Kelly Clarkson fought back at any naysayers and proved she's better than ever, Tuesday night, when her "Stronger" tour came to Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles.
The first song of the night, "Dark Side," was accompanied by a video of headlines bashing the "American Idol" winner, including "Kelly Clarkson is fat" and others that touched on her lack of a dating life, make-up malfunctions, loss of sponsors and album leaks.
But that was just the beginning of her self-empowering show.
The stage was simple and there were no major costume changes, dancers or any theatrics. The large TV screens along the side of the stage were turned off, and while that gave the setting a more intimate feel and forced the cheering fans in the packed theater to all look at the stage, the crowd toward the back would have benefitted from the TVs being on.
Clarkson was dressed in form-fitting pants and a tank top, and not even her worst critics could say anything about her weight.
Leading up to one of her new songs, "You Love Me," she announced that she wrote the song as a way of dealing with the music industry, and the lyrics give an insight into how much the industry has affected her: "Thick skin, soft touch, heart of gold but it's not enough. Forgiving arms, the higher road, working hard but it's not enough.
While Clarkson was entertaining on her own, the highlights of the evening were her duets.
The first guest star she brought on stage was her "American Idol" co-star Tamyra Gray, whom Clarkson introduced as she teared up. The two women, who have remained close friends since the TV show, took on Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey's "When You Believe." It was a poignant moment because of their friendship, the song and the recent death of Houston - which Clarkson said devastated her.
Also coming on stage was Michelle Branch, singing her song "Leave the Pieces," which seemed to be in the wrong key for Clarkson. Branch was a smart choice because her career somewhat mirrors Clarkson's in that she has released music in the pop world and arguably has more recognition in the genre. But she also dabbles in country music as part of the duo The Wreckers.
Clarkson, too, has experimented in country music, including releasing country versions of some songs off her "Stronger" album. In fact, Clarkson, on Sunday, won two Academy of Country Music awards for her duet "Don't You Wanna Stay" with Jason Aldean. Unfortunately, when it came time for her to sing the country hit in concert, Aldean was nowhere to be found. Stepping in to fill his shoes was country superstar Blake Shelton. While Shelton was hard to hear during the duet, Clarkson proved why she won the ACM for Vocal Event of the Year - the girl can sing.
Her last guest was, to no surprise, country star Reba McEntire. The two performed on CMT's "Crossroads" around 2007 where they sang a duet of Clarkson's "Because of You" and it seems they have remained close ever since. In fact, rumors are swirling that Clarkson is dating McEntire's stepson Brandon Blackstock. Clarkson did announce during the concert that she has a fabulous new boyfriend, though she didn't name names - again hitting back at those pesky headlines from the beginning of the show.
Clarkson's concert offered something for everyone.
She has shown herself to be a true artist and a chameleon who can do it all: pop, country, rock, and blues. She even covered Britney Spears' "Till the World Ends" and gave it her own twist, proving that the song can actually be done well when not overdone with auto-tune.
Her songs are sassy and empowering, not only for herself but for her fans. The audience seemed just as passionate about the lyrics as they sang along with each chord, fist-pumped and jumped in the air. It appeared to be an older crowd and while it may shock some people, there were men in attendance.
Aside from being a tremendous singer who didn't seem to miss a key, Clarkson also seems to be a very endearing person. She had a great sense of humor throughout the show and seemed to have a humble, down-to-earth personality. She wrote the song "Still Won't Know What It's Like" about the relationships she made visiting an orphanage in Africa through the nonprofit Houses of Hope Africa. Pictures of children she met were projected behind her as she sang the powerful song.
Afterward, Clarkson encouraged people to give back and said if they can afford a ticket to her show, they could afford to give a few dollars to an organization in need.
Overall, the concert was a great surprise. Despite the lack of tricks and theatrics, the two-hour show was entertaining from start to finish. With Clarkson's likeable personality and impeccable voice, she seems like the type of artist who could sit on stage and do an all-acoustic concert and still captivate an audience. The range of her voice and the different styles she's able to capture are all she needs to continue appealing to her mass fan base.
And it's nice to see she has triumphed over her critics and those headlines to come back even stronger.
Stephanie Cary 310-540-5511, Ext. 6630 firstname.lastname@example.org