Singing competitions are all the rage nowadays. You have The Voice, originating from Holland and spawning a lot of franchises around the world, a format where contestants are voted in initially solely on their voice, rather than any other appearance or mannerisms. The Got Talent franchise was founded in Britain by legendary judge and world-renowned name Simon Cowell, and though not necessarily a ‘singing competition’ per se, but rather, having individuals and groups compete against each other with their own unique ‘talent’- be it singing or anything else; musicians are nevertheless discovered every now and again on this lesser known competition platform. The X Factor, again originating from Britain, also features Simon Cowell as the founder of the show, and instead of focusing a lot on the voice of the artist as with the criteria of the singing show The Voice, The X Factor allows people to listen to singers on the criteria of something they could hope to bring to listeners that is way different from anything else in the market. Sure, I reckon all these singing competitions are great. Yet for me, I’ve felt that I don’t necessarily see much long term value there is, for anyone who places their sole purpose and identity in these shows as a means to be famous or earn a lot of money. Because frankly, only a tiny proportion of artists that succeed in shows like this, tend to go on to bigger and greater things in the industry.
Nevertheless, talent shows, and especially singing competition shows, are here to stay. And there’s none other iconic singing competition (in my mind) that has borne the most impactful and famous artists out of any competition; than the Idol franchise. Again being founded in Britain (under the pseudonym name of Pop Idol), the greatest and well known Idol franchise known to the world, is American Idol, though back in the day, Australian Idol was given a chance to shine and bring people into the world of music.
With American Idol being in it’s 16th season, artists who have gone on to win such a competition like this (be it American Idol or any other Idol!), have also gone on to create chart-topping albums, impacting millions upon millions of fans around the world- Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Jordin Sparks, Guy Sebastian, Damien Leith, Jessia Mauboy, Stan Walker, Philip Phillips, Kris Allen and Casey Donovan, to name a few. Yet for me, there’s one such artist that stands above them all as the epitome of what a well-rounded pop artist should look like and how they should come across after the success and the honeymoon phase of winning a competition like Idol. Kelly Clarkson was the original American Idol winner way back in the 1st season of the show in 2002, and since an explosion onto the music scene, Kelly’s heart for passionate music and the hope to connect people through music has been a dream-come-reality for this pop/rock/soul singer. In the business for quite some time- more than 15 years; Kelly’s music again and again has proved to us all that relatable songs of hope, failure, loss, heartbreak and joy, are needed in a society where vapid music full of hopelessness and heartbreak fill the radio waves.
One of pop music’s most powerful vocals, ever; this emotive and challenging artist is one such that a lot of upcoming musicians aspire to be. Never too much in the spotlight to cause a stir, yet still ruffling feathers on a few political issues here and there; this is a woman who has carved out a career that has given other aspiring songwriters/performers an example of how a pop star is embodied and how they go about living their life with a message and an inspirational edge behind it. While we have a world where the music business can and probably is unforgiving (if you’re not making music on a consistent basis, or if you’re not hitting the right heights in terms of Billboard sales and airplay charts, you’re ‘dropped’ and the executives move onto the next thing!); artists like Kelly allow us all to enjoy such music that doesn’t have to conform to what today’s society says is ‘popular’. Though not as popular in mainstream pop right now, Kelly’s repertoire of songs and albums speak for themselves, reminding us all that talent shows are not a complete waste of time (even though due to history, artists seldom make it big and famous, even after winning such competitions)!
Kelly’s humble beginnings in 2002 after her winning of American Idol Season 1, was the start of a competition that has borne many, many winners, and a career that is a reminder and an inspiration to many of subsequent winners of the Idol competition franchise, that a winner of a talent show can still succeed and succeed well, in an industry that can be biased and unfriendly, to put things mildly. What has since transpired after American Idol for Kelly, has been albums upon albums, alongside other important achievements, that when looked and gleaned upon together, create a firm and steady case as to Kelly being an influential artist not only in my own personal list, but in other subjective lists as well. A singer-songwriter as well as being a TV personality and an author as well, Kelly’s rise to fame hasn’t really bothered her that much, choosing herself to stay clear from the spotlight for much of her career, as we’re reminded as listeners of music in general, that it is definitely possible for an artist to succeed in their career yet still maintain a relatively grounded lifestyle without much public expectation. Kelly is such an example in this- much publicity, if any, is good.
And though Kelly is still primarily known as a music artist, she’s continued to diversify and remind us all that she’s not limited to just singing- she’s been a coach and a judge on The Voice US for quite a while, and she’s written and authored two children’s books as a series, entitled River Rose. Kelly’s continued to inspire a new generation of listeners, and I know that initially what drew me to this music was in fact the publicised singles, what has continued to make me stay and listen isn’t necessarily Kelly’s music per se, but rather, it is her character and how she carries herself and what she believes in (as shown through her songs), that keeps me coming back again for more listens, out of a sense of admiration and respect to arguably one of music’s most underrated pop artists in the last few years!
Just a look through the music catalogue and we can see the strong radio hits standing out and staring at us in the face. While Kelly herself unveiled to us her debut album Thankful in 2003, that gave to us radio singles like ‘The Trouble With Love Is’, ‘Miss Independent’ and ‘A Moment Like This’ (a song that was her first ‘single’ as the first American Idol winner); it was her 2004 album Breakaway that really solidified her musical presence within the industry, and reminded us all that a talent show can produce a pop artist, and a good one at that. What I reckon is great about songs from Kelly’s discography is that much of the material is raw and honest, emotive and at times sad and solemn… and that’s ok. Song’s don’t necessarily have to end in a nice, neat bow, nor to songs have to explain away feelings or even have a happy ending. Sometimes songs are a medium to sort out feelings, and a way to wrestle with things of the world that we aren’t happy with. Kelly is one of these artists that uses their songs as a vessel to dive into her feelings and remind listeners that she herself is a human too, and that she doesn’t have it all together. ‘Miss Independent’, originally for singer-songwriter Christina Aguilera’s 2002 album Stripped; was recorded by Kelly and was about a young woman (in the song) who was finally letting down her guard and being vulnerable to people and having the ability to fall in love rather than keep her emotional and social barriers up. As Kelly said herself about the song (which I reckon was her ‘breakout’ track, rather than her ‘winner-track’ ‘A Moment Like This’!); ‘…it’s very funny when the song came into play with me, because at that certain time of my life, I was actually going through that kind of thing. I’ve always been real guarded about work and career. It wasn’t even with, like, guy relationships, it was just, like, friends and just letting people in, you know? And so it was kinda weird ’cause I was going through that same thing at the same time, so it was very easy for me to write the bridge to the song…’ ‘The Trouble with Love Is’, also from Thankful and a song that under-performed in America but was a success internationally, reminds us that love can be an emotion that can be joyful and heart-warming, but also makes us do foolish and often blind things, thereby, reminding us all that love can be both good and bad for us emotive humans, at the same time.
If you would have to ask me which album from Kelly was her career-defining one, delivering the most hits and showcasing her strength in a myriad of musical genres, then it’d have to be the 2004 album Breakaway– and with songs like ‘Since U Been Gone’, ‘Behind These Hazel Eyes’, ‘Breakaway’ and ‘Because of You’, her four singles from the album, what’s more to love from one of the most underrated classic rock albums of the 2000s? As a whole, Kelly herself doesn’t necessarily specialise in the rock genre, and thus, hearing much of Breakaway was a pleasant surprise for myself- and a reminder never to place any artist in any music pigeonhole, assuming that their genre is one thing, when along comes an album that proves otherwise- Breakaway is such an album. The title track of the album, arguably a song that has always been attributed to Kelly, is in fact not a song written by her- it was written by fellow artist Avril Lavigne, way back in 2001 and was originally going to be on her debut album Let Go, before being shopped to other artists because of its unfitting-ness to being on Let Go. The song was since recorded by Kelly, and the song right now, alongside ‘Stronger’ (I believe), is one of Kelly’s biggest hits, ever. The song itself is about how a person in a town that can be considered ‘dead-end’ or ‘sleepy’, wants to break free and breakaway, longing for more than what their current life has for them. A song that I’m sure everyone can relate to, Kelly also envelopes us into other song highlights- from relief after an abusive relationship is over (‘Since U Been Gone’), and lamenting a failed relationship and reflecting upon the ultra-vulnerability that was shown to an ex that shouldn’t have been (‘Behind These Hazel Eyes’); to writing a first person narrative about her deteriorating relationship with her father, in ‘Because of You’. As vulnerability is the way for Kelly in a lot of her songs, much of Breakaway is a reminder that it is only to have relationships that aren’t as rosy or even as clear-cut as society wants relationships to be- but rather, in having experiences that are less than stellar, we can grow as people and remind ourselves that as earthly relationships fail again and again, what will always remain is the love we receive freely from our heavenly Father!
Kelly’s music has continued to inspire and give hope and encouragement, and while much of her earlier songs and albums featured a sombre and rock atmosphere, she quickly moved into lighter and more poppy material as the years progressed. Except for her 2007 album My December, quite possibly her most ‘dark’ album to date, that featured a song like ‘Sober’- equating a relationship and its ups and downs to a drug and alcohol addiction, and ‘Never Again’, again a track that showcased a boy-girl relationship gone sour; much of Kelly’s songs and albums post-My December were much more anthemic and encouraging, heartfelt and positively driven. Her less-than-commercially successful All I Ever Wanted bore the hits ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’ and ‘I Do Not Hook Up’-songs that have more general appeal and meaning than her previous work on My December. Yet for me, I’ve always felt like her career-defining album (after Breakaway) was always Stronger in 2011, an album that is as much needed in today’s society as it is emotive, anthemic, powerful and maybe even at times, life-changing and identity-affirming. The second single from that album, the title track, received a lot of accolades, and a very true message of empowerment and what doesn’t kill us does make us stronger in ways that we can ever imagine- physically, mentally, even spiritually as we understand that it is in our weakness and inability to obtain strength ourselves, that we can and should rely on Jesus as the source of it.
‘Mr Know-It-All’, a similar song in theme to Sara Bareilles’ ‘King of Anything’, is such a song that ought to encourage us all to rid ourselves of all the know-it-all people that come into our lives and judge us in ways inexcusable; while a song like ‘Dark Side’, for me, is a soulful prayer and a quasi-spiritual song, as Kelly looks for love and reminds us all that we each have ‘dark sides’ to ourselves, and that someone who loves us unconditionally sees all our faults, scars and failures, and loves us just the same. Power ballads and anthems ‘Catch My Breath’ and ‘People Like Us’ also treated us with new material from Kelly, as these songs were unveiled as part of a best-of compilation project, while Kelly herself also tried her hand in co-leading a country song with singer-songwriter and Amy Grant’s husband, Vince Gill, in ‘Don’t Rush’. Kelly then finished off a busy decade in the music business with a holiday/Christmas album Wrapped in Red at the end of 2013, unveiling an original holiday tune ‘Underneath the Tree’, alongside a fan-favourite cover of The Sound Of Music’s ‘My Favourite Things’, among other Christmas and holiday carols.
Piece By Piece and Meaning of Life are the two latest albums by Kelly, and while for me I’ll still enjoy albums like Breakaway and Stronger and a lot of her earlier albums just a tad more than the two of her latest; Kelly still delivers powerful hits within these two albums. Songs like ‘Heartbeat Song’, ‘Invincible’ and ‘Let the Tears Fall’ all anchor her 2015 album lyrically, sonically and musically, as Kelly imparts the themes of love when we least expect it (‘Heartbeat Song’), rising up from our adversity as we declare we are invincible because of who we have around us and rooting for us in our uncertainties and moments of worry (‘Invincible’), and being vulnerable and letting our emotions flood over us as we show our real selves to people as we know we won’t be judged because of that (‘Let Your Tears Fall’); while her 2017 album features fan favourites like the title track ‘Meaning of Life’, the soulful ‘Move You’, the anthemic and challenging ‘Go High’, alongside the danceable number ‘Medicine’, a song that is all about letting go of someone that is toxic, as well as it being a song that is about not having medicine to numb the feelings we have. He 2017 album felt a little different in that Kelly incorporated a lot of soul into her music, which has been vastly different in the past where her music was on the verge of rock…which is why there is so much appeal for Kelly’s music- there is indeed a wide variety of musical genres within her songs.
Kelly’s music and lyrics have indeed helped many listeners, and I’m sure, that though Kelly herself doesn’t know it yet, God Himself is working through music from Kelly, to bring people closer together as families, or even give people a sense of realisation of our own worth and ability to love and be loved. And I’m sure if a handful of people are impacted by the music and are propelled towards change and positive realignment, then I’m sure the work of Kelly and her music has reached its goal and accomplishment. Though not as popular as many music artists right now, like Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and Miley Cyrus, to name a few; Kelly nevertheless has given us music to mull over and reflect upon, as Kelly’s brand of pop (if you can call Kelly’s music anything, then it is a broad umbrella of pop, with a splash of rock, country and soul), is a type of pop that requires us to think, and ask the questions that people in general dare not ask themselves. Kelly’s music has indeed challenged many people, and for me, has reminded myself things about God and about me that I may not have seen until recently. Songs like ‘Dark Side’, ‘Let Your Tears Fall’, ‘Move You’ and ‘Mr Know It All’ have all impacted me this last couple of weeks- and a reminder of the transparency of such an artist like Kelly in an industry where artistic endeavours and thought-provoking pop are traded for bubblegum music and mindless songs about life, love, parties and things that don’t last past the next few days!
Quite possibly the most emotional song that I reckon Kelly has ever recorded is ‘Piece by Piece’, the title track from her 2015 album. Written by Kelly and a quasi-sequel to her 2004 song ‘Because of You’; this new song is lyrically and thematically inspired by her deteriorating relationship with her father, as was her 2004 song ‘Because of You’. While ‘Because of You’ painted a more sombre and hopeless situation that seems to be irreconcilable; ‘Piece By Piece’ is different. This time around, Kelly juxtapositions her faltering relationship with her father, to her own solid and stable relationship with her husband and her love for her daughter. A first-person narrative piece, ‘Piece by Piece’ is as sombre as it is emotive and motivational, as Kelly reminds us listeners that herself and her husband are never going to abandon their own family as her father did his, years before. Emotional, sad, but equally hopeful and uplifting; we get a glimpse into what conditional love looks like, what love we shouldn’t give, and that while earthly relationships often fail for whatever reason, God will always be there with us showering us over with unconditional love, just because. Kelly’s other uplifting song of late is her most recent 2019 song titled ‘Broken and Beautiful’, the theme song for her brand-new movie UglyDolls. A song that is sung by Kelly’s animated character in the movie, this melody is one such song that embraces flaws and brokenness, as we realise that often it is the broken, the different, the weird and the just-plain odd, that can impact and make a difference, changing people’s perceptions and assumptions of people different from themselves. Both ‘Piece by Piece’ and ‘Broken and Beautiful’ have impacted myself quite a bit these last few weeks, as I’m reminded on a continual basis, that a song that can be influential destined for public change, doesn’t have to be a Christian song for it to be effective.
And then there’s not only the music by Kelly, but everything else as well. And to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really see the magnitude of Kelly’s musical influence on many people, until I discovered the ‘impact’ section on her Wikipedia page. There I said it…yes, I know I can be ignorant at times when I am preparing and writing these weekly (or so!) blogs, and thus, as I was writing for this blog, I was unaware at the beginning how much of an impact, not just in pop music but music in general, that Kelly really even had. And her influence and impact certainly travels far and wide. Many publications have praised Kelly over the years, inclusive of The Hollywood Reporter, TIME, Billboard, The Washington Post, even artists like Demi Lovato and Kelsea Ballerini have explained her impact for music in a wider sense of a community. And since hearing her music over the past few weeks or so, I’ve come to agree with these assertions. Selling over 25 million albums and 45 million singles worldwide, Kelly has been ranked 19th on the VH1’s list of 100 Greatest Women in Music, while the Hollywood Reporter quoted to say that Kelly is the ‘…embodiment of the perfect pop star. Her unmistakable pipes are a powerful presence in top 40 and country, with forays into anthemic rock and dance…’; TIME even adding that Kelly ‘…has had more of a lasting impact on the pop music landscape than casual listeners might realize…’ Since Kelly won the first season of American Idol, many have said that Kelly, her win and subsequent career, has made people fall in love with the singing competition again; and now with Kelly herself being a mentor and judge on The Voice (very different from Idol, but still nevertheless effective in bringing talent out); she has been given the opportunity to impart wisdom on a younger generation, about the trials and heartaches, but also the joys and winnings, of being an artist in the music industry.
Kelly’s personality, if you watch any of her interviews at all, is infectious, bubbly and heartfelt, as she just loves to talk. And talk and talk and talk, which is by no surprise to I guess, anyone, when it was announced late last year, that Kelly herself will be gracing TV screens once again, not as a mentor or a judge on The Voice; but as a talk show host in the daytime. Titled The Kelly Clarkson Show, Kelly’s new show is perhaps similar to that of structured shows like The Ellen Show and Oprah…which, maybe, you ask, is it even needed in the current talk-show landscape at all? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing I know is true- that Kelly will give a perspective hardly ever given on any talk show at the moment- through the lens of a musician, and someone in the industry that uses their music and their craft to bring people together through the power of song. Kelly’s outlook has been shaped by her experiences, from winning American Idol, all through to her deteriorating relationship with her father. Everything and in between, has shaped her music and her message, and through her talk show, we will get a further glimpse into her life, making her to be one of the most relatable pop stars currently in the field of music. From what I have seen of her Minute and a Glass of Wine online streaming concerts so far (where she shares stories and sings songs, all the while having a glass of wine in her hand!), she is as down to earth as pop stars need to be. We need to relate to our role models and heroes, and Kelly’s music and ability to get us to glimpse into her personal life creates such relatability that I reckon doesn’t happen in the music industry that often. People respond to real, honest, and raw songs, songs that aren’t necessarily that rosy, but rather, paint life with a realistic brush, and speak of things that are dear to their hearts. Kelly is one such artist.
Kelly’s trip from American Idol to where she is now can only be described as something out of a fantasy book. And in some ways, God has had His hand on artists and their careers, even when they don’t even know it- Kelly is such an artist as this. Her music has influenced a lot of people over the years, and songs like ‘Stronger’, ‘Since U Been Gone’, ‘Piece By Piece’ and ‘Breakaway’, to name a few; have all been imparted and imprinted on people’s hearts and homes as the years go by. Inspiring and someone to look up to in an industry that doesn’t really take the younger generation to heart when making music; Kelly has given us a reminder to always follow our dreams, and that a talent show like Idol is never a total waste. Still going strong in 2019, I’m sure it’s only a little while before we see Kelly back again giving us new music. One of today’s inspiring female artists making music currently; Kelly’s music has been therapeutic, calming and at times challenging for me, over the last few weeks. While Kelly will never rival some of my favourite female artists within the Christian music industry, she is definitely storming behind, and is fast becoming one of my favourite artists within the mainstream who is a female- others include Avril Lavigne, Martina McBride, Delta Goodrem and Sara Bareilles.
Does Kelly Clarkson make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Has Kelly delivered music that can transcend walks of life and maybe even walks of religion as well? Has there been some songs that have spoken to you about yourself or maybe even about God, in the process? Famous for songs like ‘Breakaway’, ‘Mr Know It All’, ‘Because of You’ and ‘Heartbeat Song’, to name a few; is there a song that has connected with you that is a little lesser known to the public? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!