Confessions of a Kelly Clarkson fan

Andrew Hampp

Kelly Clarkson performed Saturday night at the Palace Theater in Cleveland. The Graham Colton Band opened the evening.

Credit: Andrew Hampp

Saturday, April 9:

6:30 p.m.: Having rooted for Kelly Clarkson ever since her days as the Whitney Houston to Justin Guarini’s Michael Bolton on “American Idol,” I was admittedly more than a little excited to see her live.

I picked up Morgan in my navy blue Honda Prelude, my windows rolled down, sunroof cracked and my CD player all ready for a crazy Kelly sing-along all the way to Cleveland.

The two of us startled a few innocent bystanders on campus with our hands-in-the-air rendition of Clarkson’s anthemic “Breakaway,” cranking up our voices a notch each time we passed someone. My excitement to see Kelly could simply not be hidden.

7:45 p.m.: As I take my seat in the middle of row P, I immediately noticed the oddness of the surroundings. Seated next to me was a pair of students from Baldwin Wallace, while sitting in front of me was a gaggle of soccer moms and their daughters, ranging in age from 6 to 10. Later, during Clarkson’s set, I noticed that a herd of 14-year-old girls were also behind me, warbling along in their pubescent voices to each and every song.

I was quite possibly the only straight guy here who didn’t come with a girlfriend.

8 p.m.: The Graham Colton Band takes the stage right on time for a peppy, refreshingly brief 25-minute set that played to the strengths of their rather derivative brand of Goo Goo Dolls-esque pop music.

But even I sang along on the catchy “Cigarette,” which has major hit-single potential and even bears a resemblance to Clarkson’s current signature hit. Morgan later gushingly asked Colton to autograph her ticket. A new fan was made.

9 p.m.: KELLY TIME!!!

The lights flicked on just as Clarkson began to purr the opening lines to “Since U Been Gone,” an excellent choice to get the crowd revved up for the rest of the night.

The lady of the hour was fetchingly clad in a lime green blouse and a pair of bell-bottomed dress pants that flattered both her newly toned stomach and J. Lo-worthy behind.

And don’t even get me started on how great she looks with her new platinum locks — Kelly rocks blonde hair way more convincingly than Britney.

9:20 p.m.: Three rock numbers in a row from Clarkson’s new Breakaway album I started begin to worry the concert might go the way of the lackluster Avril Lavigne show I saw in November — a competently sung sing-along with the crowd and arrangements so similar to their CD versions it might as well have been an album-listening party.

But then Kelly and her band changed things up by bringing out a quintet of bar stools for her and her band to sit upon. What’s this about? I thought, intrigued.

“This is my favorite part of the show,” Clarkson told the crowd, emerging in a skin-tight vintage Rolling Stones tee and floor-length quilt-patterned hippie skirt. “We’re gonna do a few soul numbers from my first album, if that’s OK with you.”

I howled back enthusiastically to let Kelly know that it was indeed OK with me.

As goosebumps crawled up my arm after just one chorus of a souped-up rendition of Thankful’s “What’s Up Lonely,” it had become abundantly clear just why the section was Clarkson’s favorite: It freakin’ rocked!

Clarkson totally one-upped Joss Stone in the white soul department as she put her all into each trill, moan and vamp of “Thankful” and the overlooked single “The Trouble With Love Is.” A thunderous applause from the crowd affirmed Clarkson’s status as a young, white Aretha in the flesh.

9:40 p.m.: Not one to forget her roots as essentially a cover artist on “American Idol,” Clarkson next took the time to pay tribute to some of her favorite female vocalists on a triple whammy of Janis Joplin’s “Piece Of My Heart,” Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One” and The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.”

I was practically foaming at the mouth at this point, so impressed was I with Clarkson’s ability to let it rip on every song without going hoarse or melisma-ing her way into oblivion like Christina Aguilera or Mariah Carey.

10 p.m.: Soul and cover portions of the concert now completed, Clarkson tears into her new single “Behind These Hazel Eyes” with feisty aplomb, bringing the crowd to its feet once again after taking a breather with a violin-and-guitar take on “Beautiful Disaster.”

“This is a song about a guy I’m not too fond of,” Clarkson told the crowd with a polite giggle, assuring us she’s not quite angry enough to go all Alanis on us.

However, a few songs later she pulled off the night’s biggest surprise by turning her syrupy “Idol” single “A Moment Like This” into a Green Day-worthy punk rock anthem. Clarkson worked the crowd into a frenzy with the song’s surprisingly successful makeover.

I never thought I’d get so worked up over a song that should otherwise have been a Backstreet Boys B-side.

10:20 p.m.: Last song of the evening — pout! A truly impressive evening of pop music was brought to a fitting, downright peaceful end with a stirring, stripped-down sing-along of “Breakaway,” during which Clarkson took the time to sign autographs for fans in the front of the crowd, causing her to lose her place in the song at one point.

But she quickly got back on track again, ending the song and the evening on a perfect, well-phrased note.

If only all pop musicians could be like Kelly Clarkson, I thought. Sure, Ashlee Simpson’s tour was apparently better than expected, but I would love to see the younger Simpson belt out “The Trouble With Love Is” or even “Sweet Dreams” with as much soul and personality as her older sister, let alone Kelly Clarkson.

Contact Pop Arts editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected].