Well known for her heartfelt and confessional songwriting, Kelly Clarkson has seemingly never been one to keep her feelings pent up. So when the star launched into one of her most personal numbers at a March 2019 gig in Greenville, South Carolina, fans were likely expecting an emotional rollercoaster. Little did the audience know, though, that Clarkson’s show would eventually become even more poignant.
It’s not often that a pop star has rawness and vulnerability as their major selling points. And yet Clarkson is the exception that proves the rule. At the very least, the singer has garnered quite the following for her blend of rock-inflected pop with personal lyrics – a mix evident in hits such as 2004’s “Since U Been Gone.”
Clarkson herself, meanwhile, was born in April 1982 in Fort Worth, Texas. And it all started for the fledgling singer when she signed up to the first ever season of American Idol in 2002. As the initial winner of the contest, she therefore became somewhat of a champion of potential pop stars who were chasing their dreams. Even so, Clarkson actually joined the competition out of financial necessity rather than any desire to make it big.
“My goal was just to be a backup singer – I never intended to be in front,” Clarkson admitted to The Guardian in 2011. “But then my apartment in LA burned down, and I had to move home. I had no money, and I had to sleep in my car for three days, [and] I just auditioned for this thing that said they’d pay you. It happened to be American Idol… I went into it thinking it might pay my electric bill.”
But, of course, fate – or the U.S. public, at least – had different plans for Clarkson. The aspiring star signed to RCA following American Idol’s conclusion, after which she released her debut album Thankful in 2003. Yet while the commercially friendly LP may have achieved double platinum status, it nevertheless did little to give Clarkson an edge over her peers. The subsequent release of the critically derided movie From Justin to Kelly – in which she co-starred with American Idol runner-up Justin Guarini – didn’t help matters much, either.
Nevertheless, Clarkson’s fortunes improved dramatically following the release of her second album in 2004. Fittingly titled Breakaway, the record saw the singer moving past the confines of traditional pop to an angrier, harder sound. However, while this change in tack may have helped the star stand out, it also led to her becoming alienated from her management.
But Clarkson’s gamble quickly paid off, with the record going on to sell more than 17 million copies worldwide. In addition, both “Since U Been Gone” and Breakaway itself would earn the star her first two Grammy wins – although these were by no means her last gongs.
What really made Breakaway stand out, though, were Clarkson’s honest and forthright songs. And perhaps no cut on the album was quite as confessional as “Because of You.” The track – which the star described to The Guardian as “the most depressing one I’ve ever written” – received initial hesitance from Clarkson’s label, although it later became one of her biggest hits.
“You may as well grab a knife,” Clarkson told the newspaper when describing Breakaway’s subject matter. “I tried to get it on Thankful and was laughed at and told I wasn’t a good writer. So then I tried to get it on Breakaway – and the label saw the results… [They] then took credit for its success, of course.”
And “Because of You” may well have earned its power through being inspired by painful events in Clarkson’s own life. While the future star was aged just six, the singer’s parents had divorced, leaving Clarkson to remain in the care of her mother, Jeanne Ann. Her father, Stephen, on the other hand, ultimately became an absent figure in her life.
Clarkson has explained, too, that she has subsequently tried to connect with her father on many occasions – but reportedly to no avail. The singer-songwriter revealed on Scandinavian chat show Skavlan in 2017, “It just became… almost humiliating. And you’re like, ‘I shouldn’t have to work this hard for someone’s love.’ That’s a little ridiculous.”
In the end, then, Clarkson said that her father’s alleged indifference gave her no choice but to cut contact with him completely. She continued, “If someone presents such a cancerous environment and then just keeps hurting you…you should just not have that person in your life. It’s sad, honestly, for him, because… he misses out on a lot.”
Yet even though Clarkson still had the love of her mother, her brother, her sister and a whole set of step-siblings, the lack of a relationship with her dad still cut like a blade. And that pain seems to be reflected in the lyrics of “Because of You.” There, the star sings, “Because of you I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me.”
In the years since “Because of You” was first released, however, Clarkson has seemingly learned to accept what happened to her as a child. And as she explained on Skavlan, she no longer feels resentment towards her father. Clarkson told the show, “I think if you don’t grow up with it, it’s hard to miss something you never had.”
But despite the difficulties Clarkson faced growing up, she would indeed go on to trust again. Most notably, in 2006 she would meet the man who would become her husband: Brandon Blackstock. Even so, she would have to wait six more years until Blackstock could become her special someone – not least because he was married to another woman at the time of their first encounter.
One year after finally becoming an item, though, Clarkson and Blackstock officially became man and wife. And in doing so, the musician became a parent for the first time to her husband’s children, Savannah and Seth. Being a stepmother was a subject she broached in an interview with Ryan Seacrest in 2013, when she said of Blackstock’s kids, “They’re awesome, and I actually really dig the mom thing. It’s so different, but it’s perfect.”
As things turned out, though, Clarkson’s family would only get bigger in the years to come. In 2014, you see, the singer welcomed her first biological child, River Rose, into the world. Then, two years later, she gave birth again – this time to a baby boy called Remington.
And when speaking to Ryan Seacrest again in 2016, Clarkson reflected on how being pregnant made her look at her lack of ties to her own dad. She said, “I don’t even think I understood the gravity of [my relationship with my father] until I was pregnant [with River Rose].”
Then Clarkson spoke about how that related to watching her kids grow up. She continued, “I was like, ‘I cannot imagine not seeing this kid to his or her full potential and just seeing what she’s going to do, what she’s going to be like.’”
It seems, however, that the superstar has taken to motherhood like a duck to water. Judging by the singer’s Instagram feed, Clarkson devotes ample time to her children despite her busy schedule; she also treats them on occasion with special moments such as trips to Disneyland.
And it appears, too, that Clarkson has been left awestruck by Blackstock’s dedication to their kids. The star told Seacrest in 2016, “Watching my husband love on his daughter all the time, you know, go to her events and just be there and, like, be present is, like, hard to watch but beautiful to watch. I know that my kids are going to have that.”
Inspired by her experiences with impending motherhood and her father’s absence, Clarkson decided to create a follow up to “Because of You.” Recorded while the star was pregnant, 2015’s “Piece by Piece” saw Clarkson reflect on her past and future. And in it, she adds a more optimistic coda to her past single’s melancholic tone.
As with “Because of You,” “Piece by Piece” elaborates on the pain that Clarkson’s father caused the singer. In the newer track, however, she vows never to repeat her parent’s own mistake. The star sings, “I will never leave her like you left me. And she will never have to wonder her worth.”
Not only this, but Clarkson also seemingly contrasts her own father’s neglect with the affection shown by her husband. She asserts, “He’ll never walk away, he’ll never break her heart. He’ll take care of things, he’ll love her.” Most of all, the song makes clear that Blackstock “restored [her] faith, that a man can be kind and the father should be great.”
However, “Piece by Piece” has proved surprisingly hard for the star to sing live. But this isn’t thanks to the song’s technical difficulty; rather, its lyrics trigger strong emotional reactions in the performer. And throughout Clarkson’s Meaning of Life Tour in 2019, the ballad has brought the singer to tears on a number of occasions.
While delivering the number at a Glendale show in February 2019, for example, Clarkson began to cry towards the song’s close. As she reassured the crowd, though, her emotional outpouring apparently only happened because her children were in the audience. The artist sobbed from the stage, “I’ve been fine the last two shows.”
And while Clarkson’s audience have naturally been supportive throughout her emotional moments, on occasion she has needed a little more than just the reassurance of her fans. Thankfully, then, on the final leg of the tour, the singer found herself on the receiving end of the most heartwarming tribute to motherhood.
The emotional moment happened in Greenville, South Carolina, on Clarkson’s final concert date in March 2019. On stage at the city’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena, the star looked out upon a sea of nearly 11,000 fans eager to see her perform.
And after making her way through hits such as “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and “Breakaway,” Clarkson launched into her most recent confessional ballad. Backed solely by acoustic guitar, the star began a version of “Piece by Piece.” Stripped of its full instrumentation, the song was now in rawer form.
As accompaniment to Clarkson’s affecting performance, the audience sang along, too, with the song’s powerful lyrics. Then the singer managed to wrench even more emotion from the crowd halfway through the song – thanks to the line, “He loves me.” Pausing after the sentimental moment, she let the silence fill with her followers’ cheers of approval.
And yet it would be Clarkson herself who would eventually be brought to tears. Following her well-placed pause, she continued with the chorus’ denouement of “a man can be kind and a father could stay.” At the most stirring part of the song, however, a familiar face began to make his way on stage – with what followed being captured on video and later uploaded onto YouTube.
Erupting into rapturous cries, the audience welcome Blackstock’s unexpected arrival with suitable applause. Despite the crowds’ cheers, though, the video shows that Clarkson is giddily unaware of what is happening right behind her shoulder. Even when her real guitarist back away from the stage, the star remains oblivious to her husband’s presence.
Eventually, though, Clarkson begins to realize that something is afoot. Turning to see what is happening behind her, the singer spins away in sheepish amazement to see Blackstock smiling back. And while she tries to carry on with the ballad, Clarkson soon can’t contain the giggles. Shaking her head, she then drops her mic to her side and keels over with laughter.
Even as the music draws to a premature close, Clarkson struggles to regain her composure. Then she embarrassedly admits to the audience, “This is my husband” – although judging by their excited cheers, the crowd needs no introduction. Ever the consummate professional, however, Clarkson soldiers on through the surprise. She jests to Blackstock, “I can do this,” as she launches back into the track.
So, with Blackstock continuing to mime along, Clarkson powers through with the final part of the song. Yet now that the ballad’s subject is on stage, the star appears to find it extra hard to make her way through the track. And in a heartwarming nod to her prior pause, Clarkson breaks down after singing the line, “He’ll love her.”
Eventually, though, the performer manages to pull through and bring the ballad to its rousing close. Moving towards her husband, Clarkson then begins singing the closing line, “A man can be kind, and a father should be great.” But instead of delivering the final word, she decides instead to end the song by giving Blackstock a peck on the lips.
And following the performance, Clarkson takes a moment to let her audience know how much Blackstock’s appearance meant to her. The star confesses, “My husband just totally surprised me playing a faux guitar… and I lost my mind in the tent back there. It’s totally fine. Get your crap together.”
However, Blackstock’s arrival isn’t the only thing that moves Clarkson during the show. In a very confessional moment, the singer goes on to admit to the thousands in the crowd that her final concert is particularly poignant. Choking back tears, she says, “I’m so sad. This is our last show. Here’s to literally my favorite tour… totally gonna cry.”
Through it all, though, the show would always have a special place in Clarkson’s heart. And as the concert comes to a close, she has a special message for her loving audience. She says, “This has been the most amazing tour that I’ve ever been a part of – getting to tour a record I’ve wanted to make since I was a little kid.”
But Clarkson hasn’t finished just yet, as she pokes fun at her own tender-hearted personality. She adds, “And just being so phenomenally blessed. I come from nothing. I always get like this, I cry all the time.” Then again, perhaps that vulnerability is just part of her appeal.