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Throwback Thursday: Kellie Pickler at the 2007 CMA Awards

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly series showcasing an album, single, music video or performance of a bygone era and its personal and/or cultural significance.

“Forgiveness is such a simple word, but it’s so hard to do when you’ve been hurt,” Kellie Pickler accepts on her weepy ballad “I Wonder,” a cut from her 2006 debut album, Small Town Girl. A Top 15 hit at radio, the song became an extraordinary moment for her at the 2007 CMA Awards. Pickler, dressed elegantly in a fire-red, floor-length gown, poured out her heart (and countless tears) onto the stage ⎯⎯ the roar of applause and cheers from the crowd is striking. It’s hard to imagine how far country music has progressed in 10 years, and Pickler remains a shining beacon, a tragically-underrappeciated talent lost in the mix of R&B and pop currently dominating the airwaves.

Kimberly Williams-Paisley, married to guitar-slayer Brad Paisley, introduced the moment, slyly quipping, “I first met Kellie Pickler when she was out with Brad on the Check Her Ticks (and You’re Dead) Tour. That’s what I called it. I soon found out that there’s a serious side to this fun-loving young woman. When she sings this next song that she co-wrote [with Chris Lindsey, Aimee Mayo and Karyn Rochelle], you can tell that she’s singing her story straight from the heart.”

That night, Pickler was up for the since-modified Horizon Award, alongside winner Taylor Swift, Little Big Town, Jason Aldean and Rodney Atkins.

“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,” she laments over a swell of strings and piano: and from the start, her voice is caked with the past. “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.”

Pickler then further sinks into the distressing memories on the chorus: “Oh, I hear the weather’s nice in California / There’s sunny sky as far as I can see / If you ever come back home to Carolina, I wonder what you’d say to me.”

On the second verse, she imagines how life could have been different had her mother not abandon her. “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 mothers 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?”

There are few performances as iconic in the modern era. Pickler seemingly holds it all together until the bridge. The flood gates open wide, and she barely manages to utter the final “I’m in Tennessee” lyric ⎯⎯ and that’s what makes it so damn special. The only suitable reaction is a standing ovation, which seemed to overwhelm the singer, too.

Relive her performance below:

Immediately following the performance, ABC Eye Witness News (out of Raleigh, North Carolina) released a stunningly raw interview, in which Pickler did not hold back. “This is the closest you’re ever going to get to me,” she said, the emotion hanging in the back of her throat and cracking her voice. “I’m done.”

“This song has not only helped me ⎯⎯ because writing it and performing it every night has been kind of like therapy for me ⎯⎯ but I think it’s really helped a lot of other people that might be going through similar circumstances,” she later stated about the song’s heavy nature. Her mother Cynthia Malone is also featured in the clip, insisting domestic abuse as the reason she abandoned Pickler as a teenager. “The beatings became more frequent,” Malone recounted. “I knew I was going to lose my life if I didn’t leave. And I didn’t know how to leave. So, I packed up one day and I left.”

Malone then allegedly dropped Pickler off at her grandparents.

But Pickler had a few choice words about her estranged mother’s claims. “She’s supposed to be speaking on domestic violence. Ok. A lot of it [is] complete lies. I’m not mad. I’m not upset. I’m just hurt because she continues to make herself look like the victim.”

“I don’t know why you want anything to do with me now…you never wanted anything to do with me my whole life,” she choked back tears. 10 years later, Pickler seems to be doing just fine these days; her reality show on CMT is currently in its third season. Pick Pickler!

Take a look:

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Jason Scott

Editor-in-Chief of the Badlands, spinning those B-Sides. Love Parks & Rec. Addicted to high-priced coffee drinks, alt-country and synth-pop, and never know when to quit. Got a cat named Jake--and she doesn't like you very much.