Kellie Pickler, <EM>American Idol</EM> Kellie Pickler, American Idol

After finding herself "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" by her previous song choice, Kellie Pickler sealed her fate on Fox's American Idol (Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 9 pm/ET) last week by delivering what Simon called a "never-ending" take on "Unchained Melody." But while the North Carolinian admits that voters made the Righteous choice in sending her home  "Obviously, the past two weeks have not been my best, by far" what's been wrong in all of this, she maintains, is any suggestion that her Southern-fried Jessica Simpson-icity was all one big act.

"People are going to believe what they want to believe, but I started out from the beginning just being who I am," Kellie tells "I don't have anything to hide. I don't have anything to lie about. So it is a little hurtful to hear those things and read about that stuff in magazines. We're real people, and we have feelings. So you brush it off and move forward."

Part of Kellie's "act," her detractors claim, was her weekly self-mocking, an almost expected moment during each show when she would confess to mangling her latest tune. "When they see that you've messed up, and the judges know it, and I know it, what was I going to do? Lie and say, 'Oh, I didn't mess up'?" she argues. "When you're just honest about it, that's better than trying to make excuses for why you didn't have a good performance. I've messed up words, I've messed up songs, and I've been off-key and pitchy. And you just admit it and work on it the next week."

There will be no more next weeks for Kellie on Idol. Instead, she can only look forward to the contestants' summer tour and whatever else might come her way. Part of what lies ahead might even involve actual acting. "That's always been something I would be interested in," she tells us. "Of course I want first to pursue music, but I would also love to be involved in TV and film. I was actually in drama in high school, so yes, I am a little drama queen."

In a conference call with reporters, Kellie also had this to say about...

... the rumor that she's dating Ace Young:
"No. And no to [dating Season 4's] Constantine [Maroulis], too. I met Constantine at a launch party and we talked, but we're just friends. In all honesty, no contestant is dating another contestant. It's kind of, like, gross, because we're all like brother and sister!"

... Simon's Dolly diss:
"I didn't see the resemblance to Dolly [Parton that Simon suggested], but I completely took it as a compliment because Dolly is a legend. She is the one I would have chosen to sing with on the finale, had I made it that far. Compare me to Dolly all you want!"

... the question that not one eliminated singer has yet to answer, dagnabit:
 "Everyone always asks me: Who do you think is going to win? And you know what? I have no idea, because it doesn't matter if you've never been in the bottom three, and it doesn't matter if you had the most votes one week and didn't the next. It's all about consistency, and the top five this year, I think, are the best top five [Idol has] ever had."

... Idol's weekly "last supper":
"Right after the show, all of the contestants that are left have a little dinner where we talk about memories and good times and the great experiences that we've had together. It's not a 'You got the boot, see you later' dinner but more of a 'Kiss off into the world, preparing you for your career' dinner."

... a reality series making her face reality:
"I got a lot of criticism for crying about my dad [behind bars for felony battery] and my mom [who abandoned the family when Kellie was a toddler], but it was really hard for me to be talking about my life in front of 40 million people. It was really emotional. I didn't want to hurt my dad, but I knew that if I wasn't honest from the beginning, people would find out about it anyway. Now, I'm not ashamed of my life anymore. I'm very proud to say that I'm Kellie Pickler. I might not have had the best raising, but it could have been worse."

... and speaking of Mom, what if she's been out there somewhere watching Kellie on Idol?
"I'm curious what she thinks. I'm curious about her feelings towards me. For so long I resented her, but at this point right now, one thing that's so important is that we learn to forgive others. I ask the Lord every day to forgive me for my sins, so who am I to not forgive someone for what they've done? I know that I haven't spoken to or seen her in years, and I probably wouldn't know her if I saw her, but I have forgiven her. She's my mother and she's a person, and God tells us to love everyone."

For an exclusive look at the "Pickler Parties" that Kellie's hometown held each week, check out this Insider report.