Kelly Clarkson is having a moment like this: In her first two seasons on NBC's "The Voice," she has coached the show's winner. Take that, Blake Shelton. In September, she will begin hosting her own daytime talk show. Look out, Ellen DeGeneres.
In the meantime, before she's tied down with TV responsibilities, Clarkson has undertaken her first concert tour in more than three years.
On Saturday night at sold-out Xcel Energy Center, the first "American Idol" winner confirmed what we've long known about her: She has a magnificent voice, a charming gift of gab and an unbending refusal to stay in one lane musically.
What she doesn't have, though, are a strong sense of pacing and enough variety in tempos and textures in her repertoire.
In other words, she's mastered the art of "American Idol" — one knockout performance at a time. But, a triumphant concert, like a great album, requires flow from one number to the next, adding up to a situation where the sum is greater than the parts.
Clarkson had some of the requisite extras to pump up the sum: the costume changes and the chatty personality.
Like Adele, she has an unfiltered mouth in concert and says whatever pops into her mind. Such as when she gave a shout-out to a fan holding a sign requesting Ariana Grande's "God Is a Woman," a sign that Clarkson had seen at a previous concert. Or like saying she "should have sucked in more" when she took a photo Saturday to post in her new TV studio. Or like mentioning she was appeasing her sister, who was at Saturday's show, by performing "Move You," sis' favorite song from Clarkson's latest album, "Meaning of Life."
Even though that record came out in 2017, Clarkson, 36, is just now getting around to her Meaning of Life Tour because, as she explained, she had a baby and other jobs.
On Saturday, the enduring "Idol" launched her 90-minute performance with a truncated a cappella version of her 2002 debut single, the I-can't-believe-it's-happening-to-me ballad "A Moment Like This," and then kicked into high gear with "Meaning of Life," the title track of her first sustained foray into R&B.
Suddenly, this sometimes twangy Texan was channeling Beyoncé, with all kinds of vocal whoops and swoops. She offered more melismas in one song than she probably had in her entire career. The horn-flavored funk continued on "Walk Away" and "Love So Soft" and peaked on "Whole Lotta Woman," a giant slab of Southern fried sass 'n' soul and an empowering celebration about being proud of any ol' size you happen to be, diets be damned.
It was an exciting and career-redefining start to the show. However, Clarkson then shifted into what made her a big star after "Idol" — power ballads with big choruses such as "Behind These Hazel Eyes" and "Piece by Piece," dialed down to just an acoustic guitar and her voice, filled with an uplifting combination of fragility, strength and conviction.
While a pop ballad here and there may sound grand on the radio, Clarkson's mid-show medley of six slow numbers dulled the momentum of the program. With each song limited to a verse and chorus, the drama of the tunes never built. The medley was simply bland.
Clarkson could have quickly recovered when, after a change of clothes (including ditching her high-heeled boots in favor of bare feet), she did her nightly cover song. In Tulsa the other night, she offered a Shelton tune because he's from Oklahoma; in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday, she delivered a Motown hit because she was near Motor City. In St. Paul, instead of doing, say, a Prince selection (which she has done here in the past), she opted for Patsy Cline's "Crazy." Classic song, true to the original with palpable passion, but another ballad.
Eventually, the pace picked up with the clap-along rocker "My Life Would Suck Without You" and the spunky anthem "Miss Independent," during which Clarkson was joined by opening acts Kelsea Ballerini, the rising country star, and Brynn Cartelli, a 15-year-old "Voice" winner from last year. These three women with potent voices and matching blonde ponytails romping down a runway together were unstoppable.
The encore encapsulated who Clarkson is and what obstacles she faces in concert. Showing her eclecticism while perched high atop a pedestal, she interpreted "It's Quiet Uptown," a quiet number from the smash musical "Hamilton," and "Never Enough," a bravura ballad from the bestselling soundtrack to "The Greatest Showman."
Then Clarkson finally cranked it up for the close, with the fist-waving anthem "Stronger" and the liberating "Since U Been Gone." Moving one of those hits to the middle of the set would have made the performance, well, much stronger. But she's not the greatest show-woman in the business, just one of the greatest singers.