By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Kelly Clarkson is like you and me in at least one respect: She, too, is sick of Kelly Clarkson. "My friends are like, 'If I see you on one more interview, dude, I'm going to kill you,'" says the first American Idol, sitting in the conference room of the Dallas publicity agency representing her film From Justin to Kelly, in which she plays a Texas girl named Kelly. She is giving one more interview, dude, with plenty more to follow down the PR trail; next stop, London. To her left, taped on a glass wall, are a dozen posters advertising the film in which Clarkson stars with fellow contestant Justin Guarini, the Sideshow Bob-top who plays her love interest, a Philly boy named Justin. Clarkson swivels around in her chair and glares at the images of her face that repeat, and repeat and repeat, down several feet of wall space. "I'm everywhere," she says, in a tone of voice that suggests she's at once very impressed and very aghast at the spectacle. "It's amazing."
She should have disappeared by now, having been replaced by yet another instacelebrity on the show that made her instafamous. Fame's clock, a stopwatch measured in milliseconds, should be down to its final ticks. The 21-year-old should be a trivia question working in that Manhattan restaurant where all reality-show survivors go to pay the rent. It's Ruben's moment in time, till the sand reaches the bottom of his quarter-hourglass. Kelly who? American what? And we cared why?
But still Kelly Clarkson's here--and there and everywhere else. She's still on television, serenading Jay Leno or the latest crop of what-about-me? wannabes for whom success cannot arrive quick enough. She resides high atop the pop charts, where her million-selling album Thankfulsits at the No. 4 spot, just above Norah Jones' Come Away With Me. And now she frolics wholesomely on the movie screen, where she plays Annette to Justin's Frankie in a surprisingly mean-spirited spring-break movie that looks like it was filmed in 17 days--and damned near was, lest anyone forget her name in the painful glow of the summer's first sunburn. (It actually took 30 days, at a cost of around $12 million--the price of a cab ride back to reality.)
That Clarkson has not receded into a dimming spotlight is as much her doing as it is the studios and labels that stand to make a fortune off her and the other Idols, or so she would have you believe. She is, like Amanda Bynes and Mandy Moore and Hilary Duff and the other child-adult stars gracing the cover of the recent issue of Vanity Fair, a would-be franchise aware of her bankability who puts up the front of being in control of her own career. (This, despite the fact the American Idolcontract she and the other contestants signed make very clear they are all the property of 19 Group, the production company owned by the show's creator, Simon Fuller--whose sister Kim wrote From Justin to Kelly.)
Clarkson is quick to insist hers is not tissue-thin fame concocted by marketing researchers in Fuller's teeny-pop laboratory. She will not stand for the suggestion that hers is not hard-won celebrity or that her album was something (pre)fabricated by anyone other than her. Take, for instance, this exposition on Thankful, which rock writers rightfully have knocked for myriad reasons, chief among them RCA Records, producer Clive Davis and Simon Fuller's desire to make her sound like all things to all people by cranking out a hodgepodge of radio R&B, pop-gospel, Dianne Warren-branded treacle and Christina Aguilera-fied funk that has all the identity of computer code.
"I don't consider myself pop; I don't consider myself R&B," she says, launching into a minutes-long explanation about the album's origins. "I don't really consider myself anything. I consider myself just Kelly Clarkson and making my own style of music. People are going to label it this and label it that, and if that suits them, then that's fine. People ask me what kind of genre do I want to sing in. I want to sing mygenre. Entering [the recording studio] was a little difficult, because no one's really come in contact with someone like me. RCA blatantly said that. They're like, 'We've never really come in contact with someone who wanted to do so much on one CD.' And I kinda had a little leeway because I already had a fan base, and they apparently liked what I did on the show, and I sang everything...
"I went ahead and pushed. I didn't want to be an artist to come out on my second album and say, 'This is really a representation of me; they made me do this on the first one.' I didn't really want to have to be put through that because that's awful to do something you didn't want to do. I will never do that. I wouldn't have come out with a CD, I would rather not. My thing with making music is to never let someone push me around and say this is what I need to do or have to do, because there's nothing I need or have to do, and I think I proved that on the show."