A Legacy of Music and Giving: The Undeniable Talent of Texas Native Kelly Clarkson
Written By: Rebecca Canfield
Author Tim Fargo once said, “Your friends will believe in your potential, but your enemies will make you live up to it.” In singer Kelly Clarkson’s fifteen-year-long career, she has had to deal with her share of both. Although nobody enjoys a critic, Fargo’s statement begs the question, is it the encouragers or the critics who actually propel one to achieve greatness? Clarkson’s road to fame began long before her success as American Idol‘s first winner, and it has not been easy. Even after her Idol win, there have been many challenges. However, the spunky Texan has boldly stood her ground time and time again in the face of adversity.
Clarkson’s instant celebrity status has meant that she has had to prove her merit time and again, to those who passed her off as a fly-by-night television personality whose fame would wane just as quickly as it rose. However, proving them all wrong, the charming and confident Clarkson brushed off their comments and rose above it all to become an undeniable musical talent all while remaining true to her laid-back Texas roots.
Along with the trials, there have also been successes. A three-time Grammy Award Winner, four-time American Music Award Winner, and the writer of ten Top 10 singles, Clarkson has also enjoyed her place in the sun. She earned the rare privilege of singing Ave Maria for Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 and has had the honor of performing My Country ‘Tis of Thee at the inauguration of Former U.S. President Barrack Obama in 2013. She has also consistently wowed her musical peers, who gave her a thunderous ovation at both her Grammy and American Music Award show performances.
In spite of it all, Clarkson has not let success change her one iota. Even through the milestones of her career, she remains a true Texan. As down-to-earth as ever, Clarkson is still more at home at a backyard Texas barbeque than a fancy New York restaurant and often prefers the simple things in life to the finer ones. Even after selling over 20 million albums worldwide, Clarkson still prides herself on being her true, authentic self, in spite of the pressures of Hollywood.
Here Comes Kelly
The Clarkson family said that she practically came out of the womb singing. Born in Fort Worth on April 24, 1982, to parents Steven and Jeanne Clarkson, Clarkson was the youngest of three siblings. However, her parents divorced when she was just six years old, a decision that resulted in her being split apart from her older siblings Jason and Alyssa. After the divorce, Clarkson was raised by her mom, Jeanne, who was a first grade English teacher, while her brother Jason lived with their father, who worked as an engineer. Alyssa went to live with an aunt in North Carolina. The Clarksons moved around a lot as Jeanne struggled to make ends meet, and all at once, young Clarkson went from a full house to being the only child of a single mother. She learned to adjust and began attending school at Luella Merrett Elementary School in Fort Worth.
A few years after the divorce, Clarkson’s mother met and married a contractor named Jimmy Taylor. At first, Clarkson was unsure about him, but over time, she and Jimmy grew closer, and she eventually began calling him dad.
“She was always singing,” Clarkson’s mother Jeanne said.
“I used to sing Disney songs from my balcony,” Clarkson explained. “I would sing Disney songs to anyone who would hear.”
However, it was not until the seventh grade that anyone realized that Clarkson actually had a gift for music. Cynthia Glenn, a choir teacher at Pauline Hughes Middle School, heard Clarkson singing in the hallway and decided to recruit her for the middle school
choir. All glasses and frizzy hair, choir became a haven for Clarkson during her awkward teenage years.
“I was just singing in the hallway,” Clarkson said during the hometown premiere of her first movie, From Justin to Kelly. “[Glenn] said, ‘You’re gonna be in choir’ and I said ‘I don’t know, I don’t really sing’…She is why I am who I am. She’s the best!”
During middle school, Glenn taught Clarkson everything she knew about performing and helped Clarkson hone her musical gift while providing her with opportunities to perform. An eager performer, Clarkson sang in talent shows, weddings, and at Crestview Baptist Church where she attended church. No matter the occasion, Clarkson was always willing to get up and sing anytime the opportunity arose.
By high school, Clarkson had become a rather accomplished singer, and Glenn’s husband, Philip, who taught choir at Burleson High School, took over where his wife left off. During Clarkson’s high school years, she performed in numerous school plays and musicals. This gave her opportunities to perfect her musical gift, as she performed in Brigadoon, Annie Get Your Gun, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In high school, Clarkson’s choir went to the state competition and even got the chance to sing in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany.
As her high school years came to a close, Clarkson had a big decision to make. She was offered full scholarships to the University of Texas at Austin, University of North Texas, and Berklee School of Music. After a bit of hesitation, Clarkson declined all
of the offers, not wanting to put her music on hold. Having already written so much music, she figured she would continue on the path of a music career, as college was always an option later if it did not work out.
Life on Her Own Terms
As soon as high school was finished, Clarkson decided she wanted to begin her music career, and began saving money to create an album. During that time period, Clarkson’s friends say that she had more odd jobs than anyone they had ever known. Clarkson sold Kerby vacuums, worked at a movie theater, as a cocktail waitress, at a bookstore, at Six Flags, in a comedy club, and at the Fort Worth Zoo.
While working at Six Flags, Clarkson made a friend named Janet who was moving to Los Angeles to be with her boyfriend. Janet asked Clarkson if she wanted to go, too. Determined to make it in the music business, she moved out to Los Angeles with Janet. However, unaccustomed to the rudeness, the traffic, and the parking, Clarkson missed her life back in Texas. While she was away, Clarkson did garner a few recording contract offers, but the demands that went along with the contracts were unacceptable. Some of the executives asked her to lose weight, change her image, or to give up creative control. Clarkson refused to sign as she was convinced that something better would come along and she was right.
After months of enduring various difficulties, Clarkson decided she had had enough of L.A. when her new apartment burned down within an hour of her moving in. Finally, she decided to come back home to Texas. However, Texas was not the defeat Clarkson thought it might be. Within a day or two of moving back, Clarkson’s friend, Jessica Huggins, heard about a television show singing contest called American Idol. Convinced that Clarkson should audition, Huggins filled out the application and convinced her to sign it. Not knowing much about the competition, Clarkson went in blind and wowed the judges with not only her singing but her affable personality as well.
Becoming an Idol
On June 11, 2002, a new television show called American Idol premiered. The unknown television show held a nationwide contest to find America’s newest singing superstar. Record producer Randy Jackson, singing sensation Paula Abdul, and music executive
Simon Cowell took America on a journey which resulted in ten finalists competing for a recording contract with a major label as well as a management contract. The show was an instant hit, propelling many of the top ten finalists into stardom.
Being one of the finalists, Clarkson stood out among the rest. She was confident and gutsy, yet charming and likable. People called her the girl next door, only in this instance, the girl next door could flawlessly sing an Aretha Franklin song. During the competition, Clarkson’s consistency regardless of genre impressed both audiences and the judges.
On September 4, 2002, an audience of over sixteen million people tuned in to watch the finale of American Idol. Clarkson and Justin Guarini were the two finalists, but Clarkson emerged victorious with 58 percent of the fifteen million votes cast. The finale ended with Clarkson debuting her first single, A Moment Like This, which topped the Billboard 100. Immediately following her win, Clarkson signed a contract with RCA records.
On April 15, 2003, RCA Records released Clarkson’s debut album Thankful. The album’s first single, Miss Independent, was a Top 10 hit in the U.S., and her album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. Since then, Thankful has gone double
platinum. Her album also received positive reviews from critics.
Making it Big
In 2004, Clarkson parted ways with Idol creator and manager Simon Fuller and instead hired Jeff Kwatinetz of The Firm to manage her. Attempting to reinvent her image with a rock album, Clarkson recorded her second album, Breakaway. The album sold fifteen million copies worldwide and won Clarkson two Grammy awards. Following this album, Clarkson attempted to take creative control over her third album and cowrote My December, which was released in 2007. During the album’s production, Clarkson famously fought with executive producer Clive Davis, an act which many believe resulted in RCA being reluctant to promote the album. Although today the album is certified platinum, it sold fewer copies than her previous album. Subsequently, a 2007 tour was canceled due partly to poor album sales.
Yet, Clarkson persevered. She fired Kwatinetz and hired talent manager Narvel Blackstock of Starstruck Management to manage her career. Blackstock, who was married to country music superstar Reba McEntire, helped Clarkson find new opportunities as well as a new sense of direction. In 2008, Clarkson dabbled in country music when she participated in CMT’s Crossroads, a special which paired her with country music legend Reba McEntire. McEntire and Clarkson became fast friends. Clarkson appeared on McEntire’s television show Reba, and the two also performed a duet to Kelly’s single, Because of You, at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Following this, they recorded the song for McEntire’s album, Duets. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Since that time, Clarkson has released four more albums, each of them well received. Today, she is the recipient of three Grammy Awards, four American Music Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards, two Academy of Country Music Awards, and one CMA award. Her album Stronger was certified platinum, won the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album, and produced two Top 10 hits that year. Stronger, What Doesn’t Kill You was number one on the Billboard Top 100 for three weeks, making it Clarkson’s third number one hit on the Top 100 chart. She is one of the most successful American Idol contestants and is a world-renowned singer today.
Meet Mrs. Blackstock
In 2012, Clarkson, who was notoriously single for most of her career, began dating her manager’s son Brandon Blackstock. A pilot and talent manager for Rascal Flatts, Brandon first met Clarkson at an awards show, but was married at the time. Years later, the pair met again when Blackstock was managing singer Blake Shelton, and the pair hit it off. Blackstock was newly single, and it seemed as if a new door was opening. Later, the couple met again at a Super Bowl. Sparks flew, and the two began officially dating. By December of that year, Blackstock and Clarkson were engaged. Clarkson married Blackstock on October 20, 2013, and the pair have two children together in addition to Blackstock’s two children from a previous marriage. They now live in a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee. Their daughter, River Rose, is turning three and their son, Remington Alexander, is now two.
All throughout Clarkson’s career, she has made it a point to be thankful, to give back to others, and to stay true to whoshe is. In fact, after her Idol win, Clarkson bought a new car for the friend who insisted that she enter the competition. Never one to have a diva moment, Clarkson has often said, that she loves to sing and write music but “she could do without the fame.” However, the fame has given her the ability to really get involved in social issues that are dear to her heart.
Clarkson has often performed at charity benefits, including Idol Gives Back in 2007. The charity benefited both poverty stricken residents of Africa and Katrina victims in the United States. She also performed at a charity benefit called Live Earth, aimed at increasing environmental awareness. Clarkson has been involved with charities such as the March of Dimes, UNICEF, Save the Music Foundation, and Houses for Hope, an organization that builds houses and orphanages in Africa. She also participated in A Night for Hope, a concert that benefited the charity as well. Additionally, Clarkson owns a ranch in Texas dedicated to taking in unwanted animals.
Perhaps Clarkson’s favorite charity is the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital in Vanderbilt, Tennessee where she lives. Clarkson performed a holiday show for the hospital’s children in 2012. Clarkson brought in a team who created a winter wonderland for the children inside the Children’s Hospital Theater, and she even went from room to room singing for the children. That 2012 performance has since grown into a yearly event called Miracle
on Broadway, where Nashville stars such as Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, and Tricia Yearwood perform a concert which benefits the hospital and other local charities as well.
Clarkson has not stopped there. She is still busy being as creative as ever. Recently, Clarkson published a new children’s book, River Rose and the Magical Lullaby, which was inspired by her daughter’s adventures traveling the world with her mother. Additionally, Clarkson is currently working on a new album which she says will be a return to her Idol roots.
“It’s urban, soulful pop. It’s basically what I made on American Idol,” said Clarkson. “It’s basically the record I have been dying to make since I lived here at the age of ten.”
Clarkson has also expressed interest in doing musical theater in the future as well, but says she is waiting for the right project. For the meantime, she is planning on doing what she does best, making albums.