September 11, 2020
For nearly two decades, Kelly Clarkson has connected with fans through the power and prowess of her singing voice — swaddling them through heartbreak, empowering them beyond that heartbreak, and beaming with them through new love. So it’s little wonder how much Clarkson has been able to build on that connection lately. With help from Wi-Fi.
Kelly Clarkson wants to light up Americas life, even on the days she feels dark
As work on most television shows was suspended in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 38-year-old entertainer was part of two series that pressed on remotely. From a ranch (with poor plumbing) in Montana, where Clarkson took refuge with her family early on in the health crisis, she powered up her tech and offered her y’all-peppered critiques as a coach on “The Voice.” At the same time, just months into her debut as a daytime talk show host with “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” she and her team found themselves scrambling to produce at-home editions of the show.
As she explains it: “I am that kid that adapts to whatever environment.”
So for months now, her approachable charm and BFF energy have been confined, but not dimmed, by a rectangular box on screen, whether she’s covering Lisa Loeb’s 1994 heartbreak stunner “Stay (I Missed You)” as part of her Kellyoke opening segment or shrieking with excitement when “Goonies” star Sean Astin makes a surprise cameo during her interview with Josh Gad. And wait, she’s not wearing makeup? Cool, me neither!
Maybe that’s why talking to her now over Zoom doesn’t feel all that weird.
Clarkson has been back in Los Angeles since May to sit out quarantine at her Encino home. But now, in the glow of blue light, she’s speaking from an office on the Universal Studios lot, where her talk show is gearing up to resume primary taping for the upcoming second season. A wild reality considering that she needed to be persuaded to take this step in her career in the first place.22.jpg“I will be completely honest, and I have been since the beginning: I did not want this job,” she says. “I say that it’s the dream I didn’t know I had because I talk to so many people, and not just celebrities. I’ve talked to the people that have been hit hardest in all of this — financially, emotionally, mentally ... it’s really the everyday people on this show that have just lifted my spirits when I’ve been feeling like, ‘Oh my God, nothing else could possibly go wrong at this point, like, send in the locusts.’”
That Clarkson, a superstar TV helped create, would find a second wave of career success in television isn’t all that surprising. Eighteen years after 15.5 million viewers voted to ensure the Burleson, Texas, native was crowned the first “American Idol,” many of those same fans are tuning in to her now.
She is gearing up for her sixth season as judge on “The Voice,” which returns next month. And with “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” she has emerged as a bright spot in the increasingly hard to crack daytime talk show space — the program was the most-watched new talk show in seven years, averaging more than 1.6 million viewers daily. She even became a Daytime Emmy winner for entertainment talk show host.
Former “Idol” judge Paula Abdul, who appeared on Clarkson’s show early in its run as part of an “Idol” Season 1 reunion, describes being seated opposite host Clarkson as, “like I was watching a movie on the edge of my seat, knowing from the start something overwhelmingly good is going to happen.”
Abdul points to Clarkson’s “Idol” audition, in which she traded places with Randy Jackson — taking a seat behind the judges table while he auditioned for her — as early evidence she was destined for the role.
“There’s a kind of power that comes from being able to shift the trajectory of an audition,” Abdul says in an email. “It’s not something to dismiss. She’s just one of those rare gems who’s so genuine and welcoming … it makes everyone around her want to get comfortable and have a conversation. Not everyone can have that kind of an impact. It’s a gift to be able to connect people authentically. Kelly’s got that gift, no question.”
And people want to witness it because, as Clarkson’s longtime musical director Jason Halbert sees it, the Clarkson they first met as an ordinary person pursuing a dream hasn’t become a ghost of her own fame.
“Sitting in the office with Kelly yesterday — it’s literally the same person I first started working with 18 years ago,” he says. “The industry hasn’t changed her. She’s not jaded, she’s still just as excited about working as she was then. I’m sure she has grown in many ways over this time, but the standout take for me with her is somehow she’s managed to — she would never use the word ‘superstar,’ it would make her cringe from the inside out — but she’s managed to become a superstar in all fields and still remain the 20-year-old Texas girl that we met almost 20 years ago.”
Clarkson’s ascension in the daytime talk show space, which many attribute to her likability, comes as peer Ellen DeGeneres and her show have come under fire in recent months over allegations of a toxic work culture, which resulted in the ouster of three producers after an investigation by production company Warner Bros. Claims of workplace misconduct have also hit closer to Clarkson’s orbit: Former NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy, who was instrumental in persuading Clarkson to join “The Voice” and had been the one who saw her potential as a talk show host, was recently pushed out after being accused of racism and sexism. (Telegdy has denied the allegations.)
Clarkson, who says she was “more shocked than anyone” by reports of Telegdy’s behavior, didn’t directly address “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” allegations, but she acknowledges that the recent attention to Hollywood’s workplace culture has reaffirmed a lesson she first learned at church camps and on student council as a child: As a leader, “How you act is how all those beneath you are going to feel like they’re allowed to act.
“Accountability is so important,” she says. “Everybody messes up. Everybody’s allowed to mess up. We are imperfect; that’s OK. But it’s not OK to pretend it’s not happening. ... I’m the first one in the room to go, ‘Was that me? Did I do it?’ Or, ‘How can I fix it?’”
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