When Kelly Clarkson Sang A Tribute To Reba McEntire, They Were Both Overcome With Emotion

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Music megastar Kelly Clarkson has never been afraid to show her emotional side. In fact, the American Idol winner has become renowned both for her deeply personal song lyrics and for bearing her soul on stage. And when the singer paid tribute to fellow country legend Reba McEntire, she certainly lived up to her reputation of wearing her heart on her sleeve. You see, during a rendition of McEntire’s “Fancy,” Clarkson could barely hold back the tears.

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Clarkson’s touching performance occurred at the Kennedy Center Honors – an event that pays tribute to people who have made outstanding contributions to the entertainment industry. The ceremony was first held in 1978, and there have been hundreds of famous faces recognized since. And at the 2018 Kennedy Center Honors, it was Reba McEntire’s turn.

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McEntire’s successful career has spanned the decades, too, suggesting she’s more than earned her nickname of the “Queen of Country.” But Clarkson’s connection to McEntire goes far deeper than music. And as a result, it’s no wonder that the younger singer got extremely emotional when paying tribute to the legend.

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Clarkson, of course, entered the music scene through American Idol back in 2002. And on the show, the singer’s inspiring rags-to-riches-story was broadcast to the entire nation. Before entering the talent competition, you see, Clarkson had been struggling to make it in the entertainment industry. In 2001 the Texas native had made the move to Los Angeles to try and kickstart a career, but she’d repeatedly fallen short.

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In fact, you could say that Clarkson had more than her fair share of bad luck in LA. Not only was the aspiring singer rejected by several labels, but a fire in her apartment also forced her to return to her hometown of Burleson, TX. And while Clarkson had to find odd jobs – including waitressing, promoting Red Bull and working at a movie theater – to make ends meet, she still badly wanted to make it as a performer.

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But Clarkson’s luck was about to change. In 2002 the Texan’s pals pushed her to enter the TV contest American Idol. And by the sounds of it, the young singer had no idea what she was doing. In 2018 Clarkson told Jimmy Fallon about entering the show, saying, “I was one of those dumb people who was just like, ‘Where do I sign?’ It could’ve ended very poorly.” As we know, though, the experience didn’t go that way at all.

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Yes, Clarkson not only made it through the audition stages of American Idol, but she also went on to stunning success on the show. And in September 2002, after beating out her nearest rival, Justin Guarini, she came out of the competition victorious. Suddenly, Clarkson was the singing superstar that she’d always dreamed of being, with her first single becoming the highest-selling track in the U.S. that year.

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Furthermore, being crowned the winner of American Idol meant that Clarkson was now rubbing shoulders with other famous faces. And there was one star in particular whom the singer had always wanted to meet: Reba McEntire. Apparently, you see, Clarkson had long admired the country music queen. So, when in 2002 the Texas native got to pick a duet partner for a concert, she inevitably chose McEntire.

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And it’s easy to see why Clarkson would have idolized McEntire. After all, the country legend’s career is surely something about which countless aspiring musicians dream. That said, her fame didn’t come without hard work. McEntire taught herself how to play the guitar, for one thing, and she learned to sing in order to get her parents’ attention.

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Indeed, McEntire believes that it’s determination and passion rather than talent that gets you to the top of the charts. In 2018 the star told The Washington Post, “There’s a lot of people – a lot of girl singers – who are 10,000 times better than me. [But] they don’t have the drive; they don’t have the work ethic. They don’t have the want-to, and they don’t love it as much as I do.”

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It stands to reason, then, that McEntire warmed to Clarkson, as the younger singer had certainly been willing to put in the work. And when the pair first performed together in 2002, McEntire had nothing but praise for Clarkson. She told her admirer on stage, “I am so proud of you… I gotta tell you, I am so happy to get to sing with you tonight.”

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But this wouldn’t be the last time that McEntire and Clarkson connected through music. In 2003, for instance, Clarkson sang a rendition of McEntire’s track “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” while on tour. And three years later, the Texan appeared on a CMT show that paid tribute to McEntire’s illustrious career, where she performed “Does He Love You.”

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Then, over the next few years, Clarkson and McEntire appeared to grow even closer – both as collaborators and friends. In 2007, for example, the pair penned a song together called “A Lot Like You.” The stars also performed side by side on several occasions – including at the Ryman Auditorium, on The Oprah Winfrey Show and at the ACM Awards. And not only that, but the duo also recorded a version of Clarkson’s “Because of You” for McEntire’s album Reba: Duets.

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In 2008, however, McEntire and Clarkson’s professional relationship reached the next level. That’s right: they went on tour together, belting out each other’s hits on stages across North America. And country music fans flocked in their thousands to see the show, which was called 2 Worlds 2 Voices, with all 15 stops of the first leg selling out.

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So, Clarkson and McEntire’s collaborations were seemingly paying off. But according to USA Today, not everyone would have put the two singers together. Robert Deutsch wrote in a 2007 article for the publication, “It’s one of pop music’s most curious couplings: the 52-year-old country music matriarch and the original American Idol who’s less than half her age. But Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson’s friendship could benefit both.”

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Meanwhile, Chet Flippo, the then editorial director at CMT.com, agreed that while Clarkson and McEntire’s connection shouldn’t work, it does. He told USA Today, “It’s an odd but warm relationship. Kelly is Reba’s musical daughter. They’re completely without artifice together.”

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And it seems as though Clarkson and McEntire inspire each other, too – both professionally and personally. Clarkson told USA Today “[McEntire] has that big, soulful, kind of sassy voice but can also pull off a beautiful ballad. Honestly, she’s the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s good for every young singer to have somebody they can model their careers after.”

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But Clarkson and McEntire’s bond actually extended beyond performing. In particular, the country icon’s now ex-husband and manager, Narvel Blackstock, apparently helped Clarkson out a lot. McEntire told USA Today, “When you’re hanging out together, you talk about the business. [Clarkson] would ask me my opinion, and I’d always say, ‘The best advice I can give you is go ask Narvel.’ So she did.”

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Remarkably, though, McEntire and Clarkson would end up being not just friends but family. You see, Clarkson signed Narvel up as her manager, too, and it was through him that she met her future husband: Narvel’s son, Brandon Blackstock. At the time, however, Blackstock was married to Melissa Ashworth.

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Then, when Blackstock got a divorce, romance was seemingly on the cards with Clarkson. The singer had apparently had a crush on him for a while, and the two encountered each other again at the 2012 Super Bowl. And while Clarkson was at the prestigious football event to sing the U.S. national anthem, something equally as thrilling was going on behind the scenes. The star told the Daily Mail in 2012, “Suddenly, there [Blackstock] was at the Super Bowl, and he was single.”

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With sparks seemingly flying at the Super Bowl, Clarkson and Blackstock went on to begin seeing each other. But apparently, all did not bode well at first. Clarkson told Cosmopolitan in 2013, “This is the funniest [and] worst thing ever: one of my superhero idols is Whitney Houston, and the day she died was [my] first date [with Blackstock]. I was like, ‘This is a bad omen.’”

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But the universe was apparently on Clarkson and Blackstock’s side after all, as by the end of 2012 the couple were engaged. Blackstock had popped the question in December of that year and had given Clarkson a beautiful yellow diamond ring. The singer subsequently tweeted in excitement, “I’m engaged! I wanted y’all to know! Happiest night of my life last night! I am so lucky and am with the greatest man ever.”

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, McEntire was delighted to hear about the engagement. In 2013 she told Katie Couric, “To have my buddy as my daughter-in-law – I mean, who could ask for more?” Plus, the country legend revealed that she and her then-husband would inspire the new couple “by example instead of words.”

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Clarkson and Blackstock’s intimate wedding took place in October 2013 at a resort in Walland, Tennessee. And of course, Clarkson tweeted out the good news to her followers. She wrote, “I’m officially Mrs. Blackstock. We got married yesterday at Blackberry Farms in TN – the most beautiful place ever!”

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Then, after walking down the aisle, Clarkson became stepmom to Blackstock’s two kids, Savannah and Seth. In June 2014 the couple also welcomed their first child together, whom they named River Rose. And McEntire was thrilled by the happy news.

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In 2015 McEntire told Entertainment Tonight all about her new grandchild. The artist said of River Rose, “She’s a doll. She’s been in London with her mom and dad and her granddad because my husband manages myself and Kelly. So, they’ve been very busy, and that’s given a lot of together time for Narvel and River. And he’s loving every minute of it. He sends me videos and pictures every day.”

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And McEntire also explained how pleased she was for Clarkson. The singer added, “I’m very proud of her. She’s a girl with a big heart – very giving, loving and talented. Everybody knows she’s talented, but sometimes they don’t see that big-hearted loving person that she really is. And I’m so happy for her. I’ve never seen her happier than she is right now.”

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Then in 2016 Clarkson and Brandon added to their brood once again with a son called Remington. And the following year, McEntire revealed to Rare Country what Clarkson was like as a parent. The veteran musician claimed, “I don’t think [motherhood’s] changed [Clarkson]. [She] is so full of love and has so much energy that it’s just brought it all out. It hasn’t changed her. She’s just blossomed. She’s a good mama.”

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And even though McEntire and Blackstock divorced in 2015, the country star touchingly continues to refer to Clarkson as her daughter-in-law – and sometimes even her “daughter-in-love.” That last term was just one of the sweet labels she used to refer to the younger woman when she appeared on The Talk in April 2018.

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In fact, McEntire positively gushed about the relationship, saying, “[Clarkson] and I got to tour together in 2008, [and] it was one of the most exciting, fun tours I’ve ever been a part of… You know, I love her to pieces. She’s been one of my best friends since I met her in 2002, [and] now she’s my daughter-in-law.”

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McEntire continued her praise for Clarkson, adding, “She’s a wonderful person, big-hearted [and] always full of joy and laughter.” And in 2018 Clarkson got the chance to repay McEntire for some of these kind words. In fact, the whole nation got to see the depth of the stars’ relationship when Clarkson paid tribute to her idol at the Kennedy Center Honors.

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It’s fair to say that 2018’s Kennedy Center Honors had plenty of highlights, too. Multiple people received awards, including Cher, Wayne Shorter and Philip Glass. Hamilton’s creators, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, also received special prizes for their work. And yet even amid all of this excitement, Clarkson’s musical tribute arguably stole the show.

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But before Clarkson even began singing, viewers knew that they were in for an emotional ride. Standing on stage in a beautiful red gown, the star said, “I’ve been a fan of [McEntire’s] since I was a little girl. Her voice has always felt nostalgic for me. Even as an adult, there’s something about her tone and her storytelling that just feels like home.”

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And as Clarkson continued, she began tearing up a little. She went on to tell the audience, “Sometimes when we meet our heroes, it doesn’t always pan out how you hope. But meeting [McEntire], being friends with her and eventually becoming family has been one of the highlights of my life, truly.”

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Next, Clarkson directly addressed McEntire, saying, “Thank you so much for listening to me vent as an artist. Thank you so much for comforting me on the phone through my tears like a friend. And thank you for being a really rad grandma for my kids. I love you so much.” And she added, “I hope you enjoy this song. Don’t judge me!”

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Then, following Clarkson’s moving words, the star performed the song “Fancy.” The track was one of McEntire’s biggest hits in the 1990s. The star often opens her concerts with what she considers her signature song, too, belting out the first half in a coat before taking it off to reveal a red dress – just like the one that Clarkson was wearing for her rendition. And when Clarkson finished singing, McEntire was clearly delighted.

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Yes, McEntire immediately got to her feet and applauded Clarkson. In a touching gesture, she also gave her “daughter-in-love” two thumbs up from where she was standing in the audience. And perhaps there will be many more moments like this for the two friends in times to come. After all, McEntire and Clarkson were still singing each other’s praises the following year.

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In March 2019 McEntire talked to Us Weekly about her close bond with Clarkson. The country music queen said proudly, “We’re family. She married my oldest son, Brandon, but we’re also good friends, so that goes a long way – when you can have a good friend as a part of your family.”

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And when asked whether she and Clarkson were ever going to collaborate again, McEntire responded, “I hope [so]. We don’t have anything planned right now, though. She’s got her boat loaded!” But that said, fans didn’t have to wait long before the famous duo did perform together once more.

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Yes, in April 2019 McEntire made a surprise guest appearance during Clarkson’s Meaning of Life tour. Presumably much to fans’ delight, they performed “Because of You” and a few of McEntire’s biggest numbers – including “Fancy.” And Clarkson summed up their unique bond with a touching statement on stage. She said, “It’s just a really rare thing to meet your hero and they live up to it.”

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