Kelly Clarkson


Crowd-Surfing Anti-Dive

by Corey Moss
"She's a hoot," Kelly Clarkson says in her Texas drawl. "She's so crazy, like, so different from what you would picture."

America's 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.

Straight up, 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, that is.

She adores Reba McEntire but has a soft spot for Metallica.

"Everybody 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."

The truth 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!"

Clarkson's 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.

Of course, 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."

Still, she 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.

"I had really bad experiences when I came out here that, you know, I can't talk about," she says. "Many doors slammed in the face."

Clarkson's 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."

A friend signed her up for the competition, so Clarkson was hazy on the details.

"I 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."

Kelly sang Etta James' "At Last," a song she brought with her to the show. Four auditions later, she finally learned exactly what "American Idol" was.

"People 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.

"It's 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 and oranges."

The premise 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.

With that 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!"

Clarkson pauses 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 very happy."

With not a lot of relationship experience of her own, Kelly draws on stories from friends when she's writing songs.

"One 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."

Clarkson co-wrote 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.

"I didn't 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 track."

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.

"Pop 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."

"Miss Independent" was Clarkson's choice for the first single, even though she had already proven to be a sure-thing with a ballad.

"For 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."

Clarkson's 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.

"My mom 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 people."

Kelly likes 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" finalist.

"At first 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.

Still, Kelly 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."

Clarkson brings 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.

"I'm 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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