The winner of Fox TV’s first American Idol: The Search for a Superstar competition during the summer of 2002, Kelly Clarkson went from an anonymous talent to a nationally known singer, performing for an audience of millions of viewers. One of the show’s most naturally gifted singers, the 20-year-old Burleson, TX, native’s vocal talents were discovered when she was in seventh grade, when her school’s choir teacher heard her singing and urged Clarkson to join the choir. After high school, Clarkson cultivated her voice and went to Hollywood to make her name; she appeared as an extra on an episode of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch but no other opportunities materialized.
Upon returning to Burleson, Clarkson worked at a movie theater, promoted Red Bull energy drinks, and ultimately worked as a cocktail waitress at a comedy club before entering the American Idol contest. One of 10,000 aspiring singers, Clarkson distinguished herself not only with her big, surprisingly mature voice, but also with her down-to-earth charm and sense of humor; at one of her auditions, she switched places with judge Randy Jackson, who did an impromptu version of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” Over the course of the 13-week show, her consistently strong performances of songs like “Respect,” “Natural Woman,” “Stuff Like That There,” and “Without You” earned Clarkson enough audience votes to claim one of the contest’s two finalist positions. After singing “A Moment Like This” and “Before Your Love,” both of which were written for the show, Clarkson won the American Idol contest with 58 percent of the audience’s votes. In addition to the show’s prize of one million dollars and a recording contract with RCA, Clarkson secured a deal with Creative Artists Agency and several bookings, including the national American Idol tour and a performance of the national anthem at the September 11 commemoration at Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial.
Despite her newfound fame, Clarkson opted to remain in Texas rather than move to New York or Los Angeles. Her first single, “A Moment Like This,” was released just two weeks after she won the contest and quickly earned platinum sales. Clarkson’s debut full-length, Thankful, was released in spring of 2003, just in time to coincide with the second season of American Idol and right before the American Idol movie, From Justin to Kelly. Breakaway followed in late 2004 and was a huge success, selling over five million copies (making it the third best-selling album of 2005) and spawning the hit singles “Because of You,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” and “Since U Been Gone.” That song and Breakaway earned Grammys for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album, respectively, at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards in early 2006. Clarkson continued her busy touring schedule that spring and summer and announced plans for her third album.
In 2007, Clarkson released My December the studio follow-up to Breakway. Notable as Clarkson’s first foray into writing or co-writing most of the songs, My December had a darker, even more rock-oriented edge than its predecessor and even featured a guest appearance by punk icon bassist Mike Watt.