LOS ANGELES – Don’t ask Kelly Clarkson about her hits, that first blush of success or “the show that shall not be named.”
“I am the worst at keeping up,” the first winner of “American Idol” says. “I don’t know charts. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just not something I put gravity in.”
Instead, Clarkson is more interested in making the most of moments – time with her four children, meeting someone like Meryl Streep, who has always been an idol, or recording music with people she admires.
“I know it sounds silly but kids teach you to be a better human because they’re watching you every moment,” Clarkson says. “We want our two girls and our two boys to see their parents as successful, loving people.”
Married to Brandon Blackstock, the son of her manager, Narvel Blackstock, who was married to singer Reba McEntire, Clarkson had two children within a span of two years and discovered it’s better to just hang with them than play a game in the music industry that’s largely “egocentric.”
“When you’re younger and (people in this) business are always applauding you or talking about you, it’s hard not to drink the punch,” she says. “A lot of people fall prey to that. But kids have taught me to look around and notice the things that are really important.
“As adults, it’s very hard for us to be still. It’s very hard for us to enjoy the moment…and I get it. But it’s so silly to rate success with art. Some of the most famous artists weren’t even recognized in their time. People should just do what they love, regardless of whether they’re the most famous person doing it. Love what you do and love who you work with.”
Which brings Clarkson to “The Voice,” a rival singing competition that, yes, she did appear on as a member of Blake Shelton’s mentoring team. When producers reached out to bring her on as one of the panel, she was eager.
“I get to be a coach. I’ve been asked to be a judge on things and I don’t want to be a judge. I’m not really good at that. I always feel (expletive) afterwards if you have to say something to somebody and they don’t receive it well.”
On “The Voice,” Clarkson says, she’ll help her contestants cultivate and navigate careers.
Thanks to “Idol,” viewers started looking as singers as a package – looks, personality, talent. That bothered the three-time Grammy winner. “I get judged on aesthetics all the time, even from when I started,” she says. “And I love that the people on (‘The Voice’) are chosen because they’re talented and they deserve it.”
The idea that the coaches don’t see the singers before they hear them reminds her of opera competitions. “We had to perform behind screens, so there was no favoritism. There was no aesthetic appeal involved. There was nothing except for your talent.”
Even today, with several hits albums to her name, the 35-year-old says folks talk about her looks. “I don’t fit the pop star image that maybe people expect all the time. But I am a pop star and this is the image that I exude and that’s why this show really does complement my desires for this industry.”
“Idol,” she says, was a good experience because she insisted on making a debut album that she could be proud of. “I’m still singing that record 15 years later…and that matters. It’s not necessarily about the people who hit right after they win. It’s about cultivating these careers. You don’t see their greatest potential in the beginning.”
Instead, a successful career takes guidance and time – a reason, Clarkson says, why “The Voice” hasn’t produced a string of chart toppers.
Sure, she and Carrie Underwood are considered superstars and Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar. “But they told Jennifer Hudson to go away,” she says of the “Idol” viewers.
“Not every career is overnight, like mine or some people’s. Patty Griffin is my favorite singer-songwriter but y’all might not know her. That doesn’t mean she’s not a badass. That doesn’t mean she’s not successful. But (she and others who aren’t superstars) pay their bills and live their dream. I think that counts and that matters.”