With last year's smash ballad ''A Moment Like This,'' Kelly Clarkson proved that ''American Idol'' can spawn a hit single. But can it create a career? That's what the Justin-beating girl-next-door will find out this week, as her debut album, ''Thankful,'' hits stores. In a late start that certainly won't help first-week sales, Clarkson's debut single, the beat-heavy ''Miss Independent,'' is just hitting radio stations; she won't shoot the video until next week.
But Clarkson (who also has a movie, ''From Justin to Kelly,'' hitting theaters June 13) should get a substantial boost from her two recent homecoming appearances on ''Idol.'' As her album drops, Clarkson tells EW.com why she's not crazy about fame, how the CD got delayed by five months, and why she doesn't have a pick for this season's ''Idol.''
Ever wish you'd started your career in a more ordinary way?
Are you kidding? This is like every artist's dream, to get on a show and be able to show people what-all you can do. We did a big-band show, a '60s show, I did country, I did Celine Dion, Mariah Carey -- so many different types of music. That's a perfect way to start. Before that, I had been working for like two years, with many doors slammed in my face.
Do you feel like you have enough control over your career?
Yup. I'm the reason they didn't put the album out so quickly. Think about it: I won Sept. 4 and they wanted it out Nov. 26. If I had done it like that, it wouldn't have been any kind of representation of me. I wouldn't have had any say. When I hit the final four [in ''Idol''], I told them, ''You better hope I don't win, because I don't want to put out an album like that.'' I'm not here to make records for executives. I'm here to make records for fans. The fans liked what they saw on the show, so apparently I got something right. So it seems like I should have some say, right?
Was it a struggle to figure out what you wanted to do with this album?
No, because since, like, the seventh grade, I've wanted to come out with a first album that would open doors for me. I don't want anything to pigeonhole me. I don't want anyone to say, ''Oh she can't do that. She can't do rock because she's R&B, she can't do R&B because she's pop, she can't do pop because she's alternative.'' I don't want any of that.
Do you have a pick for this season's ''Idol''?
No. I record mostly at night, so I haven't even seen a lot of it. I don't even really have picks. I know Ruben's good. They're all talented out the woo. I think my friends are going for Clay or Reuben.
Do you still want success the same way you did when you started ''Idol''?
I've never been big on fame. I've always just liked to be on stage. I come alive, I don't know what it is. And I love the fact that people tell me I inspire them. But if I could do this all without fame, I would. It's not so much that I even care, but it's kind of hard for my family and friends. My friends have pictures of me and people flip if they open their wallet to pay for something and they see [my picture]. And my friends are like, "She's not that cool!"