Kelly Clarkson talks about her new equality-inspired anthem, gay bars, and her “Kezbo” following.
By Chris Azzopardi
Before catapulting to pop stardom, Kelly Clarkson was one of us. In many ways, she still is. The original American Idol, who memorably erupted into waterworks when she won the first season of the reality show in 2002, wasn’t always able to muster the willpower she’s instilled in the gay community through her uncompromising persona and liberating pop anthems, including those on her latest album, Piece by Piece.
That’s just the charm of Clarkson, who opens up in our new interview about overcoming teen inferiorities, diehard lesbian fans who call themselves “Kezbos,” and that night she sipped some wine, felt “sad” for our generation, and wrote a powerful song about it.
Ok, Kelly, take my hand. I wanna go back with you.
Tell me the moment in your career you first knew gay people worshipped at your altar. *laughs* Oh my god, that’s amazing. It was the Breakaway World Tour in 2005 and it was so awesome. One girl on tour came up and just introduced herself and was like, “I’m a Kezbo,” and I was like, “What?!” She was like, “A Kezbo — your lesbian fans.” And I was like, “There’s enough of you to have a group? That’s amazing! Awesome!” And she was like, “We love you. We’re gonna bring you to the other side.” And I was like, “Allright, well keep trying!”
Then, on the same tour, I had this guy, and he was so funny. I’m a huge fan of Bette Midler and he’s like, “You’re our new Bette!” I was like, “I’m not that cool, but I will work on gaining the respect of that compliment.”
Is it hard to fathom yourself a gay icon?
I don’t consider myself an icon at all, but I have a lot of gay and lesbian friends who like my stuff, so I guess it’s not so hard for me to think [the gay community] might like my music. But I don’t know … I’m not an icon — I’ve only been doing this for 13 years. You’ve gotta be doing it for a good 20 to gain that status.
When it comes to your strong bond with the gay community, how do you explain that connection? I don’t ever look at a fan as a gay fan or a lesbian fan or a straight fan. Fans are fans, no matter what path we’re on — music is the one thing that connects us. I had so much fun at this [London] club recently. It’s called G-A-Y and everybody knew all the words to every song. Even the new one! And they were gay and straight and lesbian — everybody was there. It didn’t matter, and it was just really cool.
What was your very first time at a gay bar like?
That would’ve been in LA, and I was probably 22. I went with a couple of my gay friends, and they were like, “You’re gonna love this! But you’re gonna need to wear a hat.” They played Since U Been Gone and it was so funny because nobody knew I was there. I had a blast!
The awesome thing is that because most of the gay bars I’ve been to are all gay men, I don’t get hit on the whole time. I don’t get people grabbing me or, like, being gross. There’s no judgment, and it’s just fun. You’re not worried about going, “No, thank you, I can buy my own drinks.”
The song invincible alludes to overcoming self- doubts and insecurities. In your own life, when did you most experience those hurdles, and when did you finally accept yourself for who you are?
In high school, I was having a hard time. I guess all people go through it; it’s just a different time period for all of us. When I was a sophomore in high school, it was the one time [in my life] I felt insecure. It was just an awkward stage for me.
In my sophomore year of high school, I got a little insecure about [my personality], because girls can be mean. I got the lead in this role in choir, and no sophomore was ever supposed to get it, so people were just really mean about it. Like mean. It made me insecure, and not so much [in regard to] my music or as a singer or an artist — just me as a person. I was like, “Is there something wrong with me?” I would go, “But I think I’m a good friend.” That was the only time that I was really doubtful of my person. But I got over that real quick!
Growing up in small-town Texas, when did you get your first taste of gay culture? Did you even know gay people then? A couple friends of mine just recently came out to their parents and [one of them experienced just] about the most horrible situation ever. That still happens, unfortunately. But when I was a kid, I had a couple of my friends in choir with me. I think everybody knew (they were gay), but it wasn’t talked about or anything.
Honestly, I grew up in such a creative environment. Even in our choral group — even with my friends — nobody talked about it, for or against. I feel like I grew up in a really incredibly good bubble. I never experienced people hating — no hate crimes or anything like that — until well into the industry. With Idol, people would say hateful things about certain contestants on the show, and I was like, “What in the world?!” I, fortunately, grew up in a world where that wasn’t a huge issue.
But you were raised Southern Baptist, a denomination that condemns homosexuality. What was the journey like to get to where you are now as a staunch supporter of gay marriage? At my church, whenever I did attend Sunday service, that was never talked about. I know that is what the doctrine of Southern Baptism is, but they also said don’t drink and dance, but we drank and danced! I don’t think I grew up in some hardcore community where people were like that. I grew up in a very accepting household. I was taught to accept everybody how they are, and I admire my mom for that. She never taught me hate.
I gotta ask about your baby girl, River Rose.
Because she’s magical. She’s a magical unicorn.
you know, in some circles, the unicorn is a gay symbol.
Oh, I didn’t know that! But I love it. That’s what I call my baby!
Speaking of which, how might you and your hubby handle it if River turned out to be lesbian? Oh, I don’t care. I mean, here’s what I hope for her: I hope she finds love. It took me a while, man, and there was a lot of heartache throughout those years. As long as she’s happy, I don’t care either way, and neither does my husband.
Why was it important for you to include a gay couple getting engaged in the “heartbeat Song” video? What’s funny is, I wasn’t even the one who picked all the people! The director and his team did. It’s funny, I was doing an interview in Nashville at one of the radio stations and one of the DJs there was like, “I’m gonna be in your video tomorrow!” And I was like, “Whaaaat?” And he was like, “Yeah! I asked if I could bring my boyfriend and they said yes.” We had no idea his boyfriend was gonna propose to him on the set! At first he thought it was part of the video. He didn’t get it at first, and that’s why he was like, “Are you for real? I don’t get it.” It was the coolest thing that ended up happening, but none of that was planned; it just happened, and it was a beautiful thing.
And it’s sending an important message, don’t you think?
I think it’s silly that we’re still talking about gay rights. I just live in this world where people are accepted, so it’s very hard for me to even realize that that still exists. It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around it. That [gay couple] was a no- brainer, and I didn’t even think, “Oh, I’m making a statement for gay rights.” I was making a statement for the loss of love and the hope that you can still find it, regardless of what form that comes in. It wasn’t a purposeful thing. Love is love in whatever relationship it may be in.