Live: Kelly Clarkson Shows Those Whippersnapper Idol Finalists How It’s Done


Kelly Clarkson
Highline Ballroom
Wednesday, May 25

Better than: Watching the American Idol finale in real time.

I’ll be honest: There was something pretty delicious about spending last night, during which a super-frustrating American Idol season came to an end by crowning a bland Southern teenager with a freakishly deep voice its champion, watching a high-energy show by Kelly Clarkson, the Texan who won the show’s first season. It wasn’t just because of the symbolic middle finger I was giving to this crap run of the show and its lackluster judging and stubbornly undeveloped contestants, though. Clarkson is one of my favorite performers, someone who looks like she’s always having a ton of fun onstage while being able to belt out songs about her bad boyfriends and worse luck in love.

The show was a party for Tupperware, which is rebranding itself for the social-media era with a project called Chain of Confidence. It was kind of perfect for Clarkson to be paired with this mission; since winning Idol back in 2002 she’s certainly come into her own, tussling with her record label over things like artistic direction and release dates and snapping back at people who reflexively look down on Idol and its alums because they believe in the old days when things were real, mannn.

And it was just really fun to see her perform on a tiny stage, where she could reach out and touch her fans (in a literal way); at times the atmosphere of the show felt like a coffee klatsch thrown by a fantastic hostess who had great taste in pop music and who was unpretentious enough to sing along with the radio when an especially catchy song came on. (No Tupperware was for sale, although you could buy a scarf screenprinted with images of the company’s bowls and serving vessels.) She chatted between songs about how gratified she felt when audience members shouted out how hot she looked, how she liked music that was “so depressively pretty,” and the pesky rumors that she’s a lesbian, which she refuted by noting that while she’s into dudes, she tends to not have the best taste in them. (Cue the sympathy, especially from this corner.)

Clarkson’s 12-song set incorporated her biggest hits–“Since U Been Gone,” “Breakaway,” “My Life Would Suck Without You”–and a selection of the better tracks from her sparkling 2009 album All I Ever Wanted that included the lovely rave-up “I Want You,” which Clarkson co-wrote with a member of Ceasars and which culminated in the audience being split in two and directed in a combating-vocal-lines singalong, and the desperate lament “Save You,” which flips the old “it’s gonna be all right” convention of pop music in a heartbreaking way. She sounded in top-notch form throughout, especially on the nervy Breakaway cut “Walk Away,” which she noted was her favorite track to sing; it’s definitely her strongest track of that era–yes, even moreso than the indie-beloved “Since U Been Gone”–because of the way it cracks with confidence, particularly on the rapidfire bridge. (Perhaps if Steven Tyler had a co-writing credit on that song like Kara DioGuardi, I would have been frustrated with his Idol judging later in the game? OK, maybe not.)

The penultimate piece of the set was her cover of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” which showed off the skills of her tight backing band, too. Perhaps in a nod to her Idol roots, she’s stuck a bunch of covers into her sets that suit her ecumenical pop interests–the White Stripes, Patsy Cline, Black Sabbath, Janet Jackson (“If”!!!). Her Stripes cover gave the song a slow-burn interpretation and when she finally let loose, it was as if everyone in the room was finally allowed to exhale along with her and get back to the partying–and it came just in time, too, since servicemembers freshly in town for Fleet Week had started filtering into the Highline, and some of them were more than happy to sing along with “My Life Would Suck Without You.”

Critical bias: This probably says it all:

Overheard: Hey guy who tried to spoil the Idol finale at 9:45 p.m. when Kelly asked if we were all DVRing the show by shouting “SCOTTTTYYYY”: You weren’t wrong about the winner, but c’mon, like FOX would let that news officially slip a minute before the show’s scheduled 10:07 p.m. signoff?

Random notebook dump: Before the show, a video montage about “confidence” put together by the Tupperware people played. It was soundtracked by (a very edited version of) Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.” A Kelly Clarkson/whatever Kathleen Hanna’s working on now double bill is something I would pay a lot of money to see.

Set list:
Miss Independent
I Do Not Hook Up
Save You
Because Of You
Behind These Hazel Eyes
Walk Away
I Want You
How I Feel
Since U Been Gone
Seven Nation Army
My Life Would Suck Without You