Now heading into the third season of her popular show, Kelly Clarkson carries on a tradition of inclusivity and acceptance in daytime TV that began decades ago. With Ellen DeGeneres leaving her talk show at the end of the upcoming season, Clarkson, a longtime champion of LGBTQ+ people, has a unique platform beaming into people’s homes daily; she’s already shown her commitment to the community by regularly interviewing out stars, including Dan Levy, Ben Platt, and Melissa Etheridge, on her show.
There’s been a “common thread” in daytime TV, Clarkson says. “Whether it was Oprah or Rosie O’Donnell or Ellen or even our crew, all of those people are inclusive.”
“That’s why those people have done well is because no one’s in the game to put anyone down or in their box or in their corner. It’s all open; everybody’s available and willing to discuss stuff,” Clarkson says. “You can just learn so much when you’re not with your blinders on. You see the whole picture.”
The original American Idol, the Texas native took the country by storm in 2002 when she was crowned the first winner of the popular vocal competition. She recorded hit after hit in the aughts, with many of those songs speaking to queer audiences. For Pride Month in 2020, Clarkson read tweets from her LGBTQ+ fans for a segment on The Kelly Clarkson Show.
One gay fan shared that he spent his youth staring longingly out of his window on rainy days and lip-synching to her 2004 smash “Breakaway.” Anthems that resonate with a variety of marginalized people followed — “Walk Away,” “Stronger,” “People Like Us,” “Catch My Breath,” and the list goes on. Eventually, queer people became a part of the fabric of Clarkson’s work. She featured samesex couples in her “Heartbeat Song” and “Tie it Up” videos. On a few occasions, she’s helped her queer fans get engaged at her shows. But Clarkson doesn’t recall when her allyship began. It’s always been a part of her.
“I don’t remember a time in my life when I was younger, that I thought about it, like, Oh, do you like guys or girls or whatever? I’m very lucky,” Clarkson says. “Because I’m from an area of the country where I think that a lot of times…the Bible Belt or anywhere around there, it can be hard on [acceptance].”
In any given week, Clarkson can be seen on TV belting a song by LGBTQ+ luminaries like the Indigo Girls, Erasure, or Sam Smith as part of her “Kellyoke” segment, dueting with Annie Murphy to her Schitt’s Creek character Alexis’s signature song “A Little Bit Alexis,” or coaching a queer contestant to a battle-round victory as a coach on The Voice. Do a little digging on YouTube and a few of the show tunes Clarkson has sung turn up. Her rendition of “It’s Quiet Uptown” from The Hamilton Mixtape makes Mariska Hargitay sob, the Law & Order: SVU star told Clarkson on the latter’s show.
Clarkson credits the artistic people in her life with fostering the welcoming environment she now nurtures.
“Maybe it’s because I was always a creative person as well. I was around just such creative people. Those people tend to be inclusive and welcoming and love difference,” Clarkson says. “It’s always been celebrated in my friend group. I’ve never really known a difference.”
“I get thanked for stuff sometimes in my career. It’s the oddest thing to be told ‘thank you’ for something that’s so obvious [embracing LGBTQ+ people],” Clarkson says, adding she wishes things were different for marginalized folks. “It’s a sad thing to be like, Thank you for acknowledging my existence.”
Already famous by age 20 thanks to Idol, Clarkson knows a few things about being judged and scrutinized. For years in the 2000s, the media questioned Clarkson’s sexual identity because she was single (she and Brandon Blackstock were married in 2013 and divorced last year). To be fair, some of that positing about her sexual identity was a bit of was wishful thinking on the part of queer women.
“How insulting to the lesbian community that you think I’m a lesbian just because I’m single,” Clarkson says of some old attitudes about women who aren’t tied to men. It all happened while she was coming into her own as a musician and exploding as a celebrity.
“For the longest time…I thought I was asexual. I’m not attracted to anyone,” she recalls thinking. “For the longest time I just wasn’t, and I think it’s because I’m highly focused and career-driven,” so dating wasn’t the highest priority.
The Kelly Clarkson Show returned September 13, and Clarkson was back on The Voice beginning September 20. If those gigs as well as being a mom weren’t enough, she’s also about to drop a second Christmas album, which she says is a “very different” kind of holiday album. Last year, working through quarantine and enduring a public split from her husband, she struggled at times to be a cheerleader for all and wasn’t quite in the right frame of mind for holiday songs. It’s an “honest” Christmas album, she says.
No matter what’s next on Clarkson’s list (she began a personal book club during lockdowns, she says), rest assured she’s following in the footsteps of Oprah, Rosie, and Ellen and on the side of her LGBTQ+ fans and loved ones.
“I’ve had such a great career. At this point, it’s awesome to share my spotlight to help, whether it’s our Rad Humans campaign or our Be the Difference campaign,” she says.
“We’re all human. We’re all in the same boat together. I do hope my show continues to uphold those ideals.”