Episode 40

Kelly Clarkson

What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT. I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’. This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying.

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip… KELLY CLARKSON

Show Notes (click to expand)


I can’t believe that was 18 years ago….when we were first introduced to Simon Cowell, the most brutally honest – or as some would say honestly brutal – judge, who alongside Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson judged this new singing competition…that came out of nowhere!

Before “Idol,” Kelly Clarkson, a small-town Texas girl was broke, working odd jobs in Los Angeles – including Papa John’s Pizza – as she tried to break into the music industry. After a year and a half in L.A., the apartment that Kelly shared with a roommate burned down. This forced Kelly to sleep in her car for a few days until she had enough money to drive back home to Texas.

That was in 2002, around the time “American Idol” was hosting auditions for their opening season. Before taking the audition stage in front of Simon, Paula and Randy, Kelly, just 20 at the time, showed off her outfit she had made from an old pair of jeans and joked with host Ryan Seacrest, “I’m gonna be a fashion designer if this doesn’t work out.”

Well thankfully, for us, that didn’t happen! Kelly ended up winning American Idol, which resulted in a recording contract, as well as an ill-advised movie with fellow contestant Justin Guarini called, From Justin to Kelly. 

Listeners…please take my advice and don’t bother watching it…I’m sure Kelly would back me up on this!

However, her subsequent success as a recording artist validated the American Idol concept BIG TIME and made it a ratings juggernaut. Simon Cowell credited Kelly years later with making “Idol” work, saying “Without her early success, everyone would have written the show off.” I absolutely agree!

Behind the scenes was a different story. Kelly struggled post-idol because executives were trying to “mold” her into a “cookie-cutter” pop star. She battled then-RCA president Clive Davis over what kind of music she should release. Kelly stood her ground by choosing to follow her own artistic instincts, prompting her to fire her management team and engage in a prolonged public battle with her record company. When her Idol contract with RCA ended in 2015, she quickly signed with Atlantic Records, saying:

“It was the first time in my life, at 30-something years old, to finally pick who I worked with.”

For an artist who has NEVER conformed to industry expectations or violated her own personal principals just because it would’ve been easier to NOT make waves, it appears to have paid off!


Since her Idol win, Kelly released eight studio albums. Here’s a taste of what success looks like for this Texas girl turned superstar:

She sold over 25 million albums and 45 million singles worldwide. 
She had 29 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with 3 number one songs and 11 in the Top 10. 
Her accolades include:
3 Grammy Awards. 
3 MTV Video Music Awards. 
4 American Music Awards.

2 Academy of Country Music Awards. 

…AND here’s the best part: Kelly acts exactly the way we hope we would act if the same thing happened to us: like her old self….and in this fame-driven social media world we now live in, where it’s so easy to lose touch with reality and spin out-of-control, that’s very rare….and this is why I wanted to do the episode on Kelly Clarkson.

In 2020, the Los Angeles Times interviewed former American Idol judge Paula Abdul, and she said the following:

“Kelly’s just one of those rare gems who’s so genuine and welcoming. It makes everyone around her want to get comfortable and have a conversation. Not everyone can have that kind of an impact. It’s a gift to be able to connect people authentically. Kelly’s got that gift, no question.”

Despite her rise to fame, one person who’s known Kelly since the beginning can attest first-hand that she hasn’t changed one bit. It’s Kelly’s musical director, Jason Halbert, who said the following:

“Kelly is literally the same person I first started working with 18 years ago. The industry hasn’t changed her. She’s not jaded! Kelly’s managed to – she would never use the word ‘superstar,’ it would make her cringe from the inside out – but she’s managed to become a superstar in all fields and still remain the 20-year-old Texas girl that we met almost 20 years ago.” 

Today, she hosts her own daytime talk show called, The Kelly Clarkson Show. I watch this show and I love it! Many celebrities before her have tried and failed miserably, like Bethenny Frankel, Kris Jenner, Anderson Cooper and Harry Connick Jr. to name a few. So while the odds were stacked against Kelly, it’s appears that her charisma and AUTHENTICITY make her very well-suited to host a daytime talk show. Apparently America agrees, once again, because she recently won an Daytime Emmy for outstanding entertainment talk show host. Well-deserved for sure!

Kelly’s showrunner Alex Duda explains why, “You have to be really AUTHENTIC and comfortable in your own skin to triumph in the daytime game, citing successes like Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil. Kelly’s so self-deprecating. I think that’s part of it, too, because we can see a part of ourselves in her.”

Kelly will tell you it’s because she has no filter:

“The compliment I’ve gotten my whole life in the industry, funny enough, isn’t usually, ‘Oh, my God, your voice is amazing.’ It’s always like, ‘Oh, my God, you’re so relatable.” She certainly is. I want all my listeners to go ahead and tape a few episodes of The Kelly Clarkson Show and see for yourself…I’m confident you’ll agree!

Music isn’t the only challenge Kelly had to conquer during her rise to fame. 

The outspoken singer – who has become a role model for body positivity – has been candid about her weight struggles over the year. Body-shaming is another battle she has successfully fought on her own terms.

In fact, despite her size, it was her AUTHENTICITY that got her a judging role on the hit show, The Voice, which she’s held for four seasons.  I want my listeners to think about this…The Voice, a rival show, calls the 1st winner of American Idol to be a judge on their show…to me, that’s incredible! Here is what Kelly said about how she got this job:

“I got on the number one television show at my heaviest point, because it was right after I had kids and it was like they didn’t care. Paul hired me from NBC because he loved my personality, he loved that I connect with people and I’m really raw and real. It had nothing to do with my sex appeal or my physical appearance. It had to do with me as a person.”

Here’s the irony about Kelly’s success on The Voice. The judges don’t see the contestants during auditions, so they aren’t influenced by the contestant’s attractiveness, body size or sense of style. They are being rated on the product they bring to the table….their voices!

So there you have it…Kelly Clarkson changed both the music and television industries by proving to the naysayers that reality-competition singers could succeed when they show up as their true AUTHENTIC selves. 

If you want to experience AUTHENTICITY in action – and a few laughs too –  I highly recommend you tune into The Kelly Clarkson Show on NBC!

It’s Kelly Clarkson’s AUTHENTICITY that makes her Stand-out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words SCORE!

I’m Rich Keller, the CATALYST, and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect.

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