Now 18 years into a career that shows zero signs of slowing down, Kelly has released her latest single, a self-love tome called I Dare You, after securing her own Emmy-nominated chat show and appearing as a coach on the USA’s number one program, The Voice.
Kelly Clarkson knows her way around a banger. Since she won the very first season of American Idol in 2002, Kelly has produced hit after hit with the likes of Since U Been Gone and My Life Would Suck Without You becoming some of the best power bangers going.
But for all you know about Kelly Clarkson and the times you have sung her songs in the shower at high-pitched volume, you may not know that at the height of her fame, people pushed images of naked women in front of her in a body shaming act and she has continuously had to deal with the abandonment issues she suffered after her father left her when she was just six years old.
In the latest episode of UNFILTERED, our bi-weekly chat show hosted by Josh Smith, the Grammy winner talks candidly in a UK exclusive interview about dealing with abandonment, the pressures of lockdown as a ‘working mother’ and body image…
How are you coping right now?
Honestly, I have been on an emotional roller coaster. This has been really hard as a working parent, because I’m still doing all the same jobs. It’s been exhausting honestly, cooking every meal and cleaning nonstop after toddlers and teenagers! Everybody’s learning from home now and the teaching! So, everything has been crazy.
What’s so interesting about this time as well is that there’s so much pressure on you to be this ‘amazing’ stay at home mom, whilst being a working mom. How has your relationship with this idea of being a ‘good working mom’ changed?
Well, especially in this time, I’ve definitely reminded people that I work with I’m doing the best I can. I’m literally holding down so many things right now. Not only jobs, but even things where we usually had a lot more help. We are fortunate, so I’m not complaining in that sense, but I’ve definitely had to people that I work with, “you hired a mom and I’m not an absentee mom. I’m a full-on mom.” I already have abandonment issues, so I don’t want to pass those down.
Having abandonment issues is such a hard thing to deal with, how have you managed that?
I don’t think you get rid of that. I have people in my life that suffer from addiction to certain things and that doesn’t go away. It’s always there. It’s just navigating your life around that existence in your life. You don’t ever one day wake up and are like, “Okay, I’m totally cool with the fact that I have major abandonment issues because horrible things happened.”
That’s why I write songs about it and you connect with all these people that you don’t know. Or even an artist, as on my team right now on The Voice, we have a very similar background and it’s nice to be able to look at her and go, “Look, you don’t ever get over that.” It’s always going to present itself.
You get married and you’re like, “Oh, I have no one for the dance or to walk me down the aisle. You know what? I’m not going to get married, just going to elope.”
There are always things that happen that come up that bum you out, but at the same time you’ve got to recognise at some point though, that it’s made you who you are. You are thankful and I’m a very strong individual. I’m very confident and I’ve been forced to find that in myself. I’ve been forced to at a very early age. At some point, I say thank you to my father, who passed away last year. But I thank him as I wouldn’t have been able to be all that I am right now without all of that. So, you just take your cards you’re dealt, and you do the best you can with them.
It’s such an amazing message to send out there that negative occurrences in your life can be the most empowering…
If you want it to, because I also have friends that have had similar backgrounds and they go the other way, and they’re always in a self-pity victim mode. You can sit here and cry about it all day long, but it’s not going to help you and you’re not hurting anyone but yourself. I think it’s a choice. It’s a choice, whatever cards you’re dealt, what you do with them. And we all don’t make those right choices all the time.
The new single I Dare You is all about that complex idea of ‘self-love.’ How has your relationship with that idea changed?
Until you can love yourself and love who you are, I don’t think that you’re capable of applying it to others. You’re just holding yourself back and you’re risking beautiful relationships that you could have with people because you just still haven’t worked out your own damage.
Is there a specific turning point when you didn’t love yourself but began to?
This is going to sound so silly, but sometimes it’s the silly circumstances that turn things around. I was in high school, I always auditioned for things and I worked really hard at the vocal stuff because that was the thing, I was good at. I wasn’t the smartest kid in the classroom, I was average. I was average in a lot of things. It wasn’t even a huge part, but I just didn’t get this part that I was going for, and somebody that got it was very beautiful and very not good at what they were doing. It was a hard lesson to learn, because I kept asking my mother, “I did everything right. I worked so hard and it’s just because of my aesthetics,”
I went into this very depressed state for a few months of my high school life. It seems so silly now as an adult thinking back, but when you’re a kid, those things are so fundamental and so huge.
I was like, “So, I didn’t get it because I wasn’t pretty enough or skinny enough or what enough?” I was like, “Wait, but that wasn’t the point. It was a vocal thing.” Months later I realised, you’re not always going to get what you want, even if you deserve it. It comes back to those issues of saying thank you to those people that really wronged me in that scenario as it made me who I am and made me really recognise I am talented, and I did deserve that.
There is still an intense discussion around the body image of female singers in particular – especially when you look at the recent discussion around Adele and her weight loss – how has that affected you?
I’ve had this discussion with many females in the industry. I felt more pressure from people actually when I was thin, when I was really thin and not super healthy because I just was worn out, just working so hard and not keeping healthy habits. But I felt more pressure. It was more of magazines shoved in front of you and, “This is what you’re competing with and we’ve got to compete with it.” I can’t compete with that. That’s not even my image. That’s not who I am. That’s who they are. We’re all different and it’s okay. I fought more when I was thinner than I do now, because now I just walk in and I just look at them like, “I dare you to say something. I’m happy in my life. I’ll work on me in my time!”
Even like you said, with Adele, I saw pictures of her too. I met Adele a long time ago and that girl is like a goddess. I don’t care what kind of weight she’s holding down; you walk in the room and she’s like a force, just physically captivating. If someone wanted to do it for themselves and for their health but that doesn’t change how many times I listened to her record.
Honestly, at my heaviest point, I was hired to be on The Voice. I got on the number one television show at my heaviest point, because it was right after I had kids and it was like they didn’t care. Paul hired me from NBC because he loved my personality, he loved that I connect with people and I’m really raw and real. It had nothing to do with my sex appeal or my look aesthetically. It had to do with me as a person. I think it’s really up to artists to force people to have that mentality.
This is blowing my mind that people actually used to put magazines in front of your face and be like, “You need to be like this!”
Naked! There would be a chick naked on the cover. I’m not joking, literally naked. I was like, “unless I’m doing an SNL skit and this is a comedy thing, I’m never going to pull it off.!” Even in my thinnest, most fit moment, it’s just not my personality to be naked on the front of a magazine. Mind you, my husband will tell you, I am totally okay with nudity. I think it is a beautiful thing. I think all of our bodies, whether you’re male or female, we were very beautiful beings.
Is there a time you can remember saying no to something and it ended up being very beneficial for you?
There have definitely been many circumstances where literally I’ve been called a, “stupid B for not recording the songs.” And, “You’re so stupid. I don’t understand why you don’t see this. You should just shut up and sing what we tell you to sing,” that kind of thing. I’m like, “okay, cool, if it was such a mega hit, then why didn’t someone else cut it afterwards, and why wasn’t it successful?” I’ve never had a time in my career where I’ve turned down a song and it’s become some massive hit.
Being that self-assured is such a gift…
Amen. My mom, I was actually just talking to her the other day and we were saying, I think it is basically those hardships that happened, whether it was someone saying I wasn’t good enough to love and they left. I think all those things really do make you find your own happiness and your own confidence and your own love within yourself.
When someone that is supposed to love you the most on the planet, completely rejects you for whatever reason in their own issues, you are forced to choose. You’re either going to drown in it, or you’re going to swim to a brighter shore. You’re going to find your shore and your island and your happiness. I don’t believe people, I believe me. All those other voices though are hurt, and you’ve got to recognise that.
If you could sit the you down who was going through a really hard time and she needed a piece of advice the most in your life, and she was on this Zoom call, what would you want to say to her?
I was actually very fortunate. I have a great mother, in the sense that she’s the perfect mother for me. She’s very hardcore. She’s very, “Put your big girl panties on and get over it.” She’s exactly what I needed as a mom in my life and to achieve what I wanted to achieve. I can think of a situation, I was exhausted, and it was 2005 or something.
My mom happened to call me, and I was literally driving myself to the airport in LA going, “I’m done. I was a really good waitress and I’m done. I am so tired of fighting just to be me. It is exhausting because I think I’m good enough, but a lot of people around me at the time did not.”
She didn’t know I was on the way to the airport and she said, “Look, then come home, but in some sense you’re quitting because you’re letting them win. If you can’t handle it, then come home and choose a different path. But at this point, all I’m hearing is you complaining that everybody’s not saying what you want them to say, and you need to tell them what you want. And if they don’t listen, you keep telling them. You have to fight for that. This isn’t an easy thing. You need to stop complaining. You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. You need to turn your car back around and you need to put your big girl panties on and get back in there.”
I know a lot of people probably wanted a mom maybe that would be like, “Oh honey, I know. They’re so wrong and they wronged you.” I don’t need that kind of mom. I needed exactly the mom that I got. My daughter will tell you that. I’m a pretty hardcore mom too.