Kelly in Control

Image credit: Ray Mickshaw/American Idol/Getty Images for Fox

''In a time when record labels are under increased economic pressures'' — industry album sales are down 17 percent for '07 — ''they get nervous when a big-selling artist like Kelly wants to take risks and evolve,'' says Clarkson's manager, Jeff Kwatinetz, whose roster also includes Snoop Dogg, Mandy Moore, and Chris Cornell. ''The pressure they put on this young woman to compromise herself and do another version of the same record, I've never witnessed in my career.''

Davis wouldn't be interviewed for this story but said in an e-mail to EW: ''We are setting up extensive plans to support Kelly's album in a major way, befitting her status as one of the world's best-selling artists. We fully expect that Kelly will have a long-term, powerful career for many years to come.''

For all the controversy, the 14-song collection isn't such a departure from the hits that made Clarkson a star as to make you wonder What was she thinking?! Clearly, she's learned how to write catchy hooks while working with the likes of Max Martin and Dr. Luke (the masterminds behind ''Since U Been Gone''). And her voice is as strong as ever, whether the song calls for Pat Benatar-defiant (''One Minute'') or Sarah McLachlan-sensitive (''Sober'').

After the music ends, Clarkson begins to talk — really talk — about her fight for My December, her upcoming 36-city summer tour, and more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you want to make such a personal album right now?
KELLY CLARKSON: All of my favorite records — [Alanis Morissette's] Jagged Little Pill, any U2 record, [No Doubt's] Tragic Kingdom — I love how it's like a story from beginning to finish. Especially Jagged Little Pill. The last song on [My December], ''Irvine,'' it literally was the lowest point I've had in my life. I wrote it after my Irvine [Calif.] show on my last tour. I was just so burned-out. I was really struggling at getting somebody out of my life and finding people that really cared. The whole song is a prayer. I wrote it in the bathroom of the venue after the show. I had to cancel my meet-and-greet; it's the only meet-and-greet I've ever canceled. I couldn't smile. It was just a really, really bad night.

NEXT PAGE: ''Everybody doesn't like me writing all the time, no matter how many No. 1's you write.... I mean, is there something higher than No. 1 now?''


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