Predictably, the Hammerstein Ballroom exploded into a giant karaoke party every time Kelly tore through one of her mega-hits — and she passionately tackled them all, even "Miss Independent," from her debut album. But the crowd was just as happy when Clarkson visited the deep cuts of her latest album, All I Ever Wanted. In fact, Kelly announced that she just had to include "Impossible" on tour because the fans demanded it.
Kelly's 11-piece backing band — featuring a horn section and a turntablist, among others — sounded tight, but the real star of the show was Clarkson's pitch-perfect vocals, which she used to great effect in her expansive set. Her low chest-voice cooed the verses of "Breakaway" while her upper register got an intense workout on tunes like show-opener "All I Ever Wanted" and "Cry." Kelly also showcased an emotive falsetto that moved some fans to tears. (Important to note that Clarkson is only three shows into this leg of the tour. Time will tell if she can keep her voice in tip-top shape. If she sounds this good by the time 2010 rolls around, the government should step in and investigate her as an illegal alien from another planet.)
Not shying away from the things that made her famous to begin with — covers — Kelly saved plenty of room for showstopping renditions of other artists' tunes. In the 20-song set, Clarkson crooned a sexy, bluesy version of Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight," a rousing White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" and a soulful, partially a cappella Black Keys' "Lies." Kelly even went so far as to name-check the Black Keys' album, Attack & Release, and urged her fans to run out and pick up a copy, since the reaction to Clarkson's live cover was so overwhelmingly positive. Kelly told the crowd, "I really love music. I like all kinds."
But it was an early mash-up of two of her "favorite" songs — Alanis Morissette's "That I Would Be Good" and Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody" — that garnered the biggest applause of the covers, perhaps because the lyrics felt especially meaningful coming from Clarkson's lips. Lines like "That I would be good even if I got the thumbs down/ That I would be good even if I gained 10 pounds" addressed two of Clarkson's biggest tabloid scandals — her battle with Clive Davis over My December and her fluctuating weight — while Kings of Leon's refrain of "You know that I could use somebody" felt all the more heart-wrenching surrounded by Alanis' verses about insecurity and self-doubt. Kelly gave all the credit to her music director, Jason Halbert, who helped Clarkson dream up the effective arrangement. (He also appeared onstage as the keyboard player throughout the night.)
Elsewhere, Halbert and Kelly rearranged her own tunes without changing them beyond recognition. The most noticeable redo was the sole My December song of the night, "Never Again," which was given a disco-pop makeover to help it fit in with the electronic-oriented tracks from her latest album. A couple of her ballads, "Already Gone" and "Behind These Hazel Eyes," were stripped down to just guitars and vocal. Kelly claimed "Hazel" was rearranged to maximize audience sing-along potential. It worked.
Ironically, it was two of her own songs that stuck out like sore thumbs on the set list. The back-to-back bounce of "Ready" and "I Want You" was the closest thing to a bathroom-break opportunity during the tight show, with the latter sounding like a Duffy throwaway and the former suffering from a jaunty arrangement that sounded more like a theme song to an '80s sitcom than the way it sounds on her album.
Luckily, Kelly quickly brought the show back into focus with a stunning "Because of You," which featured a glory note so powerful, it literally stopped the show. Clarkson paused for almost 30 seconds because the audience erupted in such wild applause. Reba McEntire, who herself had a hit with "Because of You," was spotted in the VIP section beaming with pride.
Despite all the angst and drama on display in her popular songs, Kelly's stage banter was anything but dreary. The girl next door made every audience member feel like her best friend, confessing that she had just guzzled down a blueberry protein shake before the gig. "People in the front row, if you see things in my teeth ... I brush my teeth three times a day! I'm not a dirty girl," she assured the crowd.
The main set wrapped up with an irresistible one-two punch of Breakaway standout "Walk Away" and the insanely successful "Since U Been Gone." (You don't need me to tell you that thousands of sweaty people jumped up and down in unison during that one.)
An out-of-place DJ scratched for a couple of minutes before the encore, giving Kelly a chance to change her outfit, and perhaps subliminally reminding "Idol" fans that Blake Lewis released his sophomore album earlier that day.
Clarkson closed the show with "My Life Would Suck Without You," turning the quirky love song into a love letter to her fans who have stuck with her all these years, through thick and thin, My December and beyond. On Tuesday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom, Kelly made it clear that her life would suck without us, and music fans' lives would suck without Kelly Clarkson.