It’s been 10 years since a waitress from Texas named Kelly Clarkson auditioned for American Idol. With her fifth album, Stronger, released this week, Clarkson talks to Ramin Setoodeh about heartbreak, her gay groupies, X Factor—and why she was up drinking till 4 a.m.
Hi, Kelly. How’s it going?
It’s going really freaking well.
Kelly, you spoke so quickly, I didn’t understand a word you said.
[Laughs.] Oh, well, that’s awesome. That was helpful. Hopefully the entire interview goes like that. No, sorry, I speak fast, and my voice is kind of raspy because we went out drinking last night. I had some vodka. We had a really good showcase at the Troubadour.
Has it really been 10 years since you were on American Idol?
I auditioned when I was 19. I’m 29.
Does it feel like it’s been that long?
It feels like it’s been 30 years sometimes! I’ve done so much, I’m like, “Oh, crap.” It feels like a lot. I think it’s just because it happened so fast, 10 full-on years. But at the same time, there are some days when I feel like that just happened. It depends on the day.
How do you think you’ve changed?
I’m the same person. I think just experience, that’s the only thing that’s really changed. You get more experience with each record and each tour.
Do you see yourself doing this in 30 or 40 years?
God, no. No. No. I love music, but hopefully I’m like married with four kids. I love what I do right now, but I live a very single life. I’m enjoying that, but I don’t plan on doing this forever.
Stronger is your fifth album, and you wrote half the songs. I know that you once wrote a song on a bar napkin. Do you have a normal place where you write?
Yup, that was in a bar in L.A., actually. I write anywhere. It just depends. I’m not a planner. Some people have song camps, and at 2 p.m. they meet up to write a song about whatever. I can’t do that. I can’t plan it. I totally write for therapy reasons.
How is it like therapy?
It’s like you’re getting stuff out. If you write in a journal or anything, that’s how writing is. It’s just getting the crap out that you’re going through, or writing about something great that was happening to you.
Are your songs autobiographical? Are you writing about actual guys in your life?
Yes. But most of the time, I’m not writing about guys I’m in a relationship with. It’s guys I’ve worked with—there are a lot of work things going on in my songs that just happen to come across like I’m talking about an ex.
How would you describe the period in your life when you were writing these songs?
I’m happier. The last year has been a really great year for me, just personally as well.
Kelly, it’s funny that you say you’re happy, because this album is so angsty. In one of your songs, you sing, “Dumb plus dumb equals you.” In another, “The War Is Over,” you say, “I’m finally walking away ‘cause you don’t deserve me, and you’re not worthy.”
I think there’s always going to be that level with me. That’s the type of music I love. I grew up loving feisty women singers. I find a lot of joy in getting all that crap out of your system. I haven’t been in a bad relationship in years. It’s just that I’ve been in a bad relationship, and I think when you’re singing any song like that, you pull from the one thing in your life that you know you’ve experienced.
You don’t have to go into specifics if you don’t want to, but when was the last time you had your heart broken?
Uh, the last time I had my heart broken? Probably a year ago, but it wasn’t a relationship thing, it was a work thing.
It was related to your music?
It was related to my work.
Is that different from your music?
You just say no specifics, and now you’re asking me specifics. Nicely done.
OK, you got me. We’ll move on. Have you ever tried online dating?
Oh, God, no! “Oh, hey, I’m Kelly Clarkson, want to go on a date?” That wouldn’t work for me, unless I lied to them, and I’m not going to lie to someone off the bat.
How do you normally meet people?
Usually, just work. Honestly, I don’t usually meet a lot of people, that’s why I’m single a lot.
Do you ever think that the music industry is sexist?
No. Do you?
I think it’s complicated, because female artists are selling a lot more albums than guys, but they also seem to have to fight a lot harder to stay true to who they are.
I don’t know. I’ve dated guys that are the lead person in the band. I think it’s just as hard for guys, maybe. I think it’s just with women, it’s just that aesthetic appeal sometimes, because we’re women.
So it’s more based on appearance for women?
I don’t know, though. You’ve got everyone from Lady Gaga to Beyoncé to Pink. I get the appearance factor, but they are also very talented. I don’t think it’s sexist, no.
I think everybody sees me more like a sister than a star.
I read on Twitter that you really wanted to be on Parks and Recreation.
Ohmygod, I loved that freaking show. It’s so funny. Ohmygod, I love Ron Swanson. He’s so funny. I just loved that whole show. I kind of look at my schedule, I don’t know when the hell I could fit that in. I’m literally in a different country every week. But I really want to do that show. I don’t care if it’s just a five-second walk-on of me in the back.
Do you have time for much TV?
It’s weird. I just never see anything when it actually comes on. Because I travel, I load up on iTunes and buy a bunch of TV shows and I’ll just watch them on a plane, on a big long ride.
Have you seen The Voice?
I love The Voice. That first show, I happened to be off, so I got to see it every week at my house. I thought it was such a cool concept. And I love Blake [Shelton], he’s hilarious.
What about The X Factor?
I haven’t seen that yet. I can’t watch, unless I find it on DVD.
I thought I read on a blog that you were performing on it.
Not that one. We leave tonight for London. I’m performing on The X Factor in London. And I’ve recently performed in The X Factor in Australia. But I haven’t done this one, obviously. It just came on.
You should call Simon.
Like, “Get me on your show!”
Do you talk to him regularly?
Oh, no. We actually haven’t worked together since Idol.
You are one of the best singers I’ve ever seen in concert, because you are so much fun to watch onstage. What are the Kelly Clarkson groupies like?
They are very much like me. They love music, kind of nerdy. Most of my groupies have been with me since Idol. I have a different kind of fan base because of Idol. I don’t think people see me as unattainable; it’s not like the Britney Spears fans or Beyoncé. Because of Idol, I was in people’s homes every week, and that’s how I got into the business. I think everybody sees me more like a sister than a star.
Do they ever throw things up onstage for you?
Yeah. It’s usually liquor. I have a song called Chivas; they always send me those little airplane bottles.
You have a big lesbian fan base.
Yeah, I have a big gay and lesbian fan base. I don’t care what people are as long as you come out to a show. I’m down with anything as long as you like the music.
Are you still friends with Clay Aiken?
Oh, yeah. We just ran into each other in New York.
How is he doing?
He’s great. He’s working on something. It was big and secretive.
Is it Celebrity Apprentice?
Yeah, he’s doing that. He told me not to say.