CLOSE

Kelly Clarkson, musician and the first American Idol, dishes on the inspiration behind her new talk show and growing up watching Oprah.
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES – As a recent taping of “The Kelly Clarkson Show” begins, the three-time Grammy winner emerges from behind the bank of audience seats, performing Heart’s “Alone” while walking through rows of cheering fans.

Clarkson even stops to let one join in before making her way down to the center of the airy, comfy set, closing the tune with a trademark power riff. She then calls out to a woman in the audience wearing a “Meaning of Life” shirt, the title of her eighth studio album and most recent concert tour.

The interactive musical opening plays to the first “American Idol” winner’s strength, but she embraces it more for familiarity than as a branding maneuver.

“Honestly, the singing at the beginning of every show was more for me to be comfortable. I’ve done it for a decade on tour. And I’ve been covering songs forever. Obviously, I’m from “Idol” – Hi! Sang covers the whole time. It’s what got me here, so it’s what I’m going to be doing on the way out,” she says, laughing.

‘Idol’ musings: New talk host Kelly Clarkson recalls ‘bitterness’ she felt after winning ‘American Idol’

Family matters: Kelly Clarkson talks moving family to Los Angeles: ‘Everyone we know is still shocked’

Kelly Clarkson’s talk show, focused on “humor, heart and connection,” premieres Monday. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY)

“Clarkson,” focused on “humor, heart and connection,” features a guest panel that mixes celebrities and regular people with uplifting stories.

A-list movie star Dwayne Johnson headlines Monday’s premiere, which also features an Oregon woman who runs a community food pantry. Other first-week guests include Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Garner, John Legend, Jay Leno and Chance the Rapper.

Clarkson approvingly cites the unpredictable guest matchups on “The Graham Norton Show” as inspiration: “He always sets you up with just the most random characters that you would never find in one place. I think that’s really clever, and it breaks down walls when (guests) are nervous.” 

To the likely disappointment of some fans, Clarkson, who has sold more than 25 million albums and is known for such hits as “Miss Independent” and “Because of You,” won’t be opening each show with her own songs.

Swift backing: Kelly Clarkson’s advice to Taylor Swift: Re-record old songs so fans won’t pay Scooter Braun

Kelly Clarkson opens a recent taping of ‘The Kelly Clarkson Show’ by performing Heart’s ‘Alone.’ (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY)

“I think it’d be a genuinely tool thing, me singing my own music. They’re all covers. … I like doing songs people love to sing to,” says the singer, whose show band is the same one she tours with. “At Christmastime, I might sing something from my Christmas record. Or if we’re releasing a new single, I might sing something as a surprise.”

Clarkson, 37, displays an engaging, natural enthusiasm that bubbles up in conversation, as with the interjected “Hi!” or when she briefly interrupts an on-set interview to quiet her crew – “Hey, guys, I love you, but this is on camera!” – and later calls out her husband and manager, Brandon Blackstock, for playing a video on his phone at the other end of the set.

The talk show allows room for Clarkson’s digressions and improvisations, even her glitches (“Oh, my gosh. I’m an idiot,” she says during the taping, after one inconsequential error). They convey a charm that has helped her connect with fans throughout her music career and, more recently, her time as a coach on NBC’s “The Voice,” to which she returns for Season 17 on Sept. 23.

Clarkson’s engaging “Voice” presence suggested her potential as the host of her own show, which is produced by NBC and will air on many of the network’s owned stations.

Coaching decision: John Legend, Kelly Clarkson say goodbye to Adam Levine as he exits ‘The Voice’

Kelly Clarkson takes the stage at her new talk show, which includes some audience seats positioned very close to the host and her guests. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY)

“I always say she’s one of us in a way that so many celebrities aren’t, because we chose her,” says executive producer Alex Duda, referring to Clarkson’s talent-show roots. “Even though she’s a big superstar, we all feel like she’s our best friend. That’s the best combination of qualities for a daytime host.  She’s like a jazz artist. She brings all the humor, all her personality and infuses it into the basic melody we give her.”

Approachability is key to the appeal of Clarkson, who recently relocated to Los Angeles from Tennessee with Blackstock and their children: River Rose, 5, and Remington, 3. (She’s also the stepmother of Blackstock’s children, Seth and Savannah.)

“My youngest daughter has already asked me if she can be on the show,” she says.

Just mom to him: Kelly Clarkson’s son is unaware that she’s famous

Reality bites: Oops… Kelly Clarkson accidentally told her daughter that Elsa and Anna weren’t real

Kelly Clarkson, left, and Blake Shelton will be two of the coaches on Season 17 of NBC’s ‘The Voice.’ (Photo: NBC, NBC)

Clarkson, who worked as a cocktail waitress in her hometown of Burleson, Texas, before becoming at star at 20, had been singing since childhood and knew music, but daytime talk is a new and dramatic shift.

She felt some reassurance after twice hosting the Billboard Music Awards to positive reviews, which were only amplified after it was revealed that she worked the 2019 show suffering from appendicitis (She had an appendectomy the next day.). 

Still, it took some persuading from Blackstock before she committed to daily show duty.

“I was very nervous about taking on something I hold a high bar to, all the (hosts) I love watching. I didn’t know how it would play out, and my husband convinced me. He said, ‘Look at all the stuff you love whenever you talk about Oprah, Ellen or Rosie O’Donnell back in the day, how they were able to do so many good things,’” she says. “There’s so much negativity, so much division (now). One of the main reasons I signed on is I wanted a place that was fun, joyful, had a lot of heart.”

Playing with pain: Kelly Clarkson is ‘feeling awesome’ after appendectomy following Billboard Music Awards

Kelly Clarkson, right, has plenty of familiarity with members of her house band, left. The musicians also are members of the band she travels with on concert tours. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY)

Going in, she knew she had at least part of the gig down pat. 

“I knew I could talk. I don’t get nervous with people ever. I’m quite the extrovert. That’s not a surprise, I imagine, for anyone. I really genuinely love people. I’m a full-on tourist in that sense,” she says. “I’m very down to earth, and I think everybody’s very similar. We all just come in different packages and we all love different things. I like getting in there and finding that connection.”

Accident avoidance: Kelly Clarkson nearly face-plants on Indy 500 red carpet in sky-high heels

Kelly Clarkson finishes a song in close proximity to audience members on ‘The Kelly Clarkson Show.’ (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY)

To provide more opportunities for the singer to interact with the audience, “Clarkson” includes familiar elements from her concerts.  Audience members suggest cover songs, explaining their personal significance, and Clarkson leads “Kelly-oke” group singing sessions. The set design, which features guitars on the walls and wooden supports that resemble musical staffs, includes seats just feet from Clarkson and her guests, because she likes the close contact. 

And while music is a signature component,  the show will explore a broad range of topics, including family and motherhood.

“I love relating to other moms. It makes me feel good, because sometimes you feel like you’re epically failing and just treading water. And we’re all doing our best and trying our best,” she says.

Clarkson says she was nervous taping the pilot, but she’s already feeling more confident. And she’s not focused on the treacherous daytime landscape, which has in recent years claimed talk shows helmed by such high-profile names as Katie Couric, Harry Connick Jr., Meredith Vieira and Anderson Cooper.

“This is what’s weird about me. Ignorance is bliss. I’m just doing my thing. I love talking to people. I love singing. I love the audience being kind of a co-host with me. My band’s here,” she says. “So, I’m just kind of doing me. It might work and it might not.” 

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions