Kelly Clarkson really can sing almost anything well. In her 100-minute set Saturday night at sold-out Radio City Music Hall, she tackled Broadway with Barbra Streisand's version of "My Man" from "Funny Girl," country with her Grammy-nominated Jason Aldean duet "Don't You Wanna Stay," indie pop with her take on Florence and The Machine's "Heavy in Your Arms," as well as '60s R&B with "I'd Rather Go Blind," her tribute to the late Etta James. That doesn't even include her own big-tent brand of pop, ranging from the upbeat rock of "Since U Been Gone" to the folk-leaning "Breakaway" to the club-ready dance anthem "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)," her current single.
What ties the eclectic night together -- besides her infectious enthusiasm ("I'm so excited!" she said several times during the night, adding, "I'm gonna be like that annoying cheerleader all night long!") -- is her incredible voice, made to sound that much more impressive by meticulous vocal arrangements.
On her pop songs, Clarkson uses her three backing singers well, having them both double her vocals and add harmony. The results are live versions more potent than the recorded ones, because she can vamp without losing any of the original melody. Add in three more voices from her five-member backing band -- as they did in the metal-tinged ballad "Behind These Hazel Eyes" or in the lovely a cappella opening of "Already Gone" -- and it sounds like Clarkson is leading an army.
Of course, Clarkson is leading an army -- the chorus of loyal fans who relate to her lyrics of self-esteem issues and relationships gone awry. Few pop stars would dream of giving Internet insults and their negative press a second thought. Clarkson catalogs them and projects them on a 25-foot screen, using them to open the show. The final two before she launched into her poignant dance anthem "Dark Side"? "FAT" and "FAILURE" -- neither of which are true, but are, no doubt, hurtful nonetheless.
That Clarkson can transform that pain into something so beautiful and a concert so enjoyable shows that she is so much more than a great singer. She's a great artist.