In the small town of Albemarle, North Carolina, the name Pickler is putting smiles on faces and money in pockets.
At Sonic, where "American Idol" charmer Kellie Pickler worked as a rollerskating waitress until a few weeks ago, the hottest item on the menu is the "Pick Pickler combo." J.D. Shuckers is hawking "Pickler pickles," and "Pick Pickler" T-shirts are flying out of nearly every store in town, where streets are closed on Tuesday nights for viewing parties. "Naughty Little Minx," a reference to one of Simon Cowell's comments toward Pickler, is also a popular T-shirt phrase, and the "Kellie calamari" at Pontiac Pointe Restaurant is selling like hotcakes.
There was a time not too long ago, however, when the name Pickler in Albemarle was more synonymous with Clyde "Bo" Pickler Jr., a town troublemaker currently serving 45 months in a Florida prison for felony battery and aggravated assault on a law-enforcement officer.
Bo is Kellie's father, and his situation has been at the center of the singer's tear-jerking "Idol" story line since her audition in Greensboro. (Kellie's been raised by her grandparents since her mother abandoned her at age 3.)
Kellie's father is set for release on May 12, before the "Idol" season is over, but he's not waiting until then to express his pride for Kellie. This week Clyde wrote a letter to the local newspaper in Albemarle, The Stanly News & Press, thanking the town for its support and uttering regret that he's not there or with Kellie in person.
"Kellie has really touched my life with all she has overcome," Bo wrote. "I can take no credit for anything she has accomplished in her 19 years of life. ... She learned from my mistakes and I didn't."
Bo wrote that despite what most believe, he and Kellie are close.
"No, I've not been the father (by far) that I should have been, but our love for each other is what it is," he wrote. "I'm her daddy and she's my little girl, just like anyone else."
Bo added that he's found God and is working for the chaplain at the Florida State Penitentiary. When released, he plans to return to Albemarle, make amends with those he's hurt and become a productive community member "instead of a menace."
"It's a living hell to look at yourself in the mirror and hate what you see," he wrote. "I've done this for 25 years, but today I can look and say, 'God has blessed you with another day and wonderful children who I'm looking forward to coming home to in the near future.' "
Last week Pickler advanced to the final 12 after earning rave reviews for her rendition of Melissa Etheridge's "I'm the Only One."
"This is crazy. I never felt that I could go from Sonic to walking the red carpet," she told MTV News on Thursday at a party to celebrate the finals. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Top 12 of 'American Idol,' it doesn't get any better than this."
Kellie said she's watched each season, praying for the opportunity to someday compete. "I highly respect all of the past contestants, and I've learned so much from [watching] them," she said.