The Kelly Clarkson fairytale: 18 yrs after the first 'American Idol' we look at the shy girl who became a superstar
It's been 18 years since Kelly Clarkson won the first season of 'American Idol'. Arguably the most successful musician to come out of the franchise, Clarkson has achieved massive popularity over the course of her career. With eight studio albums in her catalog, three of which reached the top position on the Billboard 200, Clarkson has amassed two No 1 singles and has sold more than 50 million albums and digital tracks in the US alone, according to Nielsen Music.
Such heights of success have traditionally eluded participants of televised singing competitions, but Clarkson's an exception. After breaking into the mainstream with her non-album single 'A Moment Like This' back in 2002, Clarkson's rise from a nervous young girl to a record-smashing superstar has been meteoric. Let's take a look at her inspirational fairytale journey.
In 2001, before her appearance on 'American Idol', Clarkson was in Los Angeles shuffling through various jobs while trying to break into the music industry. Always cautious about not wanting to be pigeonholed into any one particular genre, Clarkson turned down record deals when labels made it clear they were looking for the next bubblegum pop act. Back in the early 2000s, in a desperate bid to find the next Britney Spears, labels launched and promoted a number of female pop stars, like Ashlee Simpson, JoJo and Hilary Duff, but none were able to replicate Spears' success. Christina Aguilera came close, but not quite. Clarkson was adamant about not giving up creative control of the music she wants to make and kept pushing for something better. She even appeared as an extra on TV shows 'Sabrina, the Teenage Witch' and 'Dharma & Greg'. According to Clarkson herself, her attempts to market her demo tape to record labels was an exercise in futility as she kept getting rejected "for sounding too black". When things didn't work out, Clarkson moved back to her home state of Texas. Once there, she went back to working multiple odd jobs; a movie theater employee, telemarketer, cocktail waitress and Red Bull energy drink promoter.
After months of feeling lost, Clarkson learned about 'American Idol', a brand new singing competition on TV, and decided to audition on her friends' insistence.
Appearance on 'American Idol'
At the very start of her journey, Clarkson was just a 20-year-old from Texas trying to make it into the world of show-business. During her very first 'American Idol', Clarkson made it clear she had no idea how big the show was going to become. She was, in her own words, "just trying to make ends meet". She even had a back-up plan, as she jokingly told the then 25-year-old Ryan Seacrest, to become a fashion designer if her singing career didn't pan out. Luckily for her fans, the judges, Simon, Paula and Randy, loved Clarkson and her version of Madonna's 'Express Yourself'. For the judges, after a string of underwhelming performances, Clarkson's act was a much-needed reprieve.
Clarkson, though nervous, displayed a degree of novice confidence that not only impressed all three judges, they even engaged with her in ways they didn't with other participants. This was an early indication of the journey Clarkson was going to embark on. Soon, once the show kicked-off, her popularity went off the roof. Some of the songs Clarkson performed during her 'American Idol' run were, 'Respect' by Otis Redding, 'You're All I Need to Get By' by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, '(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman' by Aretha Franklin, 'Stuff Like That There' by Betty Hutton, 'Walk On By' by Dionne Warwick and 'Respect' by Otis Redding among many others.
Clarkson beat Justin Guarini in the finale episode to come out on top. She eventually secured a record deal with RCA and released her debut album 'Thankful' which spawned the hit singles 'Miss Independent' and 'Low'. Her song 'A Moment Like This', after debuting at number 60 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, climbed to number one in the following weeks breaking the 38-year-old record set by The Beatles for the biggest leap to number one. She once again broke the same record in 2009 when her single 'My Life Would Suck Without You' leaped from 97 to the top position. Since then, Clarkson has released seven more studio albums, the most recent being 2017's 'Meaning of Life'.
Beyond music, Clarkson has voiced characters in movies 'UglyDolls' (2019) and 'Trolls World Tour' (2020) and serves as a coach on the reality singing show 'The Voice'. She also hosts her own daytime talk show called 'The Kelly Clarkson Show' and has written two children books titled 'River Rose and the Magical Lullaby' and 'River Rose and the Magical Christmas'. A bona fide superstar in her own right, Clarkson is the talent that was brought forward through a television show. 'American Idol' has, since then, given us singers like Adam Lambert, Chris Daughtry, Clay Aiken, Jordin Sparks, Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood but Kelly Clarkson remains the original nervous, young girl who achieved all her dreams despite countless obstacles.