In this week’s Voice I talked about the new album by Kelly Clarkson, inaugural American Idol and the pop star who seems most likely to be a rip-roaring time at a coffee klatsch/Tupperware party/gathering of pals. The show that put her on the map, of course, is known for putting its contestants through the wringer of American popular music from the 1950s to the present, and despite having a boatload of recorded material now Clarkson continues to pay homage to that history; her shows are dotted with covers that speak pretty well to her genre-agnostic vibe, and show off how her voice—whether it’s powering through a key-change-heavy bit of late-period Aerosmith or evoking the slow burn of Annie Lennox—is one of the best in the biz. Seven standouts from her repertoire below.
7. “Seven Nation Army” (originally by the White Stripes)
Saw her do this at the Highline Ballroom last May. She mixes the unlikely jock jam up just enough, offering the sort of slow-burn interpretation that is very rarely seen in the Idol setting. (To be fair, though, the contestants only have 90 seconds or so to make their mark.)
6. “Walkin’ After Midnight” (originally by Patsy Cline)
Firmly in Clarkson’s wheelhouse, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t do the song justice.
5. “I Never Loved A Man” (originally by Aretha Franklin)
Clarkson took on songs famously associated with Franklin twice during her Idol run; she sang “Respect” during the show’s earliest rounds and later took on “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” during ’60s Week. (Ah, Idol, I kind of miss your decade-specific theme weeks!) This take on another Aretha chetsnut is a fine showcase for her ability to blend longing and vocal prowess.
4. “Cryin'” (originally by Aerosmith)
Extra points for difficulty. Even Beyoncé thinks that this song has a lot of key changes!
3. “Why” (originally by Annie Lennox)
Really, the only thing wrong with this clip is her blonde hair.
2. “Up To The Mountain” (originally by Patty Griffin)
Clarkson publicly performed this during one of Idol‘s “Idol Gives Back” self-congratulatory weepfests, and it was one of the few moments on that weirdly overblown episode (seriously, when did all of network TV become actually run by the higher-ups running the fictional network in Scrooged?) that was actually worth not going to the kitchen and getting another soda for.
1. “If” (originally by Janet Jackson)
Maybe for her next album Kelly could ditch the producers she’s been working with up to this point and collaborate with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis? No disrespect meant, as I enjoy Stronger a lot, but this version of Jackson’s longing-filled 1993 barnburner makes me think how their aesthetic would wrap around her voice like a perfectly fitted sequined bustier. She could be the 21st-century Robert Palmer!