Monday (Sept. 18) marks the beginning of a new chapter in the career of Kellie Pickler. The American Idol alum will begin work on a new TV project, a syndicated weekday talk show entitled Pickler & Ben, which pairs the charismatic entertainer with Emmy-winning television veteran Ben Aaron. She tells Billboard that the show’s crew has already bonded well together.
“The whole crew and staff — everyone from the script writers to Faith Hill as an executive producer — is amazing,” she says with a smile. “She’s such a creative woman and an amazing boss. They’ve been working on it for about three years, and Ben and I came on board with it last year.”
Taping in Nashville, Pickler & Ben will feature today’s top celebrities and tastemakers on entertaining, cooking, decorating, gardening and beauty. She says that the chemistry with Aaron was pretty instant.
“It was incredible how quick we came together. We did a chemistry test with Ben and several other people, and from the moment he and I were in the chair together, sitting side by side, laughing and joking around, it just worked right off the bat. It’s amazing how close we have gotten in the short amount of time we’ve known each other. It’s like we’ve been buddies for years. His wife Ginger (Zee, from ABC’s Good Morning America) is incredible. They live in New York, so he is commuting back and forth every week to do the show,” she says, adding that the hosts are not alone in their drive to see the series succeed — and Pickler is mindful of that fact.
“We have a hundred or more people who have uprooted their lives to move to Nashville, and they believe in the show and really want to make it happen. They need it to happen for them and their families. There are so many people who have invested so much in this. We hope the viewers will give us a chance and allow us to grow, and that it will build into many more markets. We’re just trying to keep it positive, and hope that people will enjoy the show as much as we do shooting it.”
In a crowded television market, what sets their series apart? Pickler & Ben will feature several everyday heroes from cities across the United States — in addition to entertainment celebrities. “We get to shine a light on small businesses, and how peoples’ dreams become reality and how they were able to build their brand. If there’s people in your community that give back, and does so much for so many other people, and you want to bring them on the show and surprise them, we are going to try to celebrate them and give them something. We have celebrities, but we also have real people that are trying to start their business. I love that we get to shine the light on different communities throughout America.”
Though she has had success with Idol and on the CMT series I Love Kellie Pickler with husband Kyle Jacobs, the singer says that hosting a talk-show presents a totally new learning curve. However, she says the plan is not to re-invent the wheel, from a personality standpoint. “First of all, it’s important for Ben and I to be ourselves,” she stressed. “If we don’t understand something, then we are going to be honest about it. We hope that the audience will see that we are real, and allow grace time for our mistakes, and that they will grow with us and just be a part of that journey. Just like with American Idol, and anyone who gets in line for that show — you love to see them grow and get better each week. That’s the same with our show — Ben and I are going to try to grow and get better with each show. People are going to see that growth, and they are going to be a part of it. I think that people will identify and relate with that.”
Pickler feels that potential viewers will be charmed by the look and feel of the show, right down to the stunning farmhouse-style set. “I think it’s important for everyone to feel like the studio is their home too. It feels that way. I wish that people could have seen Faith designing the set, even bringing pieces from her home,” she says. “She’s so involved in the show, and so invested in it in every way, shape and form. She has made the studio feel like a home. It doesn’t actually feel like a studio. Last week, I stayed on the set after we wrapped. I actually just sat in the studio in the porch swing. There’s the giant queen-size bed porch swing that hangs in the studio, and I just sat there for an hour, just soaking it all in — thinking how I couldn’t believe this was all happening. I really hope that people enjoy the show. We want to be a bright light on television. I really think it will be a nice break from everything going on in the world — just for one hour.”
And, if you think the show is a vanity project for Hill, Pickler says to think again. “She works harder than anyone I know. She and Tim are in the middle of doing their Soul 2 Soul tour, and every moment she is off the road, she is in the studio. She works around the clock. She’s unreal, and totally wonderful.”
Pickler fans need not fret that her television career will get in the way of her music. “I’m still writing when I can, and am getting ready to release ‘If It Wasn’t For A Woman’ which my husband and our friend Brian Bunn, we three wrote the song together in honor of my grandmother who raised me,” she reveals. “It really honors any strong woman that you’ve had in your life that has helped you to become who you are today. Phil Vassar and I just went into the studio, and recorded a Christmas song together called ‘The Naughty List,’ which is fun and sassy. We are also kicking off a holiday tour in Wheeling, West Virginia the day after Thanksgiving which runs through December 24.”
Pickler & Ben will begin airing Monday in 38 markets across the United States. For a complete list of affiliates, as well as ticket information, visit www.PicklerandBen.com.