Kelly Clarkson Brings Authenticity to the Pepsi Center

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When we have experiences with famous people outside of just observing them in culture, though our various electronic devices, it feels like we're always supposed to gauge how "real" they really are. Are they famous and down-to-earth? Do they seem like the kind of person we would want to hang out with in our daily lives? When it comes to consuming their art — whether they are actors, musicians, filmmakers, or whatever their chosen profession — it really doesn't matter how real they are. Either we like what they do or we don't. But watching Kelly Clarkson perform last night and treat thousands of fans like friends inside the Pepsi Center it was clear — Kelly Clarkson is real.

Her candor was visual — Clarkson skipped out onto the sweeping black lacquered stage barefoot, opening with "Dance With Me." She would change costumes a few times during the evening, but always remained barefoot; it was a casualness that felt strangely symbolic to see, especially in a world of big pop shows that often involve dozens of costume changes on stilt-like heels. She jumped into "My Life Would Suck Without You," "Catch My Breath" "Nostalgic" "Mr. Know It All" "Second Wind," reminders of the stylistic changes Clarkson has made throughout seven records and more than a decade of work. 

The massive mirror panel sets at the back of the stage robotically moved around and hid her full band from view, leaving just Clarkson and her piano player with the crowd for a few songs. Clarkson's voice was strong and beautiful throughout the show, but giving her the nearly empty backdrop of simple piano accompaniment meant  "Piece By Piece," "Because of You" and "Breakaway" felt especially powerful. Again, her frankness shined through as she giggled with the audience — "I'm like the Joni Mitchell of my time - one depressing song after another," Clarkson quipped, leading into "Tightrope."

The band again reemerged and Clarkson's set buzzed along, eventually bringing out opener Eric Hutchinson for a cover of the Pink and Steven Tyler duet, "Misery." Acknowledging the sheer amount of material Clarkson has in her catalog, she rolled out what she called the "KC Classics," a few fan favorites that she changes up in the setlist for each show. This round included "I Hate Myself For Losing You" and "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)".

Fellow openers Pentatonix then joined Clarkson as the show wound down, performing "Heartbeat Song" and a version of "Walk Away" that the six voices intertwined with a cover of "Uptown Funk." As Clarkson readied for the encore, her trio of back-up singers produced a killer cover of "Bang Bang." Clarkson emerged for the last bits, closing out with two more big hits, "Miss Independent" and "Since U Been Gone."

It was the perfect kind of big arena pop show — not too long or two short of a set, a balanced smattering of new songs and Clarkson standards and plenty of face time with the singer. The realness of Kelly Clarkson is very, well, real. Her voice is obviously the reason the Pepsi Center was full of adoring fans, but it's Clarkson's ability to be a regular old human in front of the masses that keeps the adoration strong.

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