If you weren’t watching last night’s episode of American Idol, you have officially missed your last opportunity to see the show whittle its competitors down to the final top 10 contestants. After 15 seasons, the FOX reality show will conclude this year, and the network is clearly hoping to go out with a bang. But it will be hard to top the return of Kelly Clarkson last night.
Thursday’s episode featured a ridiculously emotional performance from the Burleson star, who finished off the show. As American Idol’s first-ever winner and an expectant mother, Clarkson has plenty of reasons to be emotional right now. But pretty much no one expected that Clarkson would deliver the show’s most powerful performance in years as she prepared to sing the title track from her 2015 release Piece by Piece.
The song, written by Clarkson about her troubled relationship with her father, is deeply personal. The song’s most tear-jerking moments also have a pretty close relationship with Dallas: When Clarkson performed at Gexa Energy Pavilion last summer, just days after announcing her second pregnancy, she had a similarly emotional reaction, telling the crowd that Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was the one her father had left her at when she was just six years old.
"Piece by Piece" tells that story in the context of Clarkson’s current life as a parent. On a good day, it’s easy to see how Clarkson could break down while performing “Piece by Piece.” Few pop songs these days lay their subjects quite so bare, and when you factor in being “super pregnant,” as Clarkson said, it’s a real wonder she even made it out onto the stage in the first place.
And it wasn’t just her. Keith Urban cried like a baby and at least five of the show’s competitors were equally emotional. When the performance was over, the crowd and the show’s judges jumped to their feet for a long standing ovation. If you were able to keep yourself together for those three heart-wrenching minutes – even if you literally have the world’s No. 1 greatest dad – then you may need to wonder where you misplaced your soul.
For American Idol, there was really no better way to have ended the show, which has certainly suffered in the years since Clarkson’s win. No Idol, with the exception of Carrie Underwood, has reached quite the same levels of success as Kelly Clarkson, a testament to both her enduring talent and the show’s flailing place in the pop music conversation. There were no higher highs than when Clarkson was belting “Natural Woman” and “A Moment Like This” on the first season’s finale.
Without Clarkson, there’s no chance in hell that American Idol would have lasted five seasons, much less 15. The careers of Underwood, Fantasia and Scotty McCreery would simply not exist. If, say, Taylor Hicks had been season one’s winner, the show would have been cast into the reality TV discard bin after a few seasons, along with The Sing Off and dozens of other televised vocal competitions that haven’t quite had the same cultural impact as American Idol.
But, that’s not how it all turned out. Thanks to American Idol, Clarkson has bloomed into a pop diva of the highest order. There is no better voice in pop music than Clarkson's right now, and that’s a fact that anyone from within 50 miles of Burleson should be ready to fight people over. The hometown girl long ago took her place as a superstar, but last night’s performance reminded us all how she got there.