When Kelly Clarkson was competing on the first season of “American Idol” in 2002, contestants were made to log into a website that featured commentary from fans. Not all of the criticism was constructive, and Clarkson, scarcely 20 years old, from a small town in Texas, was uniquely unequipped to process it.
“It was not a great feeling, right off the bat,” remembers Clarkson, who vowed to never read another word written about her. She’ll do interviews — she’s happy to, she’s a people person — but she won’t read them once they’re published, or reviews, either.
Clarkson went on to be the first winner of the “Idol” era. She sold millions of albums, and had a string of empowering hits (“Miss Independent,” “Stronger,” “Since U Been Gone”), even as she publicly fought her former record label, RCA, for control of her career.
Clarkson’s RCA deal was an arranged marriage, necessitated by the terms of her “Idol” win. She left for Atlantic Records the first day she could, and that label released her new, classic-soul-inspired album, “Meaning of Life,” in October. For the first time since she started, Clarkson, who plays the Rosemont Theatre Tuesday, is charting her own course. “It’s exciting,” she says in a phone call a few days before her performance with Pink at the American Music Awards. “You feel like a kid again. I feel like I just won ‘Idol.’ It’s a brand-new, fresh start.”
The singer, who is earthy and warm and basically the Kelly Clarkson you always imagined, talked about winning “Idol,” her upcoming gig on “The Voice,” and her career-long struggle to be heard. The following is an edited transcript:
Q: Do you get nervous in the days before an album comes out? You’ve sold millions of albums, but you never really know.
A: No, that’s why I don’t ever get nervous. I’ve never, ever been that girl. You don’t know, you don’t have any control over it. A lot of times, it’s the aligning of the stars, what’s out at that time, what isn’t out at that time. There’s so much that’s not in your hands. Especially with this album, I’ve focused on making a great musical footprint that I’m super proud of, and it’s my first chance to do that with something that’s wholeheartedly me. I know it sounds cheesy, but I feel like I won, having fulfilled this dream that I had for a while.
Q: In the early days, there were stories about you fighting with your label, or your label fighting with you. Did things settle down in the last few years?
A: Um, yes, if you’re comparing it to the previous (period). Physically, emotionally, it was just a lot, like being in a relationship for years, and just one day going, “It shouldn’t be this hard. It should be fun.” I just felt like there was more. I was already out the door, and counting down the records to being out of my record deal.
Q: If this happened now, would you be treated differently? Back then it was, “You’re a girl. Let the men talk.”
A: Specifically for me it had a lot to do with, I won a singing competition. It was hard to fight to be a writer, it was hard to fight for anything creatively. A lot of people, especially in the beginning, they just saw me as a voice, nothing more: “Just shut up and sing whatever we give you, whatever gifts we bestow upon you.” That’s not a healthy environment. I was the first one from all these shows, there was no blueprint, it was all brand-new. I think that had a lot to do with it.
Q: At what point does the public stop thinking of you as Kelly Clarkson, “American Idol” winner? Or do they?
A: I think they think about it as much as they think “Mickey Mouse Club” when they think of Justin (Timberlake) and Christina (Aguilera). They always think of Destiny’s Child and Beyonce, Demi Lovato and Barney. This is how I was introduced to people, I’ve never run from that. It doesn’t bother me at all. It was just my way of getting into the industry. We all had a way of getting in. Everybody has their door of opportunity, take it or not.
Q: Your new album is a deeper dive into stuff you’ve talked about before: being a strong person, accepting yourself. Do you think people are more receptive now?
A: I don’t know. I am who I am, and I’ve always been that way. Even on “Idol,” I never wore makeup, even when everybody wanted me to wear makeup. I was like, I’ll wear it onstage, but if you’re getting footage of us sitting around the house, I’m not going to waste my time. I’ve kind of always been myself right off the bat. I think that really did help me out in my career. That’s why people think, “Oh, she’s so down-to-earth.” I don’t think I’m down-to-earth as much as a normal person with logical thinking. I do things that make me happy, and don’t do things that make me unhappy. I’m not trying to create any kind of mystery, I’m really just being me, living my life.
Q: If you go to the market in no makeup, with your kids, people are going to approach you more than they would, say, Beyonce. You feel more reachable in a way.
A: I had one (bad) day, I think it was 2005. I was just exhausted, and we’d been touring nonstop, and I had a moment that hit me: You can’t take (celebrity) back, you know? It was one moment in 15 years when I had a hard time with it. I thought, “You’re from a small town, that’s how you grew up, where everybody knows you and you can’t keep anything secret.” I think (that) helped me wrap my head around it. I honestly do love that I’m more of an attainable-type figure in the public eye than someone people feel they can’t go up to, because they’re afraid they’ll be mean. I don’t want to be that one either.
Q: Have you thought about what kind of judge you want to be on “The Voice”?
A: What’s great about “The Voice” is I’m not really judging anyone, I’m coaching. I don’t think I would enjoy judging. We’ve taped some of my season, and I love it, because I was one of them. I can really relate, and I can help navigate through a competition. I find a lot of joy in it. I really love people.
Q: Are you going to tell them to get a great lawyer?
A: I think I’ll be honest with them in the sense that it’s not easy. There will be hurdles, and your hurdles may be different than mine. It all comes down to choices, and you want to make the healthiest ones for you. I’m just going to be really honest with them. I don’t think I could be like, “Oh, it’s all going to be great.”
Q: Do you think the next album will go in a similar direction (to this one)?
A: Girl, I don’t know. I mean, I love soulful music, so I definitely know it’s going to be soulful. I would love to make the next level of this album, but honestly, I’m not even thinking about that now. In two years, who knows what the hell I’ll make?
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont
Tickets: $33.00-$73.00; 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com
If there’s one singer who loves Christmas more than anyone, it’s Kelly Clarkson.
In a preview for Music Choice’s upcoming Sounds of the Seasons Live series, Clarkson describes in detail the different ways she decorates the house for the holidays: she and husband Brandon Blackstock put up “a plethora of trees” with different themes, a snow village, and an Elf on the Shelf. Being that there are four kids in the house — ranging from ages 1 through 16 — going all-out with holiday decorations is a must in the Clarkson-Blackstock home.
The series kicks off on Nov. 20 on the Music Choice On Demand channel with videos featuring fan favorites from all genres of music. In addition to talking about her decoration traditions, Kelly Clarkson sings her latest holiday hit “Christmas Eve”; Macklemore reads “Twas the Night Before Christmas”; Victor Manuelle performs songs like “Navidad En Mi Barrio,” “Yo Traigo La Parranda,” and “Los Polvos Del Sahara”; and Nick Jonas shares his tree-trimming traditions.
All Sounds of the Seasons Live content can be found in the Holiday Hits category On Demand and the Holiday Hits Video Channel via the Music Choice Website and app.
Kelly attended 2 events yesterday. One was an exclusive Q&A with Entertainment Weekly and the other was an appearance at Music Choice. Check out photos and videos below. Enjoy!