NEW PORT RICHEY — She walked out of rural North Carolina and onto millions of television screens in 2006, a giddy, earnest teen who stood out in the fifth season of American Idol. Judges called Kellie Pickler nice and special. They said her Southern-steeped voice carried conviction.
Her popularity surged. Viewers came to know the folksy petite blond with a quaint lack of culinary knowledge. The spotlight shined bright and eventually exposed some dark corners. Audiences learned of her sad childhood, how her mother left when she was 2, how her father was serving time in a Florida prison for stabbing a man during a burglary and nearly running over a police officer in Pasco County.
Kellie finished sixth. Five days after she was voted off the show, Clyde Pickler was released on probation. He moved into a Best Western in New Port Richey.
Meanwhile, Kellie became a star in Nashville, recording three albums. Then on May 21, her career got another huge jolt when 15 million television viewers watched her win Dancing With the Stars with partner Derek Hough.
In a promo that aired on ABC the night of the season finale, Clyde Pickler recalled getting the letter in prison in 2006 from Kellie, announcing that she was going to Hollywood with American Idol. He talked about the encouragement she gave him.
"There's been hard times, but she's always shown me unconditional … love," he said dabbing a tear from his eye, "and I've tried to show it back."
The spotlight once again trained on Clyde Pickler, and once again it revealed trouble. It turns out he is wanted by authorities in Pasco County after disappearing while on probation.
National media mentioned his fugitive status in conjunction with her winning. But Pickler, 48, has been listed as an absconder since November 2011, according to Florida Department of Corrections records. A month after his release from prison in 2006, the Department of Corrections granted him a transfer to Albemarle, a town of 15,000 in western North Carolina. He was to stay there in Stanly County until his probation was up, the department told him.
He was arrested in February 2007 on a domestic violence charge. After that, according to the Pasco Sheriff's Office, he moved several times without notifying his probation officer in North Carolina.
The officer relayed the information to Pasco authorities who then listed him as a fugitive. Two months ago, he called his Pasco probation officer, who told Pickler to either turn himself in or call the State Attorney's Office to schedule a court date.
On May 31, authorities made contact with Pickler in New Hanover County, N.C. — about 160 miles from Stanly County. Records show he is not in jail but is up for extradition back to New Port Richey. It's up to Florida authorities to bring him back.
Kellie brought the Dancing With the Stars mirror ball trophy back to Nashville, where she was celebrated at the Grand Ole Opry. She has kept quiet about her father. Her Twitter account indicates that she is on vacation in Costa Rica.
Last year, she spoke about her father on The View, saying that he was a good man despite how he'd been painted in headlines. She spoke about forgiveness.
Her song The Letter to Daddy appeared on her album from last year, 100 Proof:
"The bottle took you from me
When I was a child
Robbed me of the love I needed
Robbed me of a smile
I prayed the same prayer every night
Especially for you
That's what little girls do"
Alex Orlando can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.
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This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Kellie Pickler hails from Albemarle, a town in Stanly County, N.C. An earlier version misspelled the name of the town and county.