When Kelly Clarkson performs at American Airlines Center in Dallas on Feb. 28, it will be her first time in nearly four years to entertain her hometown crowd. Not that she hasn't been busy.
In 2017, the Burleson native released Meaning of Life, her eighth studio album, a Grammy contender and her "best footprint yet," as she calls it. Then, in early 2018, Clarkson became the princess of prime time when she joined reality TV show The Voice, and has since solidified her seat in the coach's chair with back-to-back wins in two seasons. The singer is now also preparing for the fall premiere of her own daytime talk show, The Kelly Clarkson Show, which she is both hosting and executive producing.
Lest we forget -- she also is a mom of four, including two step-children and two toddlers. An American idol, indeed.
Perhaps even more amazing is that Clarkson plans to keep most of her obligations while on the road, filming The Voice and spending time with her family during the week and performing at stadiums around the country on the weekends.
"I play mom during the week," she says, adding that the family has lately bonded over playing Xbox video games like Red Dead Redemption 2. "And we're kinda gonna do the music thing on the weekends."
Life experience required
Clarkson is on her way to rehearsal for a weekend gig the day we connect by phone. She answers my questions rapid-fire, adding anecdotes that helped her understand the meaning of life — the meaning of her life. Many of the lessons she's learned are chronicled in that latest album, some wrapped beautifully in soulful melodies ("Move You"), others building to showcase her explosive vocals ("Heat") or her sultry side ("Slow Dance").
"I wouldn't have been able to make this album coming out the gate after American Idol, because I had to have life experience," Clarkson says. "I had to go through some stuff to even be able to relate to the vibe of this record."
Part of that experience included splitting from Sony's Legacy Recordings, the record label that Clarkson says forced her into working with controversial producer Dr. Luke. The singer says she felt reinvigorated by the creative freedom and encouragement she found at a new label, Atlantic Records.
"This album, I basically wanted to make since I was a kid," she says. "A lot of the influences in my life — be it Annie Lennox, Aretha Franklin, Whitney, Mariah — these people that highly influenced me as a singer, you can definitely hear on this record."
Pulling out all the stops
Clarkson's experiences and expertise have come in handy in other ways, no doubt. She mentored two young women to become champions on The Voice by reflecting on her days during American Idol — dark days spent wishing for a friend or mentor to help cut through the chaos, as Clarkson recalls.
"Looking at these artists saying, 'I have literally been you, and this, it can happen. It's not just a pipe dream' ... that's really cool," she says. "Being able to be there for these artists and making sure they're taken care of, you know, it's really a pay-it-forward moment for me. That's the only reason why I honestly agreed to do The Voice. I never wanted to be a judge. I love the idea that you're a coach and a cheerleader for them."
Brynn Cartelli was Clarkson's mentee on Season 14 and earned the top title at just 15 years old. She joins Kelsea Ballerini as an opener throughout the Meaning of Life Tour, and likely won't be the only Voice contestant to make an appearance.
Because Clarkson doesn't know when she'll be able to tour extensively again, she is pulling out all stops, inviting special guests like former Voice teammate D.R. King onstage for a special segment to be live-streamed on her Facebook page, and transforming traditional floor seating into a
As Cartelli prepares to share the stage with one of her childhood heroes, the self-proclaimed "Kelly superfan" is taking her coach's advice to heart. She plans to perform a yet-to-be-released song called "Grow Young," which is about leaving her normal life as a high schooler in the Northeast to pursue her music career.
"[Kelly] was just so supportive and had a lot of confidence in me and totally let me explore as an artist and singer," Cartelli says. "I cannot imagine what I would do otherwise. She's been the greatest thing to ever happen to me."
Kelly Clarkson performs Thursday, Feb. 28 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, with support from Kelsea Ballerini and Brynn Cartelli. $39. More info.