Red Bull car very, very soon. And why shouldn’t they have made such claims? Nobodyelse had ever parlayed a stint on reality television into something substantive.But now it’s 2005, and Clarkson is still making records. Her second album,
is one of the best-selling albums in the country. It has already sold more than twomillion copies, and two of its singles, “Breakaway” and “Since U Been Gone,” are in thetop ten on the Billboard mainstream radio airplay chart. She is everywhere: performingat awards shows, at halftime at the Orange Bowl, and at nationally televised concertsbefore the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star Game. And any notions that she would befading away soon seemed to disappear in February, when she landed the musical guestspot on
Saturday Night Live.
It wasn’t just that she was a guest on the kind of showthat you would expect to lampoon an
contestant. It was that whenClarkson was introduced, the host, actor Jason Bateman, didn’t say, “Ladies andgentlemen, your American Idol, Kelly Clarkson.” He simply said, “Ladies andgentlemen, Kelly Clarkson.”In other words, Kelly Clarkson has accomplished something no other reality-televisionveteran—no survivor, no apprentice, no bachelorette, no amazing racer—has been ableto pull off. She’s become a legitimate star. What’s more, no one else from anysubsequent
, a show that does require genuine talent, has been able tomatch Clarkson’s success. So how did it happen?“Once Kelly realized the door had been cracked open for her
she reared back andkicked it wide open,” says Jeff Rabhan, a manager at the Firm, the Los Angeles agencythat handles Clarkson’s career. But that’s just her management talking, and it doesn’texplain Clarkson’s more surprising feat: While all the other highly managed pop tarts of her generation—Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, toname a few—have learned to rely on the paparazzi and their tabloidish personalrelationships to sell albums, Clarkson has remained a star despite acting, well, normal.In fact, when I first meet Clarkson, she is sitting in a photographer’s studio in Venice,the Los Angeles neighborhood right next to the beach, wolfing down some pasta beforeshe has to go behind a curtain to get dressed for a photo shoot. She is wearing a loose-fitting T-shirt, white capri pants, ﬂip-ﬂops, and a black-and-white-checked hat, the kindthat former Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant used to wear on the sidelines. There is not a stitch of makeup on her face.“Kelly,” calls out a woman from the other side of the room. It’s Emma, Clarkson’swardrobe consultant, a member of what an executive from RCA Records describes as“Kelly’s glam squad.” Besides Emma, another young RCA-hired woman is there to doClarkson’s hair and makeup.“How’s this?” Emma says to Clarkson, holding up a black dress.Usually, the process of choosing an outfit for a celebrity photo shoot lasts about as longas an Oscars telecast. The celebrities and their handlers fret over the meaning of theoutfit and what image it conveys. Arguments ensue. Dozens of outfits are tried on anddiscarded before one is finally chosen. Clarkson, however, looks at the dress Emma isholding for maybe five seconds. “Great!” she says before turning back to her lunch.“Love it!”Sitting across the table from her is her brother, Jason, who’s 31, a congenial teddy bearof a guy Clarkson hired last year to be her personal assistant. Jason not only lives withKelly, but he also drives her to all of her appointments, flies with her to concerts, deals