Kelly Clarkson on being finally free to make the record of her dreams

By Clare Douglas

Patience. It’s an eight-letter word that Kelly Clarkson knows all too well. The Texas native has been waiting 15 years to take full control of her career. Now done with the seven-album contract tied to her American Idol win, Kelly, 35, says she has finally created the album of her dreams, Meaning of Life.

“It’s the first time that I’ve been happy while making an album,” reveals the singer, who was simply beaming when we sat down for a chat over a cup of tea at the Four Seasons Toronto. And while she is quick to point out that she “absolutely loves” her catalogue to date, the difference is now “you can tell I’m 100 per cent into it. You can tell every single riff, line, note — everything is spot on the sound and vibe that I really truly wanted.”

This contagious contentment extends to her personal life, too. “I’m in a completely different chapter in my life. I’m happily married, and our four kids are beautiful and healthy. There’s just a lot of great stuff going on. I can’t complain.”

Since winning the inaugural season of American Idol in 2002, Kelly has sold more than 21 million albums worldwide and had 10 singles reach the top-10 ranks of the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts. She found love with Brandon Blackstock, who is now her manager, and became a stepmother to his two children following their 2013 nuptials. The couple expanded their family in 2014 with the birth of daughter River Rose and again two years later when son Remington arrived.

With so much joy and success, we had to ask the singer if naming her album Meaning of Life is a sign she has found the answer. “It’s very bold,” she says with a laugh. “It’s not that I figured it out by any means, obviously, we’re all under construction. It’s more so about being at ease and at peace, and happy with where you are in your life.”

One thing Kelly has figured out is the importance of staying true to herself. Whether talking about motherhood or being the embodiment of “Miss Independent” or her life-changing music, the Grammy winner — whose stop in Canada included appearances at both WE Day and the closing ceremonies of Prince Harry’s Invictus Games — always keeps it real.

Congratulations on the album! How are you feeling heading into this new chapter in your career?

It’s a completely different scenario. It’s been a healthy environment to make a record in — a fun, creative one. I almost cried the other day talking to [studio executives], because I wish my first experience in this industry would have been like this. I wish it would have been positive. I was 19 when I auditioned [for American Idol] and 20 when I started making an album, and I was very bummed out by the process. I was like, “Wait, I thought making a record would be different.” And what I thought it was going to be like is how this album was made.

Your new track “Whole Lotta Woman” is a pretty powerful anthem ...

I love it. It’s such a hard thing to be a woman sometimes, especially in the south where I grew up. It was “We want you to be successful, but not too successful” — to where you make a man feel uncomfortable. It’s one of those things where it’s like, “You have to be comfortable with me being a whole lotta woman because I’m going to have an opinion. You don’t have to agree with it, but I’m going to have one because I have a brain.” We didn’t want to put more hate into the world, or bitterness or anger, we wanted to put a fun spin on it. Like, I’m a whole lotta woman, so you can either hang out or get out.

How does it feel knowing that your music has impacted the lives of so many people?

Whether I wrote the song or even if I didn’t, just knowing that I was the vessel for something that helped someone or make them feel not alone or touched them in some way — it makes me so proud. I definitely hung onto music like that when I was a kid. Music was my safe pace. Anytime I was going through a hard time I would just put on [Alanis Morissette’s] Jagged Little Pill or Mariah Carey or Whitney or Aretha — people that really made me feel happy and peaceful and excited.

How have you adapted to being a working mom?

I hate when celebrities pretend they do it all. It’s not easy! We’re all crying in the bathroom at some point. But I grew up with my mother who had a job, put herself through school, became a teacher, had three kids, had no help, no family around, no father that helped — nothing. I could never complain. I have two amazing nannies. Also, my husband is my manager so when we’re scheduling stuff, he doesn’t just think of me as an artist, he thinks of me and our children.

Do your kids recognize your songs on the radio yet?

Yes. But it’s because I sing a lot. They aren’t annoyed yet. [Laughs] My son melts my heart because he completely gets transfixed. He’s so sweet. And my daughter now puts her hand over my mouth and says, “Shh, River sing to Mommy.” And then she’ll sing a song that’s really just a conglomerate of all these other songs.

It must be amazing to see your love of music being passed down ...

Oh yeah. Our older two, who did not come from my womb, have perfect pitch and are amazing singers and little performers. That’s the irony — watch mine be tone deaf. Which I wouldn’t mind!

Fifteen years since American Idol’s debut, singing competition series are still so popular. What’s behind the success?

One: who doesn’t love a talent show? We grow up doing them as kids. People love them. They love to be entertained. I think TV is so powerful. Nothing more powerful right now in the industry — or really ever since TV began. I think that’s a lot to do with it. It’s just a powerful form of directness — you’re in their home every night. Two: I think 15 years later, after doing [my stint], people feel like I’m their cousin that made it. They were voting for me and they were a part of it. So it’s not like I just made it, they got to be a part of a moment that’s now their history as well. I think there is a powerful thing with humans having that connection.

After your coaching duties on The Voice in the spring, what’s next for you?

Our plan is to do a big world tour. My band has never been more excited about an album. If you like the record, you’re going to love the live show. It’s gives a different life to the album — “meaning of life”! [Laughs] I didn’t even plan that!

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