It’s been 18 years since Kelly Clarkson sang her way into our hearts to become the very first winner of American Idol. Today, we can confidently say she is still one hell of an idol. Clarkson has been pushing boundaries, winning awards, breaking records, and molding her career all on her own terms —but that doesn’t mean it was easy. “I have had to fight so hard just to be myself,” the three-time Grammy award-winner tells InStyle. But a notoriously tough industry for women is no match for this powerhouse, who has stayed true to herself and her sound since the very beginning.
Now, between running The Kelly Clarkson Show that was just renewed for a second season, judging on The Voice that is set to return for season 18 in the spring, and committing to a Las Vegas residency called Invincible starting in the spring as well, the unstoppable star shows no sign of slowing down. “Confidence is everything,” she says. “Say yes to things that challenge you and push you further as an artist.”
Keeping Her Cool: With a schedule that could make even the most organized stars a little hair-brained, Clarkson manages to always stay on top of her game. The key? A little laughter. “I am a comedian at heart, so I can take punches and I can laugh at myself,” she says. “I think I’m happy most days because although I can be a serious person, I don’t take everything so seriously.”
Switching Gears: “Having a talk show was obviously never a job I dreamed about,” Clarkson admits. “But it’s turning out to be just as fulfilling as my music career.” The singer set out to push her boundaries with the show, billed as a “weekday hang” that has already featured A-listers from The Rock to Ilana Glazer and so many more powerful voices in film, TV, music and more. “There’s so much good and positivity we’re able to put out into the world and that is an incredible thing to be a part of,” she says, beaming with pride.
Owning it: “Almost everyone I have worked with in this industry has had to learn me. And by that, I mean, believe me when I say I’m comfortable in my skin. I don’t want to dress, sing, or think like someone else,” she says, when asked about the pressures of the music industry. “At the end of the day, if you’re not being your authentic self, one day you will wake up and you [won’t be able to] even find that person anymore.” For Clarkson, championing authenticity is a must. “I’m totally cool with everyone being different,” she says. “Some girls are comfortable doing things in the public eye that I’m not. And that’s okay.”
Idol Advice: Clarkson was just 20 when American Idol thrust her into the spotlight. Looking back now, she says she has a few heartfelt pieces of advice for her former self. “I would tell my younger self to stop trying to save or fix people,” she says. “I spent a solid portion of my life trying to justify others' actions, and it was exhausting to say the least. People have to help themselves. I am not that powerful. No one is.” Instead, the singer says she’s learned that keeping a tight-knit, supportive inner circle is the best way to rise above all the noise. “I’ve learned to surround myself with people I want to be like,” she says. “I think [that] is one of the most important things anyone can do for themselves in life.”