somewhere thinkin' 'bout me
And would you even recognize the woman that your little girl has grown up to be
'Cause I look in the mirror and all I see are your brown eyes lookin' back at me
They're the only thing you ever gave to me at all"
"I think about how it ain't fair that you weren't there to braid my hair like mothers do
You weren't around to cheer me on
Help me dress for my high school prom like mother's do
Did you think I didn't need you here to hold my hand, to dry my tears
Did you even miss me through the years at all?"
"Forgiveness is such a simple word
But it's so hard to do
When you've been hurt"
Pickler's appearance raised speculation about the way she looked: Some thought she looked 40 years old instead of the fresh-faced 19-year-old who sang on Idol's stage only a year before; some disliked the long blue matronly, elastic-sleeved dress she wore; some disliked her new short and wavy hairstyle; some thought she had gained weight; and many thought she had her bustline artificially enhanced.
But there was one person who watched Idol with interest and thought she looked just fine. And that was Cynthia Morton, Kellie Pickler's mom. According to the Charlotte Observer, after watching Pickler choke up slightly as she was singing, Morton told the paper by phone that she was touched by the performance. "She was very elegant looking," said Morton, who was first interviewed by the Observer in November. "She was very classy. She made me proud. She dressed like a little lady."
In her first public statements about her daughter last November, Morton said that when she discovered Kellie was on Idol, "I watched every one of them, start to finish. I'd rewind them and watch again because that was the closest I've been to my baby." And, yes, she voted for her daughter, repeatedly, after every performance.
When the Observer first located Morton, who is using her maiden name, she didn't want to speak with them and doesn't want her location revealed, only saying it is a midsize city in the Southeast. "I don't want to be abused by the public, by the media," she said. "I have already been abused much of my life. I have started over. I have learned to stand on my own for the first time in my life, to be proud of who I am."
Morton, who claims she has been in several abusive relationships since she was a teenager, wants to remain anonymous because, she said, she is afraid of abusive men from her past tracking her down. A severe beating by one man left her in a body cast and required jaw replacement, dental implants and a metal plate in her mouth, she said. She recovered but required therapy to learn how to walk and talk again. Those surgeries altered the shape of her face, though they did not disfigure her. Her three marriages all failed.
Through counseling, she said, she has come to understand domestic violence and speaks to battered women's groups. "This is my new life," Morton said. "I don't need a man. With my track record, I'm better off without one."
Some of the things said about her in the press have been hurtful, she said, some just wrong. She said she doesn't drink alcohol, doesn't do drugs. "I'm not as bad as they say. I just made bad choices." Morton, who has a job in financial services, said she doesn't need money: "I don't want anything. I don't want anything but to keep myself safe." She sings at Christian events and in the choir of her nondenominational church.
Morton said she left Kellie when her daughter was 2, in fear for her life. In court filings during the custody dispute later, she alleged that she was a battered spouse. Morton regained custody when Kellie was 10, and they lived together for about two years.
Pickler said in a February interview with the Observer that during that time her mother was "physically and mentally abusive of me." In 1998, Kellie's grandparents regained custody after alleging in court documents that Morton had inappropriately disciplined the child and made her swallow liquid soap. Morton said she did not abuse her daughter. She admits she once left a scratch on Kellie's arm when she tried to restrain her from getting out of a moving car.
(In an interview with Us magazine last year, Pickler revealed she was a victim of physical and mental child abuse at the hands of her mother, recounting a moment from her childhood when her mother told her to commit suicide: "I remember my mother and I were in the kitchen and I said, 'I wish God would take me away, I'd much rather be dead than live here with you.' She took a knife out, set it on the counter and said, 'Here, do it then.' I was in fourth grade. Of course I never would have acted upon it, but it's done a lot of emotional scarring.")
After Kellie's grandparents regained custody, Morton says she left. "Why keep going in and out of court and keep dragging her through that? That's not fair for a child's life." She eventually left for California, then moved elsewhere.
Morton said one day, long before "American Idol," she went to the Sonic restaurant in Albemarle to see Kellie. Someone else took her order, but she saw Kellie there, from afar."She was pretty," Morton says. "Looked like I used to look."
She didn't see Kellie again until early 2006. A prison mug shot of her ex-husband on a news channel caught her by surprise. That was followed by video of a young woman singing on the stage of a TV show. Morton said she gaped in astonishment to discover it was her estranged daughter on "American Idol." Even after Kellie was voted off in sixth place in April, Morton said she would watch the show hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
"She did good. She knew when she screwed up. You could see it." Morton followed her daughter in the media. She wasn't pleased when a snapshot of Kellie's midriff-baring prom outfit showed up. "She wouldn't have gotten out of the house with that on," if she was still around, Morton said. (And how ironic is Morton's statement, after Kellie posed the question about her mother not being there for her prom in "I Wonder"?)
Morton hasn't tried to contact Kellie, but asked the Observer to pass along an e-mail address and a short handwritten note. Kellie was told privately that the Observer found her mother and was made aware of the story before its November publication. A representative of her record label said she had no comment. When Morton heard "I Wonder" for the first time last year, she asked the Observer to pass along this message to Kellie: "Tell her I love her." Too little, too late?
MORE AWARDS FOR CARRIE?
AmericanIdol.com reports that Carrie Underwood has added five more Academy of Country Music Awards nominations to her list of achievements. The nominations are for: Female Vocalist, Album ("Some Hearts"), Single of the Year, Song of the Year and Video of the Year for "Before He Cheats." Carrie received her first nominations in the ACM’s Video and Album categories.
“I feel like I am still in a dream,” said Carrie. “My life has been such a whirlwind in the past two years, so please don’t wake me up!”
Carrie took home two trophies at last year’s awards: Top New Female Vocalist and Single of the Year for “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” The Academy of Country Music Awards airs May 15.
On Thursday, Underwood appears on "American Idol" to perform her current single, “Wasted.”
CLASSIC IDOL VIDEO
Amy Adams singing the Dixie Chicks' "Sin Wagon." It's better than Carrie Underwood's version:
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