18 years of 'American Idol': How Kelly Clarkson's win forced her to do a movie that made her feel 'miserable'
Clarkson starred in the 2002 flop, 'From Justin to Kelly', with fellow 'American Idol' finalist, Justin Guarini, their characters bearing the same first names as themselves
Before 2002, there may have been reality competitions and singing contest shows, but none changed television like 'American Idol' did, with the cranky Simon Cowell, the compassionate Paula Abdul, and the charming Randy Jackson as the three judges. The very first season of 'American Idol' aired its final episode on September 4, 2002 -- a showdown between Justin Guarini, an early favorite of the viewers, and Kelly Clarkson, who began to make a larger impact on the judges through the competition through her renditions of Aretha Franklin's 'Natural Woman', and Betty Hutton's 'Stuff Like That There'.
Kelly Clarkson went on to win over the viewers and therefore the popular vote, which led her to become the first-ever 'American Idol' winner. As part of her win, a record deal was included in her contract with RCA Records and Clarkson went on to have a widely successful career. Her songs like 'Breakaway', 'Since You Been Gone', 'Because of You', 'Behind These Hazel Eyes', and more were hits and are now considered as 2000s classics. Clarkson continued to maintain that success through the 2010s, with songs like 'Stronger', 'Heartbeat Song', and more. She even returned to television, first as a judge for 'The Voice', then as the host of her own talk show, 'The Kelly Clarkson Show'.
However, back in 2002, her 'American Idol' win included something else in her contract that made her wonder whether her career would sink even before it sailed. The winner of 'American Idol' was given a movie deal. Clarkson starred in the 2002 flop, 'From Justin to Kelly', with fellow 'American Idol' finalist, Justin Guarini, their characters bearing the same first names as themselves.
'From Justin to Kelly' is a musical romantic comedy and on the surface, it looked promising. Two small-town spring breakers -- who also sing -- meet in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but keep losing each other and have to keep finding each other. Unfortunately, that's where the "looks promising" part ends, story-wise. In the film, it is Kelly's best friend, Alexa (Katherine Bailess) who plays spoilsport for no other reason than being jealous, and in the end, takes an about-turn and brings Justin and Kelly back together.
The only good things about the movie were Clarkson and Guarini's undeniable chemistry -- in a 2015 episode of 'Watch What Happens Live' with Andy Cohen, Clarkson confessed that she and Guarini dated "a little bit" --, and the other thing was a proper big-screen debut for Anika Noni Rose, who went on to star in 'Dreamgirls' and 'The Princess and the Frog'.
However, 'From Justin to Kelly' tanked at the box office, grossing just $2.7 million and acquiring a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made, was nominated for nine Razzie awards in 2003, and won the Golden Raspberry Award for "Worst 'Musical' of Our First 25 Years" in 2005.
In later interviews, Clarkson admitted that she had always hated the script from the beginning, telling TIME magazine in 2006, "I knew when I read the script it was going to be real, real bad, but when I won, I signed that piece of paper, and I could not get out of it." In a Los Angeles Times interview in 2019, Clarkson admitted that shooting for 'From Justin to Kelly' was "a very miserable time of my life." Clarkson said, "I feel like it’s one of those things where, ‘There are plenty of people that would love to do this—why don’t you ask one of them?’" Since the movie was included in the contract, Clarkson spoke to her lawyers. She couldn’t get out of it, no matter how hard she tried. "I cried," she said. "I talked to many lawyers and could not get out of the movie."
"I begged them—since I had to do it contractually—I wanted my single to be released before the movie came out and I think that literally saved my career," Clarkson goes on to say. "It was ‘Miss Independent.’ The fact that that was successful, I think that overcame what the movie was." Clarkson admits that other 'American Idol' contestants would have wanted to do the role with more enthusiasm. "I think I might have been the only one that didn’t want to do it," she said. "But the winner had to, so. I can get over the fact that it’s silly and cute—that’s not embarrassing to me at all. I just don’t find it very cool that somebody makes you do something that is not your passion and you don’t want to do."