USA Today March 9, 2009

Former 'Idol' Kelly Clarkson Has All She Ever Wanted
By Elysa Gardner NEW YORK — Kelly Clarkson can't stop saying she's sorry. Having shown up 10 minutes late for a morning interview — she had trouble dozing off the night before, then overslept, she explains — the normally punctual singer spends much of the next 10 minutes apologizing for everything from her tardiness to her appearance. "Do you know what it's like when you've just woken up, and your lips are all huge and your face is swollen?" Clarkson asks. "Every time I talk, I keep licking my lips. They must look monstrous. I must look like a platypus." In truth, sitting in a hotel lounge in jeans and a T-shirt, her wholesomely pretty face free of makeup except for a touch of mascara, Clarkson doesn't resemble a platypus any more than she does a pop star. Seven years after rocketing to fame as the first American Idol, the 26-year-old — whose fourth studio album, All I Ever Wanted, arrives Tuesday — still exudes a disarming normalcy. She admits she can be "very selfconscious," if you hadn't already drawn that conclusion, but that's not to say Clarkson lacks confidence, or cultivates a more fabulous image.

"I live on a ranch in Texas and do my own thing," she says. "And I don't care what anyone has to say about it. My joke is that the only people I'm trying to please are myself and my fans, because they're the ones buying my records. And I have the best, most loyal fan base ever." That mix of graciousness, candor and moxie informs All I Ever Wanted, which has already racked up a million-plus-selling No. 1 single with the thumping My Life Would Suck Without You. Clarkson co-wrote a number of songs on the album, her collaborators this time including pop savants such as Ryan Tedder, Sam Watters and Louis Bianciello, and veteran rock producer Howard Benson. "Variety" is the key factor, Clarkson says, with influences ranging from "British punk to a kind of R&B/hip-hop feel to a colorful '70s rock vibe." She acknowledges that "a lot of cooks" helped determine the lineup. "There's the team at my label, my management and me. But for this album, pretty much everyone agreed on most of the songs." Dark 'December'

Glow of success: Kelly Clarkson's fourth album, All I Ever Wanted, is out Tuesday. The first American Idol winner's album has already produced the hit My Life Would Suck Without You.

By most accounts, including Clarkson's own, the process behind her last album was more tortured. In promoting 2007's My December, the singer spoke frankly about the creative differences that delayed its release. Her previous outing, 2004's Breakaway, for which Clarkson had helped write about half the songs, was an unqualified success; it has sold 6 million copies. But the singer suggested that label executives weren't as supportive of her autonomy when it came to My December's darker, less overtly commercial fare. In the August 2007 issue of Blender, Clarkson singled out music industry titan Clive Davis, then CEO of the BMG label group, which at the time oversaw Clarkson's label, RCA. "I get you don't like (My December)," she recalled telling Davis. "You're 80, you're not supposed to like my album." (He was 75 at the time.) In the ensuing flap, she issued a statement that read, in part, "I'm well aware that Clive is one of the great record men of all time. He has been an important force in my success. He has also given me respect by releasing my new album when he was not obligated to do so. … I apologize to those whom I have done disservice." There was no evidence of hard feelings when Clarkson sang at Davis' pre-Grammys bash this year. When reminded of the episode, Clarkson insists, "I'm really not a controversial person. I'm too lazy to be controversial." But she also points out that she wasn't "apologizing to anyone in particular at the label. I was apologizing to my fan base and to the people on my team who had worked so hard on a project we all loved, and who were getting flak" because of her comments. Though My December has been Clarkson's lowest-selling album to date, she maintains that it wasn't a conscious departure from her previous work. "It was a shock to me when the album came out and people were like, 'Oh, she's departing from pop.' I think How I Feel, which is on that album, is the most poppy song I've ever written. It was a different album than Breakaway, but when I came out with Breakaway, people also thought I was moving away from pop. 'Oh, she's doing rock.' And there was some backlash there, too." RCA Music Group general manager Tom Corson says he views My December as "part of (Clarkson's) creative process as an artist and a human being. We're pleased with how it did, and we supported it, even though there was some drama behind it." Artistic vision That drama was beneficial for All I Ever Wanted, says Blender editor in chief Joe Levy. "The thing you love about great pop music is that friction between the artistic impulse and the commercial impulse, and Kelly's new album has that in spades." Levy allows that female pop artists "like Kelly and Beyoncé often don't get the credit they deserve. No matter how many writers and producers they work with, they have a sound of their own. When Kelly pushes dance songs in a rock direction and rock songs in a dance/pop direction, that's her artistic vision." Clarkson accepts, to a point, that any young artist — particularly one whose vehicle to fame was a reality TV show — must fight to relay and control that vision. "I got a lot of flak when I didn't want to pump an album out right after (winning) Idol. They didn't know what I wanted to do. In fairness, I didn't even know what I wanted to do."

She still recalls, dryly, having to "really fight" for the breakthrough single Miss Independent. "Then it ended up being No. 1 for seven weeks, and everyone else took credit. That's why on Breakaway they were willing to let me do stuff like Since U Been Gone. It's like taking baby steps. Now, four albums in, people understand that I love and can sing different kinds of music." Clarkson remains grateful for the crucial role that Idol played in her career; she'll perform her single on Wednesday's results show. "There is no artist development (at record labels) anymore, and what's cool about the show is that you get to go on TV — which doesn't usually happen when you're a beginning artist — and decide what you sing, what you wear, how you talk. People appreciate the chance to vote for someone who may not get a record deal because they don't fit a certain prototype." The corporate clashes and changes of management that have marked Clarkson's postIdol tenure "have taught me that, one, I can't control everything, and, two, what I can control should be positive." Hence her switch from bigwig manager Jeff Kwatinetz to Narvel Blackstock, whose other clients include his wife, and Clarkson's sometime duet partner, Reba McEntire. "Jeff was a great manager, but we continued to disagree on one thing: He wanted to manage the biggest pop star in the world, and that has never been and will never be a goal of mine. That's way too much pressure. At the end of the day, I want to do things that will make me happy, and Narvel gets that." Not into dating right now Happiness, for Clarkson, will not necessarily require marriage. "I'm not against it. If I found a guy who could handle my job, that would be cool. But I've dated a couple of guys who were awesome, and the celebrity part of my life and the travelling part are hard to get around. You never get to see each other, especially if you're both musicians." (Clarkson's former beaus include singer/songwriter Graham Colton, who toured with her.) For the time being, she's content not to be in a relationship. "I went to see He's Just Not That Into You the other night, and honestly, you walk away from that movie feeling so glad that you're single. I went with friends who are my backup singers on the road, and have their own group, and we were like, where do we even meet people when you're working so much? I mean, we travel with a bunch of married men! And I love working; I can't see myself not doing this." Clarkson is even more adamant about not wanting children. "Oh, my God, I have no desire. I would not be a good mother. I mean, I love being an aunt to my niece and nephew. And I used to want to, like, adopt 10 kids — because I had friends who were adopted, and I thought that was the coolest thing, to be chosen. But again, my job is too selfish." That said, Clarkson is keen that stardom not distort her ideals. "It would be easy for me to go, 'Whatever, I'll be a fembot.' But I have a big fear of change, or negative change, anyway. I'm basically the same person I was when I won Idol, or when I was 10. "Maybe it sounds cheesy, but in a world that is not normal, my goal is to continue doing what I love and feeling good about it. That's it."

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