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The real breakaway
by Jon Bream February 09, 2018
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Kelly Clarkson has been doling out lots of advice lately as a coach on NBC’s The Voice. Tapings of her first season on the talent show, now in its 14th season, have begun, with the first episode due Feb.26.

“I’m pretty blunt but I’m a constructive blunt,” she said recently in a phone interview during a break from a Voice taping in Hollywood. “I can’t not be my mother, which is very blunt. And I can’t not be kind, because that’s me as well.”

Clarkson has a reputation for being frank and vivacious. She enthusiastically and animatedly speaks her mind rather than spouting what publicists advise her to say. Her opting for The Voice when she had a chance to be a judge on American Idol — remember, she won Idol in its very first season 16 years ago — may have seemed disloyal at first blush. But, once again, it was a family decision.

Her husband, Brandon Blackstock, manages Blake Shelton, a longtime coach on The Voice. So Clarkson and the kids have spent a great deal of time on the show’s set. Plus, Clarkson fell in love with the concept of The Voice because it was “just based on the talent of the vocalists. And that’s how I started out singing opera. It was always behind screens; we weren’t allowed to be seen at auditions.”

New Label, New Sound

Joining The Voice comes at a turning point in Clarkson’s career. Last year, she moved to a new record label, Atlantic, and debuted a consistent new sound — soul — on Meaning of Life. Her previous record deal at RCA was like “an arranged marriage” as a result of her winning American Idol at age 20. The contract tied her up for seven albums. “Nobody [from RCA] really invested in me; nobody came to my shows regularly,” she said. “It just wasn’t any fun.”

To be sure, she had her share of hits, including 2004’s Since U Been Gone, 2009’s My Life Would Suck Without You and 2012’s Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) as well as three No 1 albums, three No 2 albums and two No 3 albums. She has sold more than 25 million albums and collected three Grammys. But she didn’t have control over her own music.

On record and in conversation, Clarkson brims with newfound confidence. Meaning of Life exudes her deeply soulful personality, from songs like Whole Lotta Woman to Slow Dance.

“Obviously it’s a natural sound for my voice,” she observed. “It’s how I sounded when I first auditioned on Idol. I’ve been dying to make this record for a while. I love pop-rock, as well.”

Her spirit and perseverance may speak to Clarkson’s popularity. Like fans pulling for an underdog Britney Spears a few years earlier, Clarkson is beloved by fans who know her backstory, including her feuds with powerful record executive Clive Davis.

“I wake up every week going, ‘I can’t believe people are fans of me.’ Because I’m very weird. I just don’t fit the mould. I never have,” she said. “Maybe that’s why people are into me. I hear it at meet-and-greets all the time, they think we’re so similar. I’m not the unattainable star. I’m a little down-to-earth Southern girl next door who made it.”

Body Shaming

Last summer, Clarkson jumped on Twitter to tell off a troll who had been calling her “fat.”

“It doesn’t hurt my feelings. Maybe it’s because I’m from a small town and I grew up with people saying that my whole life,” she said. “It doesn’t bounce off everyone. It really makes me mad. I think there’s such a nonchalant attitude toward it. It can be harmful for certain types of personalities and psyches.”

Clarkson is no glamour gal. In fact, she never wore makeup until she landed on American Idol except maybe to prom.  Idol not only taught her about makeup. She learned on the show that she’s not a vocalist limited to one genre.

“I love country. I grew up on it. They definitely are storytellers. I grew up listening to everything from Reba and Vince Gill to Barbra Streisand and Rosemary Clooney. Prince, Aerosmith, U2, Mariah, Whitney, Radiohead. I love music, man. Vivaldi Four Seasons. It doesn’t matter what genre. I love that I get to perform with Josh Groban and I get to perform with Jason Aldean.”

As excited as Clarkson is about The Voice and her new album, she can’t wait to get back on tour. But that’s a little tricky given her kids and their schedules. “We just make it work,” she explained. “It’s a lot of extra effort. We have a really killer team. We have amazing grandmas, amazing nannies, amazing assistants. It does take every bit of everyone. Even if it’s an hour or two with my kids, I like to make sure I see them every day. That’s a goal of mine.”


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