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NORMAL — Country music singer and songwriter Kellie Pickler — embraced for her volunteer work with service men and women as well as for her emotionally honest songs — will headline and perform at the 22nd American Red Cross of the Heartland Evening of Stars.

Pickler, who has recorded four critically acclaimed albums after gaining fame as a contestant on the fifth season of "American Idol," was announced Tuesday by Evening of Stars co-chairmen Kim and Colleen Kannaday at a news conference at the Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.

Evening of Stars, the Heartland chapter's largest fundraiser of the year, will be 7 p.m. April 15 at the Marriott.

"Kellie brings a lot of things to Bloomington-Normal that Red Cross recognizes," Kim Kannaday said after the announcement. Pickler has done seven USO tours for service men and women, participates in the Wounded Warrior Project for wounded veterans and is a breast cancer awareness advocate, Kannaday said.

Colleen Kannaday, president of Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, said "We also were looking for someone who would have a story to tell. Her songs are a reflection of her life experiences."

Pickler was raised by her grandparents in Albemarle, N.C. Her mother abandoned Kellie and her father was incarcerated for much of Kellie's young life. She has used her experiences to write songs such as "I Wonder" and "Mother's Day," which have struck an emotional chord with country music fans.

"My life is a country song," Pickler wrote.

"This area supports country music," Kim Kannaday said. "Country has a broad appeal."

Her 2011 album, "100 Proof," was named the No. 1 Country Album of the Year by Rolling Stone.

Money from Evening of Stars supports disaster relief, blood services and support for members of the military and their families provided by the Bloomington-based Heartland chapter.

Last year's event, featuring high-wire aerialist Nik Wallenda, attracted 750 people and netted $150,000 for Red Cross. Singer-songwriter Amy Grant and quarterback Peyton Manning were among previous headliners.


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