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American Idol

Who is Kelly Clarkson, the Original American Idol Winner?

We think it’s really kind of perfect that Kelly Clarkson was the original American Idol winner, as the Texas native is truly what the show is all about -- giving someone her big break in the ruthless music industry.

In fact, the talented singer had all but given up on her pursuit of a music career after having moved to LA, where her apartment burned down and she was rejected right and left. Idol was her last chance, and she even says on her bio page, “When I auditioned, my apartment in Los Angeles had recently burned down and I had a box of photographs to my name. I figured I’d get to sing and make some money to pay the bills. Nobody thought that show was going to be what it is now.”

As all of us Kelly fans know, her songs are almost all about strength, empowerment, and overcoming adversity, which makes sense considering her early years. Her parents divorced when she was six years old, and her mom struggled to raise Kelly and her siblings. “My mom had to do everything on her own,” Kelly revealed. “She put herself through school. It was really hard. I think watching that molded me into this person who wants to relay a message to women everywhere that they’re capable of doing whatever they set their mind to.”

The candid singer has applied this attitude towards her career, taking charge and handling it the way she saw fit. Before even going on Idol, she had offers from Jive Records and Interscope Records, but turned them down, saying, “They would have pigeonholded me as a bubble gum act.”

RCA music executive Clive Davis, who she signed with just after winning American Idol, ultimately clashed with Kelly over the direction of her music. But by her third album, Kelly had complete control over the decision-making for the record. Although the effort didn’t get a lot of mainstream promotion by her label at the time, My December debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200, and was also voted the fifth best album by Billboard readers. The determined star proved she has the head and heart for the music industry.

Kelly released her fifth album, Stronger, in 2011, and the CD has seen tremendous success. The title track, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”, is the best selling American Idol single to date, scoring roughly four million downloads in the U.S. Kelly is quite fond of that song, too. As she puts it on her bio page, “...that song is just a gold mine — it's a little bit pop, a little bit pop-rock, a little bit urban, a little bit dance, and it ties everything in. And everybody loves that message. ‘What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.’ It's a perfect representation of my life.” She co-wrote five of the songs on that album, calling the experience “therapeutic.”

Proving she can pretty much do anything, the singer has crossed over a bit into the country genre. Having the midas touch, her duet with Jason Aldean, “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” has sold over two million digital downloads, giving it the prestigious status of the best-selling country collaboration in history.

As for accolades, how much time do you have? The stellar singer must have a room for awards in her Nashville home, as she seems to win one a week these days. Kelly has three Grammy Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards, twelve Billboard Music Awards, four American Music Awards, and a Women’s World Award. Last year, she was ranked 19th on VH1’s list of “100 Greatest Women in Music.” And, as we reported recently, she landed at the top of Forbes’ list of top American Idol alumni earners in 2012.

Until last year, you might have been able to say the 30-year-old singer had everything but love. As she even jokingly dished to PEOPLE, “I was dating skinny jeans and I needed Wranglers.” Thankfully, however, even that has changed. She’s engaged to music manager Brandon Blackstock, and is soon to be the daughter-in-law of country star and mentor Reba McEntyre. As she said of Brandon to PEOPLE, he’s “everything I’ve ever wanted in a guy.” The two met while he was still married, but ultimately reconnected at last year’s Super Bowl a year after his divorce.

“‘Is this too soon?’” Kelly worried at first. “But it just worked.”

We’re so happy for her, as Kelly is not only a superstar talent, but a lovely soul. What do you think of the original American Idol winner?


02.23.2013 / 08:30 PM EDT by Marnie Brodersen
Related: American Idol, Kelly Clarkson

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