Kelly Clarkson ‘Expected Our Generation to Accomplish More’
By Jase Peeples
Originally published: The Advocate 3/3/15
She’s sold more than 20 million albums, performed concerts in packed stadiums around the world, and won numerous awards, including three Grammys. Yet, for all her achievements, Kelly Clarkson exudes the same humble demeanor of the young girl who burst into tears singing “A Moment Like This” minutes after being crowned the first American Idol in 2002.
“I’m still surprised to see people follow me,” she says without hesitation when I ask if she was surprised to find she had a substantial LGBT following from the earliest days of her career. “It doesn’t matter if they’re gay or straight. Shoot, I’m still surprised sometimes that I even made it. I’m just glad there are people out there liking my stuff.”
Since becoming the original American Idol, Clarkson has become a global super-star in her own right. But the 32-year-old Texas native says she was unaware her fans from somewhere over the rainbow had adopted her as an icon until a few friends clued her in after the release of her second album, the rock-influenced Breakaway.
“I have several gay and lesbian friends who dig my music and one of my favorite moments was when they told me, ‘You’re like our new diva!’” she says with a laugh. “At first I was confused because I thought being a ‘diva’ was a negative. So they explained it to me and said, ‘No. It’s because you can sing and you’re ballsy.’ I remember thinking, Oh, hell yeah. OK, I’ll be that girl.”
Over the years, Clarkson has been “that girl” many times over, regularly speaking out in support of LGBT civil rights, producing a steady stream of tracks ripe for adoption as gay anthems — such as “Breakaway,” “People Like Us,” and “Stronger” — while featuring same-sex couples in music videos like “Tie It Up” and her latest single, “Heartbeat Song.” However, Clarkson says she was as surprised as anyone else when one of the young men from the real-life gay couple who appear in her most recent video got down on bended knee.
“No one knew that was going to happen, and I think that was the most beautiful part,” she says. “It turned out to be this amazing, organic moment of a guy asking his boyfriend to marry him on the video set, and none of us planned any part of it. It was awesome!”
Shots of the couple (pictured left) kissing and flashing engagement rings seconds after their happy moment took place are prominently featured in the video. Clarkson says she couldn’t think of a better way to mark the debut of her seventh studio album, Piece by Piece. “I’ll always remember this video and what a special thing it was for his boyfriend to choose that moment and what a statement it is for the gay community,” she says.
As happy as she is to see same-sex couples are winning the fight for the right to say “I do,” throughout the country, Clarkson doesn’t hold back when she talks about the current state of civil rights in America.
“I’m so sad for society because I thought by this point we’d be past race issues and gay and lesbian issues,” she says as her usual bubbly Southern drawl takes on a fiery tone. “I was always taught that differences are great and should be revered and welcomed. It’s sad to me that people are taught to think differently. I can’t even wrap my head around it. Someone treating someone differently because of the color of their skin or because a man likes a man — I think that’s so absurd. It upsets me. That’s why I wrote the song ‘I Had a Dream’ on this new album, because when I was a kid, I expected our generation to accomplish more, be better than we are, and be further than we are. I thought we’d be a stronger society by now.”
How does Clarkson respond to those who claim singers should steer clear of social issues?
“Any time I hear something like that I think, That’s the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard, because artists have been effecting change throughout history,” she says. “Painters, sculptors, speakers, singers, songwriters — from Bob Dylan to Michelangelo, artists are always a part of social change. Most times that’s how change begins — from creative people opening our minds a bit and causing us to reflect more on a situation.”
She points to Common and John Legend’s performance of “Glory” from the film Selma at the 2015 Academy Awards as a prime example. She says she was especially touched when Legend — who teamed up with Clarkson for a cover of Tokio Hotel’s “Run Run Run” on her new album — took home an Oscar along with Common for the song that evening. “I was so glad to see someone like him get the kind of respect they deserve and have been working really hard for,” she says. “Sometimes, in this industry, I feel like I’m at the Capitol in The Hunger Games and I just don’t fit in. But then there are those times you form friendships with like-minded artists that you actually have found common ground with. John is one of those people. He’s just so grounded and I was happy we had the chance to record together.”
“And now I get to say I’ve got an Oscar winner on my album,” she jokes.
In addition to her support of civil rights, Clarkson has taken on a number of philanthropic endeavors throughout her career, including work with charities ranging from Houses of Hope, which builds orphanages and assists children in South Africa who have been affected by HIV and AIDS, to organizations such as Live Earth, which promote environmental awareness about climate change. Her passion to leave the world in better shape than she found it is a drive Clarkson says has only increased since beginning a family of her own. The singer married Brandon Blackstock in 2013, becoming an instant stepmother to his son and daughter from a previous marriage in the process, and the couple welcomed their first daughter together in June of last year. “I think being a mother has made me more passionate and vulnerable,” she says. “It’s very freeing when you become a part of a family unit like I now am a part of. Something that loving and supportive — when you become a part of something that grounding, you feel like you can conquer the world.”
She notes that feeling is another reason she’ll never stop fighting for LGBT equality and the rights of families with same-sex parents. “You feel like you can do anything when you have this amazing support system. It’s such a beautiful and freeing moment when you find that kind of true love and it’s only made me stronger as a woman and as an artist.”