In 2002, Kelly Clarkson won the first season of American Idol. Almost immediately, the 20-year-old singer from Fort Worth, Texas found herself in a whole new world. She inked a deal with RCA records and started working on her debut album, Thankful which would drop the next year. Even before taking the American Idol stage, Clarkson had a vision. Unfortunately, her vision and that of the music industry of the time were vastly different.
In the early years of the new millennium, “sexy” was the watchword of the music industry. Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were cranking out music videos in barely-there outfits and topping the charts. At the same time, pop starlets of the day were gracing the covers of magazines wearing as little as the publishers could get away with putting them in. Kelly Clarkson just wanted to sing.
Kelly Clarkson Didn’t Want to Be “Sexy”
In a recent interview with Variety, Kelly Clarkson looked back to the early days of her career. “It was not great,” she admitted. “It was just really hard for me to navigate the industry. I remember this one tool I worked with – this dude came over [to] my house and put down some magazines and was like ‘So this is what you’re competing with.’”
“There were naked people on the cover,” Clarkson exclaimed. Now, make no mistake, Kelly Clarkson is no prude. However, she has boundaries. “I have no problem with nudity. I’m, like, a total nudist,” she said. “But that’s just not my vibe artistry-wise. A little mystery goes a long way for me.”
“Uh, no. That’s not what I’m competing with. It might be what you feel like I’m competing with, but that’s not me,” Clarkson remembers telling the aforementioned tool.
She “Fought Like Hell” to Be Herself
The last thing Kelly Clarkson wanted was to be hyper-sexualized like other pop stars. Moreover, she didn’t want to be treated like an object by the music industry or the fans. “Women love to be sexual. Everybody likes to be flirty. Everybody likes to be sensual. But every woman is not just that one thing. We are multifaceted. They try to take that one thing and blow it up. I had to fight like hell to make sure that it didn’t push the envelope for me,” Clarkson said. She added that it is hard for young female artists because “You’re still growing up.”
Kelly Clarkson said she was surprised that she had to fight so hard to be herself. However, her label wanted to turn her into a lucrative product and, at the time, they thought that meant pushing her to be sexier. Clarkson refused time and again. In the interview, she explained the mindset that helped her keep being herself. “I am just going to be me. If that [makes money] for you, that’s great. If it doesn’t, sorry,” she said. Two decades later, we can see that her fighting paid off.
The Kelly Clarkson Show is in its fourth season and has already won 13 Emmy Awards and she’s still making music.