Kelly Clarkson : The Girl Next Door All Grown Up

by Joel Martens

Rage Monthly

Saturday November 18, 2017

It's hard to believe that this woman, who has become such a powerful part of the musical landscape, burst on the scene at the tender age of 20 in the inaugural season of "American Idol" back in 2002. Has it really only been 15 years, eight albums, 100 number ones on the Billboard charts, over 25 million albums and 36 million singles sold worldwide, later? If you're talking about the many successes of Ms. Clarkson, you bet your sweet you-know-what it is.

She hasn't stopped singing, writing and perfecting her sound over the course of that 15 years. Even if you based success solely on her latest musical effort, "Meaning of Life," it would still be resoundingly true. She is in her prime, singing with a confidence and power that puts her in a class with other, as she calls them, "bad-ass" singers. Names like Whitney, Barbra, Mariah and Aretha... let's just say, "Girl's got pipes."

One of the things that makes her story unique is that we have literally been there to watch her come into her own as a performer and as someone who has discovered her own worth. She's always managed to sing from a place of deep strength and vulnerability, making her eminently relatable and absolutely reachable, emotionally. Songs like, "Behind These Hazel Eyes," "Piece by Piece," or even when rocking out to "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)." I mean, did you catch her performance during the last season of "American Idol?" Turn on the tears baby... I dare you not to cry.

In her most recent effort, Clarkson is deeply there as well, but something has decidedly shifted. Though it's hard to put a finger on exactly what it is, because she's always been solidly confident. But, there is a calmness-even when she shines in her power ballads-that belies something more deeply grounded.

Her voice is just as powerful as it has ever been, but there is a confidence there, indicating that the girl next door has stepped out and moved on to bigger and better things. I guess maybe the word for it is maturity. It was a fun conversation to have, and we here at The Rage Monthly are happy to share it with you.

I love to ask singers/musicians this question: What is your earliest memory around music?

Hmm...My earliest memory of music? Singing in church, man. That's

probably it... yeah. It was my favorite part of church. (Laughs) Singing was the fun part for a kid. This was sometime around elementary school, so you don't really understand all that's being said, but I absolutely understood and totally loved the music.

I ask, because it's usually something like church music or something a parent played as a kid. It's a pretty common denominator for musicians. Along those early lines, when did you figure out that you could sing well?

You know what? I actually didn't have a clue until I was around 13 or so. I was wandering around the hallway of my junior high helping teachers. It was before the school year started and because my mom was a teacher too, I was helping them move from classroom to classroom. The new choir director heard me singing in the hallway to whatever was playing-I think it was Mariah Carey-over the school PA system and she said to me, "Oh my god, you have to be in choir."

I was like, "Oh my god, no. I'm sorry but that's for nerds." (Laughs) I was into athletics and all that, so my answer was "Nah, I'm good."

She didn't let it go and told me that she thought I sang really, really well and talked to me more about joining. "I don't know if you've thought about college, but if you work really hard at it, you could probably get a scholarship for college." I remember thinking, "Oh man, I'm really poor, so I could use that for sure." (Laughs) So, she convinced me to audition and I did get in. In the classroom after, they had all the girls around the piano trying to figure out where to put us, alto, soprano or whatever. We started doing scales, I'd never done scales before, and it was really kind of the most mortifying and yet the most awesome moment. I was standing in front with this other girl, and all of a sudden people stopped singing and I just kept following the piano. I remember turning really, really red, and thinking, "Oh my god, this is embarrassing. I must sound horrible... was I supposed to stop?" Then all the girls kind of looked at me and one of them said, "Oh man, you can go really high."

I figured out that maybe that was a cool thing, and then all of a sudden, in that little moment, everything absolutely did change in my life. It really did give me a different level of confidence, sort of that feeling of "Oh, I'm actually good at something." I think once kids find something that they're good at, it makes them proud and gives you a different sense of yourself. It did change everything, not just because of the music, but because of who I am... it really formed my character.

Music is such a powerful force, especially when you are young. I don't know what my life would have been like without our music education in school. What was it like growing up in Texas, how did music there influence you?

Oh man, that is so true. That's why we've got to keep those electives in school, it's so important. I grew up loving gospel and used to sing it growing up, but really all of my favorite singers were bad-asses, man. They were all huge singers, even if it was a man; everyone from Prince to Steven Tyler to Bono to Andrea Bocelli. I loved Pavarotti and opera, too, I studied classical music growing up. It's where I grew to love big singers, how they could move you with their sound and the resonance, it was all pretty amazing to me.

It's something that is kind of unique in some ways to your generation, the exposure from such an early age to so many different genres, driven by internet access. It's pretty amazing how that has changed, even when compared to my generation.

I completely agree, because I learned to love Nirvana, just as much as I loved Whitney, and I think that's why I do love so many different styles. I love

it now, we have a sixteen-year-old and a ten-year-old, and they are exposed to so much more music, just because of streaming. They'll put on Pandora or whatever, something they like and other music pops up that they might not have chosen, and I do think that's pretty cool. They get introduced to music that they maybe wouldn't have heard before.

"American Idol" changed everything for you, I'm sure. When you look back on that experience, if you could tell yourself something around handling it all, what might it be?

You know what, not even "American Idol," just in general in life-even if I had been a cocktail waitress for the rest of my life-I would tell myself earlier on to just let go of all the things you cannot control. Everything around me was so chaotic. To throw a 19-year-old, well actually I was 20 when I won, to put a 20-year-old girl in charge of a corporation, actually several, running them and touring the world and having to make decisions... to be the head of all of that was a lot of pressure. I think if I had to tell myself anything, it would be to just relax and let go of control. You've hired people to do these certain jobs, let them do it. If they're not, then you'll unfortunately just have to find somebody else. I always tried to control so much of what was going on, and I think that in some ways, when we do that we get in our own way.

From the outside looking in, I've always admired how you've handled yourself. You seem so honest and real and it reflects in everything you do, it

also comes across in your music.

Yeah, I really just don't know any other way to be. I don't think I like anyone that much to have to lie about anything. (Laughs) I think, too, it's such a big world and some people are going to like what you say and some people aren't. It's just that way it is.

Sage words from someone so young. It's a testament to how emotionally available you are in the moment. I wonder, when you perform, do you have a trick to get yourself into that space, or is it just a natural process?

Unfortunately and fortunately for me, I am always emotional. (Laughs) Unfortunately, it can be sort of a problem sometimes in certain situations. But fortunately, it's not really difficult for me to go in and out very quickly around emoting a song or being a vessel for the music. Even if I'm not feeling it in the moment, to extend my emotional reach. It's not like acting, though; I just kind of reach down and remember what it was like when I actually felt it. I don't know, that's just really never been a hard thing to do.

With this record specifically, I really chose to focus on vocals more, that's why I only wrote four of the songs on this album. I really wanted to make this album about the sound, that was more important than anything for me. I met with a lot of other writers and I would make jokes like, "Man I hope you're all depressed, because I'm not, and I am not and I really want to sing a heart-wrenching ballad. Can you write me one?" (Laughs) "Hope you are all in a shitty place, 'cuz I'm doing great and I can't write this song right now." It was really so much fun to make this record, because I am in such a great place these days... even if I couldn't write it myself. I met and have made so many friends now, with so many remarkable writers, who are able to write from the place that I wanted to sing about.

This album was striking to me because there are so many nods to different genres. It's at the same time bluesy and jazzy, dancy with a pop sensibility, along with gospel and power ballads. It's really amazing, and made me think that it's so all about you as an adult person.

Wow, you know that's almost exactly what my mom said about it. She said to me, "This is the record I thought you'd make right off the bat." Like this is what she thought I'd do even before, whilst telling you to shut up over and over when I was a kid in my room-it was a very small duplex apartment-this is what she thought it would sound like. (Laughs) Seriously, while saying all the while, "Can you just shut up for a minute?" Out of all those moments, she thought this was the record, especially after hearing me for so many years and the styles of music I would pick and she'd hear me sing in my room, that I was going to make in the first place.

I love the image that creates in my head. What an amazing frame of reference to have with your mom. On a personal note, I wanted to say that I really do appreciate your honesty and your integrity both in your music. It really shows and I hope you know how valuable that is. I still can't listen to your final "Idol" performance without bawling. (Laughs)

Oh, thank you. Hey, there is nothing better to hear than that someone can relate to a song. I love that so much. Man, I had so much going against me for that performance, I was pregnant, all the nostalgia, my other kid running around, I was married... I didn't stand a chance. It was such a cool bookend moment for me.

Maturity changes everything, and you can feel it in this album. There's a calm, centeredness to it, even at the top of your vocal power moments, that is really wonderful.

I'm hoping people are going to dig it, man.

I don't see how they couldn't.

"Meaning of Life" is available now. Watch for Clarkson's world tour coming this year after she wraps with The Voice. For more information about all things Clarkson, check her out at facbook. com/kellyclarkson, on twitter @kelly_clarkson, on Instagram @ kellyclarkson or her website at

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