Kelly Clarkson – First American Idol Winner
FOX reality talent show American Idol is approaching its 8th season. We’ve seen several contestants stand out against their peers and develop careers for themselves. Of those several contestants includes Kelly Clarkson, the winner of the first season in 2002. For the TV show and Kelly, they were both lucky to find each other.
Kelly Clarkson has not always had it easy, both pre and post Idol. Growing up in Burleson, Texas, she comes from a family of divorce and hardship. Working several jobs, she tried to stay afloat and make ends meet. Ironically, the very gift that changed her life was never her intention. Kelly Clarkson didn’t even know she could sing until she was in junior high school when the choir teacher overheard her singing. She originally wanted to be a marine biologist.
In 2002, Kelly entered a contest after returning home from L.A. not too long before that. She’d gone out to work with a hit songwriter, responsible for Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman.” However, he fell ill and could no longer work with her. The very day she moved into a new apartment, it caught fire while she went to eat. Living in her car for three days, she returned to Texas where her friend Jessica had given her the American Idol contest papers. Having auditioned in Dallas, she was accepted to the next round in Hollywood.
When Kelly Clarkson first appeared on American Idol, she had no real sense of style but her voice was as big as many out there and her personality lit up faces nationally each week on TV. Singing songs by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Dionne Warwick, she never saw herself sitting in the bottom contestants while in the beginning, she was considered the underdog. On September 4th, 2002, Kelly Clarkson had become our American Idol. She released her winning song “A Moment Like This” and watched it soar up the charts, beating a record on the Billboard Hot 100 previously held by The Beatles for highest jump to No. 1.
In April of 2003, Kelly Clarkson released her debut record Thankful. The record saw moderate success as an Idol souvenir as well as an album to kick off an optimistic future in the recording industry. The album has sold over 2 million copies in the U.S. in part to her lead single “Miss Independent,” co-wrote by Christina Aguilera. The album combined pop elements with a more R&B style. What was about to happen no one saw coming nor took seriously until Kelly found herself as one of the top female vocalists in the world.
In November of 2004, Kelly released her sophomore effort Breakaway. The title, also a song that appeared in a movie, is appropriately titled for many reasons. Kelly had split with manager Simon Fuller in order to hire a company who would be there to help the budding superstar reach incredible heights. No hard feelings were left. The direction of the album had been changed dramatically to an edgy pop rock sound that allowed her thunderous voice to shine. She also had fought the label suites to include material penned by her as well. She had a lent her love for writing to the first record, however, more than half of the new record was penned by Clarkson herself, including hit singles “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” “Walk Away,” and “Because of You.” The latter being a song written at the age of 16 and was a song the record label, RCA, told her she couldn’t include on her first record. The album’s lead single “Since U Been Gone” rocked out radio and clubs nationwide and is to date her best selling single. Breakaway has sold 12 million copies worldwide and brought in her parent record label over $100 million in revenue.
With the success of the record come the perks. She embarked on several tours, three in 2005 alone. Two of the tours in the U.S. were sold out and her international world tour was a success as well. 2006 saw Kelly taking home two Grammy Awards and performing for her peers. She beat out some of music’s biggest names including Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow and Gwen Stefani. Capitalizing on her success, she ventured out on yet another tour beginning June 30th to preview songs she’d like to include on her follow up to Breakaway. She’d reported that she would be ditching the bubblegum pop and would be writing and recording with her backing band. The idea was embraced largely by the public as she included new songs in each tour she’d written with someone in the band. However, the album that was supposed to be the most anticipated of 2007 turned out to be another one of music’s infamous turmoil challenges: the label vs. the artist.
Kelly Clarkson paired up with legendary David Kahne, responsible for songs such as “Manic Monday” and “Walk Like An Egyptian,” to produce her third studio effort. Co-writing over 50 songs, her team narrowed it down to 26 songs to record and kept 14 for the standard track listing. The album that would be called My December, took on a more mature, raw and emotional approach. During the Breakaway era, she’d worked herself to death, missing family and friends and having a hard time finding good people to surround herself with. Needless to say, the stress took its toll, including a relationship that ended shortly before the release of her second record. Dating producer and ex-guitarist of Evanescence David Hodges, she found herself being cheated on with his former girlfriend. He’d produced “Because of You,” “Addicted,” and a track that didn’t make the cut titled “Bleed For Me.” After he married the former flame two months after Clarkson found out, she penned the song “Never Again” that would become the lead single for her next record 2 ½ years later.
Turning in the material to her RCA label, they were not pleased with the record, especially legendary record producer Clive Davis, responsible for Whitney Houston, Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin, Hall and Oates and many more. Clarkson and her manager at the time were executive producers of the record and that didn’t sit well with Davis. He quickly dismissed the record as unsellable, he didn’t hear any hits and it wouldn’t sell more than 750,000 copies. Shelving the record for four months, he tried every trick in the book to get her to change her mind. He reportedly offered her $10 million to replace or change 5 songs to make them more radio friendly. However, after receiving rip off “Since U Been Gone” compositions and a song from Lindsay Lohan’s second record, she stuck to her ground and compromised to release My December as is and she would in turn create a more mainstream record the next time around.
A week before it’s June 26th release date, she fired management The Firm and hired Reba McEntire’s husband for Starstruck Entertainment. McEntire, Clarkson’s childhood hero, had already formed a budding relationship with the American Idol Grammy winner.
RCA had claimed that “Never Again” was too bitter and the public wouldn’t accept it as Alanis Morissette already had “You Oughta Know” in the 90’s. However, numbers proved them wrong. The song only peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100 but has since went on to sell just 10,000 copies shy of being a platinum selling single. While the video reached No. 1 on VH1, the song was being pulled from radio while a second single was planned to arrive in July titled “Sober.” The label not wanting to promote the record at all did not push the single to radio and it failed to chart inside the 100, peaking at 124. The U.S. received no more singles. Fans were outraged that an artist of such calibre would be treated so disrespectfully. Although the record only has been certified platinum one time in the U.S., it proves that real music is not dead and that you don’t need a formula hit song to sell records, especially to your fans. Media was very positive and remained mainly on Clarkson’s side throughout the whole entanglement stating she’d “earned the right to call the shots.”
Connecting deeper with her fans, Clarkson has stated time and time again that she will not release a record just to sell millions. To her, it’s about the music. While many artists need several songs to sell a million copies of a record these days, Clarkson only needed one, proving her to be one of the best in the business today. Her writing ability has been questioned and also put down, stating behind closed doors that she’s “25 and a female vocalist.” Clarkson immediately hung up from the conference call in disgust. To date, she’s won three writer’s awards from ASCAP, two of them being for “Because of You,” in which one was awarded for her remake of her own song as a country duet with Reba McEntire.
Some may say Kelly Clarkson put her career up as collateral when she released My December while many who have actually heard the record defend her stand. Life is bigger than being No. 1 all the time and in order to be No. 1 on today’s music charts, formula songs must be crafted and Kelly has so far stayed true to never releasing the same project twice.
The first American Idol winner will be releasing a fourth record in March 2009, taking elements from her massive sophomore disc, including many of the same songwriters, and injecting it with a more aggressive pop rock. Though Kelly may have been lucky to find Idol when she did, American Idol got lucky to find Kelly’s voice and talent. Unfortunately for her, she will have to tread the murky waters of an industry plagued with corruption, dirty politics and a tendency to manufacture and pre-package their acts to rise above circumstance and release music that will create new fans as well as keep the core group that voted her to No. 1 more than six years ago.