Oh, Fantasia Barrino, where did we go wrong? First we were dazzled by you on American Idol. Then, you had us in tears with your first two albums and biography, Life Is Not A Fairytale. Then, just before dropping your acclaimed Top Ten disc, Back To Me, last month, everything imploded (let's not even get into your prior bankruptcy and health troubles). You were accused of stealing another woman's husband, had a bad breakup and then attempted suicide. But there is one up note to all the drama: your music remains as poignant as ever. Why? Enter Claude Kelly, the famed songwriter and vocal producer behind megahits for Kelly Clarkson, Whitney Houston and Miley Cyrus, to explain. He's also currently cooking up new stuff with Jennifer Hudson, Britney Spears, latest Idol Lee Dewyze and David Archuleta, but he had time to chat with Usmagazine.com about 'Tasia (for whom he penned both of her recent singles, "Bittersweet" and "I’m Doin' Me"), Kelly Clarkson's True Blood fanaticism and trying to get Christina Aguilera into the smash HBO show.
UsMagazine.com: First of all, I know you've worked with Kelly Clarkson - whom I love!
Claude Kelly: Even before I worked with Kelly I was a huge fan. I actually remember listening to her album before the one I worked on and dreaming that one day I would get to work with her. So it was really cool that I got to eventually work with her on "My Life Would Suck Without You." I've worked with a bunch of Idols, but Kelly is the one that blew me away the most. We only had a day to work together and cut that song in L.A., so she flew in for the day and you hear the song. It's kick-ass! She knocked the song out and had to fly out the next day. That shows how amazing her vocals are.
US: What was she like in the studio recording that song? It must've been crazy if it was only one day.
CK: She came in and she knew we didn't have that much time, so everybody had their work hat on and she was down to try everything and get it all out of the way and get it done. She just has this really laid back, chill personality. We clicked right away because we're both really huge True Blood fans, and we literally wasted an hour talking about True Blood, which is probably bad. But we got the song done in the end, so it's all good.
US: So does Kelly have any special routines before singing to prepare her voice?
CK: Actually, the funny thing is that you would think with the kind of vocals that she pulls off, she'd have a routine, right? Well, she's actually the opposite. She goes into the studio, walks behind the mic, opens her mouth and that voice comes out without any preparation. It's nuts!
US: You worked with another Idol winner, Fantasia! What makes her so great in your eyes?
CK: Fantasia has a special place in my heart. Being in the studio with Fantasia is literally like being in the studio with Aretha Franklin or Patti LaBelle. It's almost like you're watching someone from a different era -- she's all heart. She'd finish a song and be in tears because it would mean that much to her or she would get so attached or so involved emotionally in the record.
US: She seems like a very passionate person. Did she ever have her boyfriend in the studio with her?
CK: No boyfriends in the studio, but I will say that she definitely incorporates her real life in her music. A lot of the songs that we wrote.
US: How so?
CK: If she felt like she was angry or hurt, she always slipped me tiny notes on corners of papers that would say, 'Incorporate this into the song because this is how I feel today.' All of the songs that we did on her album are literally from what she was going through on that given day.
US: You also worked with Britney Spears on "Circus." How was that?
CK: Britney Spears was one of my first experiences with how intense the paparazzi are.
US: Oh yeah. Were they hounding outside?
CK: Literally waiting out there hours before she got there. Because the studio's kind of a secret place where an artist comes to open up their heart and record songs, you don't want them to feel insecure. It was intense, but when she got in there, all that went away. We did "Circus" and another song called "Shattered Glass." She is a true professional: she comes in, knows the song beforehand, and just nails it.
US: And finally -- what about her fellow pop diva, Christina Aguilera?
CK: Christina and I are actually the most alike as people. We both have sarcastic, dirty joke-minded personalities, so we clicked right away. In the songs we did, anywhere we could sneak a little curse word or some little sexual innuendo, it's in there because that's how we thought. And she has a really cool home studio called "Red Lips." There's no natural light coming in, the walls are all red and black...
US: Sounds like a vampire's dream!
CK: That's another thing -- she loves vampires too! I'm still trying to convince her to watch True Blood. She's just been too busy!
US: How did you discover your mutual fascination with vampires?
CK: I don't even know how the conversation came up! I'm sure I was raving about True Blood. She likes the really dark stuff, but she's been really busy juggling the movie and the album and, of course, she's a mother and has all this other stuff going on in her life. Having the time to sit down on a Sunday night to watch HBO or even probably catch up on it on TiVo or whatever… I'm gonna get her there because I know she'll like it. Anything with sex and vampires -- you can't go wrong!
US: Does she hold her son Max or anything while she's singing?
CK: Well, she can't hold him while she's singing because it has to be completely silent and she has to obviously stand up properly and sing. But he's definitely been in the room and watched her and comes in between takes. She's very, very hands-on!