Over the past few months, former Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody has found himself taking less and less flak from rock fans for producing part of Kelly Clarkson’s album Breakaway.
“Now it’s cool to like Kelly Clarkson, so I’m in the clear,” Moody said. “She’s kind of popular now.”
Clarkson, of course, has been popular in pop circles since winning “American Idol” four years ago. What Moody means is it’s slowly become de rigueur for artists and music fans outside of that world to cheer on Clarkson, who is nominated for three MTV Video Music Awards this year (see “Green Day, Gwen, Missy Nab Most Nominations For MTV Video Music Awards” ) and will also perform at the show.
In an informal survey of rockers and other hipsters, nearly all of the artists polled copped to liking at least something about the Burleson, Texas, singer. (Sorry Kelly, System of a Down still have no idea who you are.)
So how did the 23-year-old former Red Bull girl transform herself from the next Jessica Simpson into a genuinely cool rock-and-roll singer?
“Here’s the thing about Kelly Clarkson,” Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump said. “At the end of the day, she’s an amazing singer, and you can’t fault her for that.”
Clarkson can certainly blow, as Randy Jackson would say, but so can, say, Simpson. The difference is Clarkson’s seen more as the girl next door, and as someone without a manufactured sound or image.
“I think Kelly Clarkson is good because she’s real,” Simple Plan singer Pierre Bouvier said. “You see her live and you’re like, ‘All right!’ Even if you don’t like her style, there’s nothing about her that’s bad, because she’s sweet and she’s talented. What else do you want?”
“She’s the real deal, so it’s not as lame as some other people,” Yellowcard singer Ryan Key added. “I hope at some point people will realize what’s real and what’s not real, and who’s an artist and who’s not, and who doesn’t deserve to be.”
From the beginning, Clarkson has always come off in interviews as a sweet Southerner incapable of the diva attitude associated with many of her peers.
“I met her briefly and she seems to have a really great spirit and I think that’s the beginning,” singer Ciara said. “Your personality is very important, your spirit is very important and she already has that.”
“There are so many people out here in the industry that pretend to be something else and she’s really one of those that’s really, really true from the heart,” added R&B crooner Frankie J.
Still, something happened between the release of Clarkson’s debut album and now, something that forced other artists to give her a chance. Something called “Since U Been Gone,” a tune with the kind of legs that pop music hasn’t seen in years.
“It’s incredible,” Yellowcard’s Key said. “It gets in your head and won’t leave.”
“You have to listen to that song at 11, that’s just the way it is,” added Switchfoot singer Jon Foreman, who recently caught himself pulling up to the beach with “Since U Been Gone” blaring from his car radio.
Indie rocker Ted Leo saw the video one morning earlier this year and decided to play an acoustic cover of it for a videotaped Web session a few hours later.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a shockingly good song for a pop star,’ ” Leo said. “It’s just one great hook after another. I also really appreciate the more advanced pop pastiche aspects of it. It’s written in a way that is so transparent in terms of drawing from a lot of what’s vaguely edgy and popular right now, but put together in such a perfect little package. It’s undeniable.”
Even though Leo only played it a few more times, bootlegs of his performances circulated around the Internet within a few weeks and it became his calling card, which he’s not exactly thrilled about.
“I appreciate that people get a kick out of it, but it’s not in the set [anymore],” he said. “A lot of people have asked me about adding some cachet to Kelly Clarkson, as if I’m trying to tell people that she should be considered more than she is, but honestly, I was poking more fun at myself and my own weakness for a good hook. Not that I have anything against her. In that world, she got where she is because she can sing. She’s not some heiress with a Chihuahua.”
Fittingly, the humble Clarkson never expected “Since U Been Gone” to earn her such a widespread fanbase.
“It’s ridiculous how well that song was received by hard rockers, by indie people,” she said. “They will say stuff about it and I’m just floored. I was walking around with a friend of mine and this hard-rock guy came up to me and was like, ‘I look stupid, but I tell my friends I love this song.’ People at concerts are like, ‘That’s my guilty pleasure. I don’t mean to be mean, but I didn’t want to like the “American Idol” girl.’ But they love that song, and it kind of won them over.”
What’s also winning rockers over is the video for Clarkson’s follow-up single, “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” in which she sabotages her own wedding.
“She is so unbelievably gorgeous in that video that is all over TV right now,” Yellowcard’s Key said. “The wet wedding dress and the wet hair and … come on, man! Who knew? She is so hot. She looks so good in it.”
Simple Plan’s Chuck Comeau agrees. “I want to date you,” he said. “You think it’s just a joke, but it’s not a joke.”
And rockers are apparently not the only ones obsessing over Clarkson. One of Hollywood’s hottest comedic actors is so smitten with her that he yelled out her name while ad-libbing a memorable scene in his latest movie.
“I don’t know her very well, I mean, we dated a couple of times,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” himself, Steve Carell, said, tongue firmly in cheek. “She smells like strawberry shortcake, I know that. Her eyes are like limpid pools and she has the voice of an angel.”