Kelly Clarkson is pretty familiar with the No. 1 spot.
With the February release of her seventh studio album, Piece by Piece, the first winner of reality-TV singing competition American Idol also became the first Idol to fulfill the awarded recording contract — with 25 million album sales worldwide, 10 Top 10 songs and three Grammy Awards to show for it. Now, the 33-year-old big-voiced pop singer is gracing stages across the U.S., likely in her usual barefoot style, in support of that album, whose titular track serves as a sequel to one of her biggest hits.
Clarkson’s career as an active force in pop music is on track to outlive the television phenomenon that catapulted her to fame. Less than a year after being crowned the inaugural American Idol winner in 2002, the Fort Worth, Texas, native continued to capture the hearts of America in 2003 when she entered pop music stardom with her debut album, the pop-R&B-infused Thankful, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Thankful’s singles included “Miss Independent” and “A Moment Like This,” her Idol coronation song.
Proving that her powerhouse vocals weren’t a fluke the first time around, Clarkson followed up that album with 2004’s Breakaway, showing she had the writing abilities to match her voice. The powerful, guitar-heavy “Since U Been Gone” — not written by Clarkson — shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Pop Songs chart as it became an anthem for post-breakup relief. It even landed at No. 482 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” And despite industry executive Clive Davis’ apparent opposition to her writing skills, the Clarkson-written ballad “Because of You,” which explores the consequences of her father’s absence after her parents’ divorce, reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified platinum. Breakaway went on to become a multiplatinum-selling album.
Clarkson explored this ability to pen darker, personal and more rock-driven material with her third album, 2007’s precisely titled My December, which became one of her lowest-selling albums but told the “story of the past two years, all the highs and lows,” she told Entertainment Weekly that year.
This time also kick-started Clarkson’s dip into the country music scene, in which she remade “Because of You” with Reba McEntire in 2007, recorded “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Jason Aldean in 2010 and partnered with Vince Gill two years later for “Don’t Rush.” Clarkson and her now mother-in-law McEntire embarked on the 2 Worlds 2 Voices Tour in 2008, which stopped in North Little Rock.
Clarkson bounced back to the more radio-friendly pop world with 2009’s All I Ever Wanted, 2010’s Stronger and 2012’s Greatest Hits: Chapter One, featuring the new song “Catch My Breath,” which peaked at No. 19 on the Hot 100 the following year. “My Life Would Suck Without You,” a single from All I Ever Wanted, set the record for having the largest jump in Hot 100 chart history (it went from No. 97 to No. 1 in two weeks). Taking a break from that style, Clarkson released her first holiday album, Wrapped in Red, in 2013.
Now, the songstress, who recently announced she is pregnant with her second child, is enjoying the success of the reflective Piece by Piece, which also debuted at No. 1 and includes the lead single “Heartbeat Song,” along with writing credits from pop artists Sia, Matthew Koma and more. Its title track, following up on the subject of “Because of You,” speaks to where life currently stands for Clarkson — happily married to someone who shows “that a man can be kind and a father could stay” — and other songs touch on empowerment and love.
Expect a uniquely executed cover song on her North Little Rock stop, as Clarkson has been making headlines for her renditions of popular songs by Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift and others.
Clarkson will be joined on the tour by up-and-coming country artist Abi Ann, pop-rock singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson and Grammy-nominated a cappella group Pentatonix.
The Piece by Piece Tour visits Verizon Arena at 7 p.m. Thursday. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $42.50-118.50. For tickets and more information, visit verizonarena.com.