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Crooning for a Cause

Country music star Kellie Pickler brings grandparenting center stage.

Country Music Star Brings Grandparenting Center Stage

— Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

It's hard for country music star Kellie Pickler to put her finger on what she misses most about her late grandmother. Whether they were whispering secrets to one another or cheering for contestants on "The Price is Right," the duo was inseparable—best friends, in fact—throughout Pickler's life until her grandmother's death nearly eight years ago. Her absence has left a hole in the singer's heart that no amount of success, awards, or top–10 hits will ever fill.

Today has been a particularly trying day for Pickler. An all-day photo shoot and a string of interviews has left the singer, known as much for her bubbly, happy-go-lucky attitude as for her remarkable voice, raspy and exhausted. But hearing a single mention of hard rock (She's a huge fan: "I loooove rock music," she gushes contagiously, in her sweet Southern drawl. "Oh, I love it.") or her beloved grandparents, and she perks right up.

The close relationship she's had with her grandparents isn't coincidental. She was raised by Clyde and Faye Pickler, her paternal grandparents, on and off throughout her life, in their hometown of Albemarle, N.C. Now 21, the singer—a finalist on season five of Fox TV's popular "American Idol" competition—is an advocate for grandparents raising grandchildren.

The Pickler family is not alone: Between 1990 and 2000, there was a 30-percent jump in the number of children living in grandparent-headed households.

Since she burst into the spotlight two years ago, Pickler—who performed at the third National GrandRally on Capitol Hill, cosponsored by AARP—has never kept her troubled childhood a secret. Instead, she's become a role model for children in non-traditional families, and now, for grandparents raising grandchildren in a world that seems to change faster every day.

"Hey everybody!" she shouts in a singsong voice—looking every bit the pop star, from her blond hair and sunglasses down to her trademark red high heels (the namesake of her first hit single "Red High Heels")—as she takes the GrandRally stage. "How we all doin' today?"

The crowd cheers as she sits down on a stool among her longtime backup musicians.

"I have been very blessed," she tells the sun-soaked sea of grandparents and grandfamilies. "God has given me so much. My grandparents are the best thing that ever happened to me."

"It's sad that you grandparents don't get the credit you deserve," she says before breaking out into song. "You guys rock!"

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