As the very first winner of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson is bound to have advice for the contestants of her new show, American Song Contest, but her words of wisdom are actually what she tells every musician in the industry.
“Whether you are an up-and-coming artist and you are meeting me at a meet-and-greet on tour or whatever, coming to my show, whatever you are doing, literally do not chase what you think a hit is. That is the death of an artist, when you feel like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to chase the sound that I think everybody is going to like.’ You have to be true to yourself,” the 39-year-old told Us Weekly and other reporters during a press conference for the singing competition. “That sounds so cheesy, but it’s very hard because a lot of artists are people pleasers, right? And you want to be successful. You want to get paid for what you do, but it’s really important. And I’ve seen it with other artists. It’s, like, they chase it, and they don’t win. You don’t win like that. The only way you win in life — and it sounds like a Hallmark card, but — is really just being you. They made it to this point being themselves.”
Clarkson — who also has been a coach on The Voice for seven seasons, cohosts with Snoop Dogg on the new NBC series, which debuted on Monday, March 21. American Song Contest will show “legacy artists” such as Michael Bolton, Jewel, Macy Gray and Sisqó battle it out live with lesser-known artists from across the country. Each state will be represented by one musician as the best song is voted by viewers.
“They’ve been very successful, and they’ve all been successful being themselves. Macy Gray doesn’t sound anything like Jewel, which doesn’t sound anything like Michael Bolton. And that’s how you win because there’s room for everyone at the table, but there’s not room for imitation. And that’s the problem, I think, with a lot of young artists, even myself,” Clarkson explained to Us.
She continued: “When you first start out and you don’t know, really, what your sound is, imitation is the death of you, I feel like. So I think really just letting the artist know to truly just be who they want to be because that’s who they are going to be on the road. That’s who they innately are when they are going to be in the studio. So that’s what I usually tell artists, especially even working from The Voice.”
For the daytime talk show host, it’s at times “unfortunate” to see singers go “so hard” in the opposite direction of who they really are.
“It’s like, ‘You are chasing something that’s not you.’ And it’s never going to end up working,” she said. “So I feel like just really leaning into what makes you special as an artist and what made you fall in love with it [and asking], ‘Why are you here?’ I think that’s how you win.”
American Song Contest features 56 artists of all genres and will consist of three rounds — a qualifying stage, semi-finals and the finals. It’s led by showrunner Audrey Morrissey and fellow executive producers Clarkson, Ben Silverman, Anders Lenhoff and Christer Björkman.
For Clarkson, the highlight so far has been working with Snoop Dogg, 50. “We both really love supporting other artists, and he’s just fun to work with. So I know we might seem like the odd couple, but we get along well,” the “Behind These Hazel Eyes” singer said. “I think that it’s also a pretty good representation of us standing there because he covers different music. He’s done pop. He’s done rap. He’s done all of these other things, and I’ve done country and pop and all of these other things. … And there is literally so many different styles of music. I was making a joke earlier that I think the only thing we don’t have is, like, a polka artist. People are seeing different languages, different styles, different everything. It’s really cool.”
American Song Contest airs Mondays on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.
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