"Tell Kelly I think she's rad," said one of my co-workers as I headed out the door on my way to Kelly Clarkson's Nissan Live Sets taping. So I'm apologizing right now to said co-worker that I never got around to that. I was just too busy telling Kelly that I think she's rad, that my mom thinks she's rad, etc. Rad rad rad rad rad.
Truly, I've been contemplating Kelly's undeniable radness since January 2002, when season 1 of American Idol hit the airwaves and a star was born. Many Idols have come and gone (mostly gone) since, but Kelly will always be the O.I. (Original Idol), first last and always, the Idol to which all other Idols will forever be compared.
And folks, lemme tell ya, there is no comparison. Watch Kelly's Live Sets for all the proof you need of that.
Anyway, five or so years after my mother (the biggest Idol geek I know, and I know quite a few of them) and I watched a confetti-strewn Kelly fan her hands in front of her moistening eyes as she sang her finale victory song, "A Moment Like This"--while Justin Guarini also watched from the wings with a diplomatic, clenched smile and headful of wilted ringlets--I learned that Kelly was going to appear right before me, on the Live Sets stage! Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this, indeed, and my mom and I are two of those people.
Yes, when I found out that I'd be able to bring a guest to Kelly's taping, I simply had to invite the moms. She gave me life; I gave her a Kelly ticket. Seems like a fair trade to me. Man, between this and the time I took Mom to the season 6 American Idol finale (read my blog about that here), I was going to have no trouble whatsoever securing my role as the Golden Child of the Parker clan. Hey, whatever it takes...
So Mom and I showed up, giddy as that sobbing Sanjaya fangirl from the last Idol season, for Kelly's 4pm dress rehearsal--only to find out that Kelly, the ultimate anti-diva, had showed up almost an hour early, and therefore the rehearsal was already well underway. D'oh!
But all was not lost. We still caught a bit of Kelly (cutely clad in an everygirl outfit--"Don't Mess With Texas" T-shirt, velour track pants, stubby little pigtail, scrubbed face) belting out practice runs through "Never Again," "Judas," and "Because Of You," and sounding every bit as (yes) rad as she did the night that lovestruck stalker dude ran up on the Idol stage an ambushed her with a bouquet of flowers back in 2002.
Yes, how refreshing it is that when AMERICANS, the PEOPLE, are left to decide who should be a pop star, they choose someone who can (jeez, here's a novel concept) ACTUALLY SING. Makes me proud to live in the good ole U-S-of-A.
Oh, but I digress. You'll have to forgive me, the 4th of July wasn't all that long ago and I must be feeling all patriotic and shiz. Anyway, with her rehearsal out of the way, Kelly bounded off the stage, announcing, "I'm gonna go get pretty!" before heading to her trailer to place herself squarely in the hands of multiple stylists, hairdressers, makeup artists, etc. Personally, I thought she looked pretty enough in that "Don't Mess With Texas" T-shirt. Kelly's looks didn't need to be messed with.
So after my mom and I spent an hour or so lounging outside in the 75-degree L.A. sunshine, grazing on Trader Joe's snacks from the catering table, watching Kelly take a brake from the prettying process to play some basketball, and generally thinking that life sure didn't suck at this particular moment, it was time for the show of shows. And so, out came her 17-piece band. Yes, you read that right. Sev-en-teen. Apparently Kelly is being backed by the Arcade Fire these days. Or Earth, Wind & Fire. Seriously, there were so many people involved in this production, it was the first time in Live Sets history that the usually well-prepared caterer was quickly running out of his Trader Joe's rations. But hey, a big voice like Kelly's requires a big band to back it up.
Eventually Kelly triumphantly emerged sporting some fine custom rock-wear and a shagged-up hairdo, indeed looking even prettier than she did before. How silly I was to doubt her stylists. (That unfortunate Mama Cass muumuu they put her in for the Idol Gives Back special may have been a real Blackwell-baiting misfire, but for Live Sets they sure got it right.) Kelly jumped up onstage, exhibiting enough manic, Red-Bullish energy to make Rachael Ray seem like Debbie Downer, and screamed out: "WHAT'S UP, Y'ALL?" And I was struck with a sudden urge to bumrush the stage like that aforementioned flower-offering fan and hug her as tightly as possible until security guards and/or men in white coats dragged me away. She was just so damn lovable. Seriously, whoever that "Never Again" guy is who screwed her over is a frickin' IDIOT.
By the way, the week prior to Kelly's Live Sets shoot had been full of bad Kelly news (the battles with Clive Davis over My December's alleged radio-unfriendliness, the firing of her management firm, the cancellation of her tour), leading me to expect a sullen, pissy Kelly. But if she was in a bad mood, then she sure has better acting skills than From Justin To Kelly would have us believe, because she hid it well.
"I love this crowd!" she squealed with girlish delight as she gazed out upon 200 or so of her most ardent admirers. "It sounds like a rave in here!" She also gave a shoutout to the non-Clive record label employees in attendance, declaring: "Those are the people I like--the ones that actually support me!"
"Can I be your friend?" shouted one fan. "Anyone can be my friend, we're all friends," she answered breezily. And you know what? It actually sounded sincere. When Kelly was on that stage, she made everyone in the room feel like her bestest friend--me and my mom included. You know, it's that "likeability factor," as Simon Cowell would say, that ultimately made Kelly triumph on American Idol. (That and her super-rad voice, of course.)
Yes, this was by far the best fan interaction I'd witnessed at any Live Sets event. There was no autograph Kelly wouldn't sign, no hand she wouldn't shake, no declaration of undying love or question from the crowd she wouldn't address personally, no self-deprecating joke she didn't want to be the butt of (literally--she even told the people standing behind the stage, "You got my best side!" as she wantonly wiggled what Elle magazine recently called her "bee-stung bottom" in their direction).
The fan Q&A was almost unnecessary, considering that the entire show had become one informal call-and-response session, with Kelly chattering with fans nonstop between tunes. But one particularly awesome official Q&A moment came when a specially invited Make-A-Wish kid named Gracie got to ask a question. By the way, here's a little behind-the-scenes info for ya: My MOM was supposed to ask the question, but she ever-so-graciously gave up the opportunity to query Kelly personally and let Gracie do the grilling instead. What a good sport. But I have to say it was funny when Gracie--who was maybe 10 years old, tops--started reading the rather maturely scripted question, something about Kelly seizing "artistic control." Even Kelly had to laugh. But she was laughing with Gracie, not at her. Kelly's nice like that.
However, after the show at the Make A Wish meet-and-greet, Gracie got another chance to interact with Kelly, this time showing much more of her real personality. Turns out this little girl can SING! She belted out "Something To Talk About" for Kelly and the crew, and lemme tell you, she sounded a helluva lot better than when Sanjaya Malakar sang it the week he got eliminated. The room exploded with wild applause when Gracie was done, Kelly showered her with even-nicer-than-Paula-Abdul praise, and I predicted right then and there that I'd be voting for Gracie during American Idol season 12.
And then it was time for me and the moms to meet Kelly. I wish I'd exhibited as much poise and (no pun intended) grace as Gracie did, but instead I acted like a total spazz. Spazzier than Kelly was in that Metal Skool video that's all over on YouTube.
"Ooh, what pretty red hair!" Kelly said when she met me. (Considering that I am a natural blonde with a copper-colored dye job--something that my mom considers a crime against God, nature, and all that is right in the world--I felt smugly vindicated that Kelly said this within my mother's earshot.)
"Thanks," I stammered. At that point I should've just shaddup. But, no, I kept going. And going. "It's not natural. I wish it grew out of my head like this, it would save me a lot of money on roots upkeep, but I dye it, blah blah blah blah blah..."
"Just say thank you," Kelly interrupted kindly. And I blushed as red as my hair.
I have to give my mom props for doing a much better job of keeping her cool around such a megastar. Guess the 30 or so years she has on me have made her a wise and worldly woman. When I introduced my mama to Kelly, Kelly shrieked, "It's Take Your Mother To Work Day!" and gave her a massive hug, and my mom just hugged her back, serenely beaming.
Yep, my status as Golden Child was sealed at last. (Thanks Kelly! By the way...I think you're rad.)