Today’s Birthday Girl is Country Singer Kellie Pickler!

Christopher Polk/Getty Images
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

During the 5th season of American Idol, today’s Birthday Girl walked away in sixth place. Kellie Pickler joined the show when she was just 19 years old, and even though she didn’t win — or was even in the top three — the singer has managed to make quite the name for herself in the world of country music. What’s especially remarkable, however, is the way in which Kellie Pickler rose from the ashes. Behind that beautiful smile — a smile that put her in the running for Miss North Carolina — is a past that’s riddled with neglect and hardship.

Kellie Pickler was born on June 28, 1986 in Albemarle, North Carolina. She is, quite literally, a small-town girl, born and raised. Unfortunately, Pickler’s parents were far from reliable: Her father was in and out of prison throughout her childhood, and her mother left the family when Pickler was just two years old. She returned two years later and took custody of the young Pickler, but that arrangement ended when Pickler was 12, and she was returned to her grandparents. Pickler graduated from high school but didn’t go on to college, instead opting to work at a Sonic drive-in restaurant. It was around this time that she decided to try out for American Idol and, though she didn’t know it, it was around this time that Pickler’s life changed forever.

So, sure, Kellie Pickler didn’t win American Idol, but she has had a lot more success in the music world than some winners of that show have ever had. Perhaps it’s her southern charm — which is undeniable — that allowed Kellie Pickler to win over the hearts of millions of Americans. Numerous Pickler songs have reached Top 20 on the billboards, including “Red High Heels,” “Best Days of Your Life,” and “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You”.

But Pickler shouldn’t be known only for her incredible vocal chords. The singer is also a dedicated philanthropist: She’s an active supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and was even a contestant on “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?,” competing for the American Red Cross and the Grandparenting Program under AARP. She walked away from the game with $50,000 — despite not knowing that Hungary existed. In fact, Pickler is well known for a few of her ditzy remarks, but we love her anyway. Anyone who can come from a small town in North Carolina, push through years of family issues, and come out on top is a winner in our book. Happy birthday, Kellie Pickler!