"She's a hoot," Kelly Clarkson says in her Texas drawl.
"She's so crazy, like, so different from what you would picture."
idol is recalling her collaboration with songwriter extraordinaire
Diane Warren ("Rhythm of the Night," "I Don't Want
to Miss a Thing"), but she might as well be describing herself.
Clarkson is a hoot. And she's crazy and different than you'd think.
She's a Southern belle with enough charm to win over Simon Cowell,
but she's also got a bit of the other Kelly in her — Osbourne,
Reba McEntire but has a soft spot for Metallica.
thinks it's hilarious that my favorite band is the Toadies,"
Clarkson says, toasting her fellow Texans as she sips bottled
water in an RCA Records conference room, which is decked out with
a killer sound system and a wet bar. "Nobody believes I'm,
like, the mosh pit girl, I'm the bodysurfing girl at the concerts.
Everybody sees me as little white Kelly from Texas who should
be singing country or something."
is she's a lot of both. Clarkson is the homecoming queen, the
girl all the cliques like, even though she's not really in one.
When it came time to title her debut album, Kelly wanted Pigeonhole
This, as in, "Just try to categorize me!"
voice has been compared to Whitney Houston's or Mariah Carey's,
but when it comes to personality, she's wildly different. She's
an anti-diva. There's an edge to her, but when it come downs to
it, she's the nicest pop star in the business.
All this makes
perfect sense considering that less than a year ago, the voice
behind the sappy record-breaking single "A Moment Like This"
was hawking energy drinks from bar to bar. "Red Bull promo
girl, that's what I was," Clarkson says with pride.
she didn't get as humble and hardworking as she is from punching
just a single time clock. "I had so many jobs," she
recalls. "I always had three or four at a time."
always made time for singing, and after graduating high school
she decided to chase her dreams to Los Angeles and shop around
a demo tape. Like so many kids who flock here with the world in
their eyes, Kelly struggled.
really bad experiences when I came out here that, you know, I
can't talk about," she says. "Many doors slammed in
months of misery were punctuated by her apartment burning down.
She took it as a sign and moved back home to rural Burleson, Texas,
the place where her diverse taste in music first developed. When
she was growing up, her dad was into soul singers, her mom was
into adult contemporary, her stepdad was into country rock, and
her older brother was into metal.
All of these
influences followed Kelly through the door to her first audition
for something called "American Idol."
friend signed her up for the competition, so Clarkson was hazy
on the details.
didn't have any clue whether it was, like, one of those pop star
group girl things or anything ... but I showed up and I had no
idea what to do," she says, laughing. "And I was like
the first one in line because I had to make it to work on time."
Etta James' "At Last," a song she brought with her to
the show. Four auditions later, she finally learned exactly what
"American Idol" was.
kept coming out and going, 'I'm going to Hollywood,' and I'm all
like, 'Hey, that's great. I just came back.' Then I found out
it was this big TV show they were doing."
On the show,
Clarkson quickly became the fan favorite, the judges' favorite
and even the contestants' favorite. Throughout the competition,
she developed strong friendships with each of the finalists, especially
Justin Guarini, the runner-up who co-stars in the upcoming "From
Justin to Kelly" musical with Clarkson, and Tamyra Gray,
who appears on her album.
weird how everyone saw it as a big competition, 'cause I mean,
it was, there was gonna be a winner and everything, but it's just
weird 'cause all of us didn't see it as [that]," Clarkson
says, collecting her thoughts. "I mean, nobody's taught to
fail, you don't want second, but we all just wanted exposure.
... You can't be better than someone that's completely different
from you. Justin, Tamyra, Nikki [McKibbin], RJ [Helton], Ryan
[Starr], we're all different. You can't really compare apples
of "American Idol" is that the winner, voted on by the
public, gets a $1 million record deal and the chance to release
an album on a major label. What they don't tell you is that while
you make that album, you have to juggle constant interviewing,
touring the country with the other finalists, and in Kelly's case,
making a movie.
kind of schedule, Clarkson was forced to record her debut one
song at a time with a variety of producers in various studios
across the country. With her schizophrenic tastes, however, it
actually worked out rather nicely in mixing the sounds together.
What her frantic
agenda has hindered is Kelly's personal life. "It would be
so unfair to date someone right now, I can't even imagine,"
she says. "I would be like, 'Oh, I'm sorry. I have to leave,'
all the time!"
as though she's asking herself whether she would be dating more
if she had lost "American Idol." "I used to date,
but I've always been the type to just be more involved with getting
my whole life situated first," she tosses out. "I grew
up with divorce, and you find out that you need to establish yourself
and find out who you are before you can let someone else in. So,
I'm still finding myself. ... I'm working on my career and I'm
With not a
lot of relationship experience of her own, Kelly draws on stories
from friends when she's writing songs.
of my girlfriends can call me and be like, 'My boyfriend was so
rude, and he did this ... and he, like, totally just did wrong,'
and I can write off of that," Clarkson explains. "I
can put myself in people's shoes real well. Also, I write a lot,
like, just my thinking. If I'm having a bad day, I come home and
write about it. That's always been my outlet. I had a problem
when I was younger — I would never tell people [things],
I'd just start crying and people were asking and I would never
get it out. My mom was like, 'Maybe you should start writing it
down.' And so it just kinda formed into songs."
four of the songs on her album, Thankful, including the single
"Miss Independent," which producer Rhett Lawrence (Mariah
Carey) had already started working on with Christina Aguilera
for her Stripped.
even know she had written on it until recently," Kelly admits.
"She's a phenomenal writer. You can hear a lot of her, especially
in the hook. What's cool about it is that it shows the rock side
of my album, the soulful side of my album and that kinda groove
Kelly is especially
proud that she is also a songwriter, though the executive producer
of her album, legendary career maker Clive Davis, believes her
singing talent is enough.
music is very much a part of our fabric, and you do need young
performers who can interpret the songs," he said. "That's
what you need Kelly Clarkson to do. Kelly stood out because her
voice is a very powerful voice, very gifted interpreter of songs."
Independent" was Clarkson's choice for the first single,
even though she had already proven to be a sure-thing with a ballad.
all the people who expected a ballad, you can watch every [episode
of 'American Idol' that I was in]," she says, almost bitterly.
"I mean there are a lot of great ballads on my album, but
I can't constantly ... I mean, I'm 20, like, I like other stuff."
For the songs
on Clarkson's album she didn't have a hand in writing, she made
sure she knew what they were truly about. "I'll have the
writer come to the studio ... 'cause I'm a very emotional singer,
like, I always get into the song," she says, recalling nights
spent with Diane Warren, Matthew Wilder and other songwriters.
"It's like acting in a character. ... I've never felt like
a 'Natural Woman,' but I sang the song."
favorite moment on the record is a mid-tempo blues tune she co-wrote
with Babyface called "Thankful," about, simply, feeling
appreciative for her life.
cries when she listens to it," Clarkson says. "It's
about my mom and my friends and fans and everybody that I'm working
with. Knock on wood, I have had the best luck with working with
the song so much that when her handlers vetoed Pigeonhole This
over worries it could be offensive, she decided on Thankful for
the album title. And if that doesn't convey how truly grateful
she is, check out liner notes. While most artists reserve a quarter
of a panel for acknowledgements, Clarkson's takes up four panels
and includes a sentence for each fellow "American Idol"
they were like, 'Your thank yous are too long,' but luckily we
did my CD so fast that they didn't have time to put all the lyrics
on there," she says.
doesn't feel like there was enough room. "I did think that
it was important to point out certain individuals," she explains,
"[whether] it be my friends from back home that have really
just supported me through everything or the nine other [finalists]
from 'American Idol,' because I wouldn't be here if it weren't
for them. Like, I won, but I won growing off of them."
up her fellow finalists several times. It's clear she's sincere
about her admiration for them and that distancing herself from
the show to move on with her career has never crossed her mind.
not trying to get away from anything," she explains. "I'm
just trying to be me. People are always gonna relate me [to it]
because I was the first one that won the show. So it's always
gonna be there, but I don't mind 'cause it's a very credible show.
And I mean a lot of amazing talent came out of it. ... I just
like to have fun. Whoever I do that with and whoever I work with,
whatever happens, is cool."
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