LOS ANGELES – America has fallen - hook, line and Pickler. The line: A former cheerleader who works as a roller-skating waitress at the carhop drive-in chain Sonic in a small town called Albermarle, N.C., tries out for "American Idol." She nails the audition.
The hook: Her mom left her at the age of 2, and her father is locked up in a state penitentiary for felony battery and aggravated assault.
The Pickler: She's as cute as a button.
"American Idol" contender Kellie Pickler has a Trailer Park-tastic story right out of a country song, and she's as wide-eyed and gullible as Dorothy in Oz. And one of the reasons America is still tuning in to the show in droves is to hear her singing - and her bon mots.
But is Kellie Pickler really as stupid as she seems? Or is "Miss Stanley County" pulling our pickle?
So far, she's admitted to never having eaten calamari, pronounces salmon "SAL-mon" and thought a minx was a coat.
Last week, upon being called "ballsy," she asked, "What's a ballsy?"
The 19-year-old pixie is always spewing out one-liners like, "My hair is caught in my [fake] eyelashes," or "I had my first spinach salad. It was OK. Kinda tasted like picking the leaf off a bush," and "The dogs here [in L.A.] have more clothes than I do."
She claims to "burp like a man," an uncouth trait reminiscent of Jessica Simpson, and winks at Simon Cowell while performing.
Not everyone is falling for it. In an article entitled "American Idol: Kellie Pickler, evil genius?" on palmbeachpost.com, writer Leslie Gray Streeter writes:
"I think she's laying on that 'I ain't never been nowhere and don't know nothing but I'm as shiny as a shrimp in grits to be here and swim in your see-ment pond' thing a little thick. And I ain't buying it."
Pictures allegedly showing Pickler in a tube top and body-baring prom dress have also circulated on the Web. Writer Dave McGurgan of phillyburbs.com wonders: Is Pickler really "just an insanely naive hillbilly," or "is she a trampy teenager with a sexy past?"
"I think a lot of people are debating whether Kellie is authentic or putting on an act," says Jim Fraenkel, executive producer of MTV News.
"There are people who are quite taken by her, and others who are more suspicious. I wouldn't necessarily say that she's so savvy she's tapped into the idea that America loves a stupid girl, so much as that she may think of herself as Jessica Simpson was."
The raspy-voiced singer, who so far sang Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone," Stevie Wonder's "Blame It on the Sun," and the Patsy Cline classic "Walkin' After Midnight," is also the subject of an online US Weekly poll: "Is 'American Idol''s Kellie Pickler playing dumb?" Sixty percent have voted yes.
One thing's for sure. At this pace, she might outstupid - or outsmart - Jessica "Chicken from the Sea" Simpson and Paris "What's Wal-Mart?" Hilton on her way to grabbing the "American Idol" crown.
And whether it's an act or they're really that dumb, being stupid may be the smartest move these girls ever made.
"There is a lot of humor in it," says Fraenkel. "We've sort of seen the death of the sitcom in the last five to six years. And, in fact, Americans are watching reality shows like they used to watch sitcoms. I think that's why stupid plays well."
In pop star Pink's new video "Stupid Girls," she re-creates shallow scenes that have shaped pop culture in the past few years, from Paris Hilton's sex video to Lindsay Lohan's paparazzi car accidents to Mary-Kate Olsen's obsessive shopping sprees.
"None of these girls are stupid," Pink points out in an Entertainment Weekly article. "They've dumbed themselves down to be cute. I just feel like one image is being force-fed down people's throats. There's a lot of smart women. There's a lot of smart girls. Who's representing them?"
When asked who is representing them, MTV's Fraenkel was in a bit of , well ... a pickle.
"Alicia Keys would probably be someone who epitomizes the intelligent young female," he said. "Look, Madonna is still No. 1 on 'TRL,' though I don't think in this day and age she's doing a lot of preaching with a message of empowerment. Pink is attempting to. Oprah? I don't know. Seriously, that's a tough one."