Kelly Clarkson’s Unforgettable ‘American Idol’ Journey: 5 Key Performances

If you were born before 2012, chances are in 2012 you also caught the Pitch Perfect bug and started singing “The Cup Song” everywhere you went. You might have also found yourself humming the song “Since U Been Gone” under your breath when you didn’t intend to. “Since U Been Gone” was the biggest hit single on American starlet, Kelly Clarkson’s second studio album, Breakaway. The album garnered Clarkson two Grammy Awards and several nominations.

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Before Clarkson became a famous singer and songwriter, she was known as the first American Idol winner. From the moment she stepped onto the blue American Idol stage, Clarkson’s powerful voice and undeniable charisma captivated the audience, propelling her to victory in the show’s first season in 2002. Her journey as a professional singer started after that. She was signed to RCA Records, the music label in partnership with the program, and she released the song, “A Moment Like This,” which solidified her as a serious contender, and not just a talent competition winner.

As we journey down memory lane, we’ll explore five key performances that not only defined Clarkson’s journey but are also unforgettable and perfect for showcasing the depth of her artistry and the passion that has cemented her status as one of America’s most beloved voices.

1. “A Moment Like This” – The Finale Triumph

Clarkson gave a captivating Grand Finale performance of the song that would later become her chart-topping debut single. “A Moment Like This” was written by Jörgen Elofsson and John Reid. To ensure a swift release, they had the four finalists of the season record their own version of the song. As a face-off, the last two standing performed a rendition of the song.

At the Grand Finale, after announcing her as the winner, an emotional Clarkson gave a touching performance of the song, to the delight of the audience that equally couldn’t contain their joy. Comments on YouTube about the performance were of viewers of recent seasons returning to the video to express how the emotions in her performance were so raw and genuine. Some felt it was still the best moment on any season of American Idol. No matter one’s opinion on the performance though, it was no doubt a powerful moment for Clarkson on the show.

2. “Respect” – A Soulful Revelation

When Clarkson gave a soulful yet energetic performance of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” viewers and voters expressed that it was that moment they knew she was going to win the show and they would vote her to the top. Clarkson’s voice had gotten her to the Top 30 (Semifinal/Group 2), but when she belted out notes to Franklin’s song, she became known as the vocal powerhouse of the season, as she hit high notes effortlessly. At that point, it was certain that Clarkson was now more confident of the power in her voice. The Judges all gave positive reviews, but Simon Cowell’s comment was what reflected what many viewers felt. He said he couldn’t remember her from previous performances until she just blew him away with that powerful rendition of “Respect.”

3. “Natural Woman” – A Showcase Range

When she made it to the Top 8, Clarkson performed “Natural Woman” also by Aretha Franklin. With her black and white ensemble, Clarkson delivered the song with the necessary growls and a healthy dose of sultriness. What made the performance stand out was the F#6 whistle notes she hit and held toward the end of the performance. It wasn’t in the original performance by Aretha, but Clarkson somehow made a whistle-high note work with the song. People were on their feet in an instant and the ovation didn’t die down for a long time after she had stopped singing.

4. “Stuff Like That There” – Nostalgic Charm

For her Top 6 performance, Clarkson released the nostalgia charm and went old school by performing Betty Hutton’s 1945 “Stuff Like That There.” She dressed the part with her hair in a high blowout, pearls around her neck, and an off-the-shoulder dress. Unlike previous covers of the song, Clarkson didn’t try diversifying the style. Rather, she sang it as the original singer did, and she ended up winning the hearts of the audience and viewers at home with the nostalgic song choice.

YouTube comments showed that the majority of her new supporters after that unique performance were people past middle age. She had succeeded in winning an older generation over to her side.

5. “Walk On By” – Emotion in Every Note

By now, we’ve established the fact that Clarkson was adept at putting emotions and soul into her singing. Her Top 5 performance was a rendition of “Walk On By” by Leroy Van Dyke. Her songs on the show, prior to this performance, had been a majority of songs from female artists. “Walk On By” was her first song by a male artist. She closed her eyes for a high duration of the performance and delivered the song to the delight of the audience. The judges felt her performance was excellent, while the audience continued cheering on loudly.

Final Thoughts

Some honorable mentions include when Clarkson performed “I Surrender” by Celine Dion, “Before Your Love,” and “Think Twice” by Celine Dion. All of Clarkson’s performances on the first season of American Idol were exceptional, but the five we’ve listed above stood out and summarized her journey in the show in one word — range. Kelly Clarkson is considered by many as a singer with an excellent range. 

In the show, she performed songs with high notes, soul songs, pop songs, original songs, blues, and ballads. She delivered them all, won the votes of America, and ended up winning the coveted top spot and a very much-deserved record deal. Kelly Clarkson’s time on American Idol wasn’t just a chapter in her story; it was the beginning of a legacy that continues to shine brightly in the world of music.

Photo by Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal

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