Kellie Pickler’s diverse career has brought her chart-topping country songs, music accolades, a home goods product line, and a variety of television experiences including her run on American Idol, her winning season on Dancing With The Stars in 2013, and her CMT show I Love Kellie Pickler. Now she brings that wealth of experience and her bubbly personality to the new Nashville-based, weekday morning show Pickler & Ben, alongside co-host Ben Aaron. The show, which premiered in Sept. 18, has already been picked up by CMT, with each episode to air on CMT the morning after first airing in local markets. The partnership brings Pickler & Ben’s reach from 38 local markets to national distribution.
Pickler says her time in music and on television helps her ensure guests are comfortable.
“I’ve been on the other side of the microphone,” Pickler tells MusicRow via phone. “I know what not to ask, and what grounds not to tread on, being a person who is used to being asked the questions. We would never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. If a guest says, ‘We don’t want to talk about this or that,’ or whatever then we don’t talk about it. This is a place to get to know people for who they actually are, not ‘he said, she said’ mess. It’s not a gossip show.”
Instead, Pickler & Ben puts the spotlight on their guests, which so far has included a fun mix of music artists, as well as experts in home design, organization, beauty, gardening, cooking, party planning, DIY projects, and more.
Martina McBride showcased some of her favorite recipes during a recent visit, while Hunter Hayes will perform his new single “Rescue” on Oct. 16. Reba McEntire is slated to tape an appearance next week, and Dolly Parton surprised Pickler and Aaron during rehearsals for their first episode.
Of course, Pickler and Aaron bring plenty of their own fun. They’ve crashed a Tennessee Titans cheerleading practice, given Aaron a “Southern Gentleman” makeover, filmed themselves working at Sonic, learned to roller skate, and attempted both bungee jumping and goat yoga.
“The moment we met we felt we could completely be ourselves, just silly, fun, goofy,” Aaron adds. “We are very different but the core is very much the same. We just laugh and make fun of ourselves and have a good time.”
“I feel like I have a brother in him,” Pickler adds. “We have a good time and get to shine a light on wonderful people who come on the show.”
Aaron has earned four Emmy Awards as a features reporter for New York Live, and has contributed to Extra, Meredith and Today. His invitation to audition as a host came via a modern means—a Facebook message.
“They messaged me with an invite to audition, and they threw me in a room with like 25 other much more qualified guys,” Aaron recalls.
Even with his lengthy list of media credentials, Aaron says he initially thought he didn’t get the gig. “I went home and told my wife, ‘There is no way I got this gig.’ It’s a show about the heartland and country music, and this weird woman named Kellie Pickler,” he says, jokingly. “But I was at a point where I wanted something different. That inspires me. It’s a happy show so there’s nothing salacious about it. Kellie and I just want to have a good time talking about DIY, and cooking and jokes.”
Early buzz surrounding the show centered on the fact that superstar Faith Hill signed on as an executive producer, alongside Hill’s manager Jason Owen and Happy Street Entertainment co-founder Lisa Erspamer along with many producers from the Oprah Winfrey Show. Pickler says Hill is deeply involved in various aspects of the show. Hill brought pieces from her own home to incorporate into the cozy, farmhouse style set, and has reached out to her famous music friends for appearances.
“Every moment she and Tim [McGraw] are not on the road touring [as part of their current Soul2Soul tour], Faith is in the studio,” Pickler says. “She’s a big part of the reason that Dolly [Parton] surprised us on our first rehearsal. She will always run through segments and give a lot of creative input. She’s very involved; it’s her baby.”
Asked about their ideal guests for the show, Pickler says Parton’s visit to the set topped her wish list, “though I would love to have her come back on the show and we can properly interview her.”
Aaron’s list of dream guests is considerably harder to come by.
“My dream guests are all dead,” he quips.
“So we are going to a cemetery for Ben’s dream guests,” Pickler says.
For all the light-heartedness the two hosts bring to Pickler & Ben, the show is a result of hours of hard work they bring to the set each week. Mondays focus on preparation and production, with a constant flow of ideas and feedback for each segment.
“We watch edits and give comments. One of the reasons I wanted to do this show is they wanted us to have a lot of input,” Aaron says. “A big portion of the show is the first segment, which is like 12 minutes long. A lot goes into that. Whatever happens over the weekend, we will talk about on Monday.”
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays center on show tapings. Around 9:30 a.m., they will spend an hour or two taping the first show, followed by a second taping in the afternoon. That can translate into early mornings for the two hosts.
“Kellie gets to the set around 5 a.m., and they do a lot of plucking, I think,” Aaron says.
“Yep, they transform me into Kellie Pickler, because I look like Raggedy Ann when I get here,” Pickler adds. “I roll out of bed and come straight here.”
After the final taping on Thursday afternoons, Aaron takes a flight home to New York, while Pickler often boards a tour bus, headed for a weekend concert. They return Monday morning for the next round of tapings.
“We give everything to the show,” Aaron says of the tight schedule. “We leave it all out there. But when we get onstage and see the audience, we get energized all over again for the next taping.”
In addition to balancing her role on Pickler & Ben with weekend tour dates, Pickler has also been working on new music. Though she says not to expect a full album release soon, she is writing and looking forward to getting in the studio and recording a full album. Pickler recently released the track “If It Wasn’t For A Woman,” a tribute to her late grandmother Faye Pickler, who raised her. Pickler co-wrote the track with her husband, songwriter Kyle Jacobs, as well as Brian Bunn.
“It’s a tribute to the strong women in my life. The verses are very autobiographical, while I think the chorus is universally written so anyone can put who inspired them in their life.”
Pickler says CMT’s involvement allows them to bring the positivity of Pickler & Ben to a larger audience, and she hopes the show will provide an uplifting space for viewers.
“We want to be a safe place for families. For one hour, we want to make you smile and be a safe place,” Pickler says.
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