Ten years ago, Kelly Clarkson stole the hearts of a nation on the Fox juggernaut American Idol. She was an every-girl. Not razor thin and stunningly gorgeous, she looked like a real girl. She wasn’t polished, she was socially awkward using terms like “cool beans” all the time. She was an underdog, a fighter coming back to win the competition with the one thing no one can argue about — that voice. Seemingly unaffected and genuinely grateful, Clarkson is still that every girl and brought her Stronger tour to New York and Radio City Music Hall for the first time.
A thin screen projected “failure,” “fat,” and other criticisms as she opened the show with “Dark Side.” I love the lyric, “everybody has a dark side. Do you love me? Can you love mine?” See? Every girl. Unapologetic for who she is, Clarkson is one decade and five albums into her professional music career and this show highlighted her at her best. She followed with “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” “Since U Been Gone” and “Gone” from Breakaway and ended the first act of her show with “You Love Me” from Stronger.
The second act was my favorite of the whole show. Appearing in the boxes above the crowd she covered Florence & The Machine’s “Heavy in Your Arms” from the Twilight movies. Haunting. She descended to the stage where the band had moved off their platforms and created a more intimate setting for the tributes part of the show. In all her endearing awkwardness, she kept telling the crowd “I’m so excited! I’m so excited!” We learned she’s a big fan of Broadway and Barbra Streisand before spectacularly performing “My Man” from Funny Girl. Next, Kelly paid her respect to the great Etta James, who passed away the night before the show. “This isn’t ‘At Last’ because everyone covers that so I wanted to do my favorite, actually. My favorite song is ‘I’d Rather Go Blind.’ So, this is for Etta!” The Babs and Etta tributes were by far my favorite moments of the show. She really needs to cut a whole album of standards.
Next she played a favorite track off each of her first four albums: “The Trouble With Love Is,” from her debut album, “Walk Away” from Breakaway, “How I Feel” from My December and “I Want You” from All I Ever Wanted. If anyone saw the YouTube video from the Troubadour in LA from last October, you may have caught Kelly covering a Carrie Underwood song. As good fortune for her fans, the popularity of that video prompted Clarkson to add it to her set list. “Carrie recorded a lovely country version of this song, and I wanted it, so I stole it” was how Kelly set up this song, but I’m sure she meant, “Carrie’s version was ok, but this is how you really sing it.” “I Know You Won’t” is a gorgeous song and she slayed it. If the American Idol title included a crown, Kelly just snatched it off Carrie’s head. Sorry.
In her final act, Clarkson played a few off the new album including “Don’t You Wanna Stay” featuring a giant projection of Jason Aldean, “Let Me Down” and “I Forgive You,” which I love. She closed the main set with her monster hit “Breakaway,” her current single, the defiant fighter anthem, “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” and the pogo-dance ready “My Life Would Suck Without You.” For her encore, she returned for a stripped down, piano led version of “Never Again.” Amazing, I had chills. Then she introduced her good pal Reba McIntyre who was somewhere in the crowd before she sang “Because of You.” Reba is a big fan, she’s always at a Kelly Clarkson concert. Hmmm. Florence, Reba, red-heads… Interesting. She closed with “Mr. Know It All” and “Miss Independent.” Love you, Kelly. Here’s to another 10 years of great pop music from you. Never change.