The Original Idol’s Successful Journey

Kelly Clarkson_JC14_07-Projection_0619_R1
Kelly Clarkson

I still remember that one confusing night. It was during season one of the then new television show American Idol, August 21, 2002 to be exact. Of course, most reading this post might conclude that because I am featuring Idol champion Kelly Clarkson, the date would mark one of her accomplishments. However, you would be wrong. August 21, 2002 was the date finalist Tamyra Gray was shockingly eliminated from the competition. Throughout the earlier weeks of the show, I thought that Gray was the eventual superstar that I, and the rest of America discovered. At that point in life I had some experience as a talent evaluator, and Tamyra Gray was the one finalist who seemed to have all the attributes necessary to move ahead in the music industry. Judge and show creator Simon Cowell had similar ideas that he expressed openly during the competition. Nevertheless, Kelly Clarkson went on to win the competition, and continues to enjoy a great career in music. Tamyra Gray did enjoy some success, but nowhere near the accomplishments of Clarkson. How did all the music fans and industry executives overlook the very talented Clarkson? Perhaps a look into her background might provide some clues about her eventual success.

Kelly Brianne Clarkson was born April 24, 1982 in Fort Worth, Texas. Clarkson is the youngest of three children with a brother, Jason and a sister, Alyssa. Clarkson also has two younger half brothers from her father’s second marriage. Clarkson’s parents divorced when she was six years old, following which her brother lived with their father, she stayed with their mother, and her sister went to live with an aunt. Clarkson was raised Southern Baptist. She has said: “I always grew up in church. I was the leader of our youth group. I’ve always grown up pretty close to church and with God. But I think I’ve just gotten a lot closer just because He’s the only One I can lean on.” Clarkson graduated from Burleson High School, where she performed in several musicals, such as Annie Get Your Gun, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Brigadoon. She sang at her high school talent show, after which an audience member shared some inspiring words with her: “God has given you this gift. You’ve got to sing. You’re destined to sing.” Clarkson continued singing and soon started classical training, hoping that music would be her ticket to a college scholarship. Upon graduating from high school, Clarkson was offered full scholarships to The University of Texas at Austin, University of North Texas, and Berklee College of Music, but later declined them, explaining: “I’ve already written so much music and wanted to try a career on my own” adding, “you’re never too old to go to college.”

After graduation, Clarkson worked several jobs to finance a demo, recording material and trying to market it to record labels, but received little response. Clarkson turned down two recording contracts from Jive Records and Interscope Records, stating “They would have completely pigeonholed me as a bubblegum act. I was confident enough that something better would come along.” In 2001, she traveled to Los Angeles, trying to pursue a career in music.

Upon returning to Texas, Clarkson was encouraged by her friends to audition for the inaugural season of the reality television series American Idol: The Search for a Superstar in May 2002. Clarkson went on to win the competition on September 4, 2002 at the then Kodak Theatre (now Dolby), earning 58% of the votes against runner-up Justin Guarini and without being sent into the bottom three throughout the season.

Some might read about Kelly Clarkson and label her as stubborn. I’m not sure if that word “stubborn” would suffice in defining the singer/songwriter. Try strong-willed, determined or self-aware. Any of the above might be a better description of the original American Idol. Clarkson’s early years certainly helped to shape her self-sufficient demeanor. Like so many others before her, Clarkson never gave up in spite of all the rejection from music industry executives. That willpower certainly fuels her efforts even today.

Immediately after winning American Idol, Clarkson was signed to a record deal with RCA Records, 19 Recordings, and S Records by talent manager Simon Fuller, who created American Idol; and music mogul Clive Davis, who was slated to executive-produce her debut album. On September 17, 2002, her debut double-A-side single, “Before Your Love”/”A Moment Like This”, was released. Both songs were performed by Clarkson during the season finale of American Idol. After debuting at No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the single climbed to No. 52 the following week, and subsequently ascended to No. 1. It broke a 38-year-old record set by the British band The Beatles for the biggest leap to No. 1. It eventually went on to become the best-selling single of 2002 in the United States.

Kelly Clarkson made several career decisions that helped her solidify creative control and ensured more success. The three-time Grammy award winner has found appreciation for her work from industry insiders and fans alike. Fourteen years and seven studio albums into her career, Clarkson has grown to own a very stable music career and family. Clarkson began dating talent manager Brandon Blackstock in February 2012. Blackstock is singer Reba McEntire’s stepson through her marriage to Narvel Blackstock, who is Clarkson’s manager. Clarkson and Blackstock became engaged in December 2012, and married on October 20, 2013, at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee. Upon her marriage, Clarkson became a stepmother to Blackstock’s son and daughter from his previous marriage. Their first child, a daughter named River Rose Blackstock, was born on June 12, 2014. Their second child, a son named Remington Alexander Blackstock, was born on April 12, 2016.

Besides regular diaper changing and midnight feeding, Kelly Clarkson is ready for the next chapter in her career. In February 2016, it was announced that Clarkson had signed a book deal with HarperCollins. Her first children’s book, entitled, River Rose and the Magical Lullaby will be available on October 4, 2016. The book will feature an original lullaby written and performed by Clarkson.

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