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Kelly Clarkson remains one of a kind

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Kelly Clarkson has an innate relatability that makes her Not Just Another Pop Star.

You could chalk it up to her coming up through nontraditional channels, i.e. “American Idol,” but “Idol” never produced another star as fresh and off-the-cuff as Clarkson. She speaks her mind, doesn’t do the canned banter thing, and chit chats with the crowd like they’re a couple of old friends hanging out on her back porch. There’s no explanation for it other than she’s Kelly, she’s an original, and she’s our original.

Sunday night at DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkson showed off what makes her so unique. During her 85-minute show she gave the evening several flourishes that made it memorable, deviating from the playbook enough to make it Not Just Another Stop on Her Summer Tour. Song arrangements were shaken up, a few special songs were thrown into the set list and Clarkson gave the whole night a warm, easygoing air that made it seem cozy and inviting. The fairly packed crowd were her guests for the night and she treated them well.

Touring behind her sixth studio album, February’s “Piece by Piece,” Clarkson gave the crowd a healthy sampling of the new set. She opened with “Dance With Me,” a lively, uplifting love song, and took it directly into “My Life Would Suck Without You,” the “Since U Been Gone” doppelganger that, depending on the day, gives “Since U Been Gone” a serious run for its money as Clarkson’s top musical moment.

Kelly Clarkson performs Sunday night at DTE Energy Music Theatre.

Clarkson’s five-piece band kept spinning things in a lively fashion, mixing in bits of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” into the new album highlight “Take You High,” full-on mashing up “Walk Away” with Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and adding in bits of classic rock to several songs (a hint of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” was worked into “Miss Independent,” and a few riffs from “Live and Let Die” wormed their way into “Since U Been Gone”).

Clarkson performs a cover song every night on tour, and Sunday she gave a spirited rendition of Tove Lo’s “Habits” — one of the few Tove Lo songs she could repurpose for a family audience, she joked. For her “KC Classic,” where she unearths an old song she typically doesn’t perform, she pulled out her first album’s “Low” and gave it a fresh country-style spin. And just to prove what a good sport she is, during her “Open Mic” portion of the show — meant to give exposure to an up-and-coming singer who could use it — she let Westland’s Karlye Walker take over, and Walker turned in a well-received rendition of Counting Crows’ “Colorblind.”

Kelly Clarkson performs Sunday night at DTE Energy Music Theatre.

Things took an emotional turn when Clarkson got choked up singing the new album’s title track, performing it with a sparse arrangement accompanied only by piano which she said makes the song “a little more sad.” The song, she said, was written after she had a conversation with her sister, and it takes turns criticizing her father and praising her husband, with whom she recently had her first child.

“I didn’t have a great dad,” she said, introducing the song. Adding to the emotion of the moment, Clarkson’s sister, Alyssa, was in the audience, and by the end of the song, Clarkson’s feelings got the better of her and she flubbed a few lines while holding back tears. But the honesty and rawness made it real, and her connection with the lyrics and the vulnerability of the song showed she was present in the moment.

“I still haven’t worked through these issues!” she said, laughing off the incident but reinforcing how much the song means to her.

Clarkson’s opening act, the vocal group Pentatonix, later joined her for an upbeat “Heartbeat Song,” covering instrumental duties before her band kicked in at the first chorus. An encore version of “Bang Bang” let her trio of backup singers shine, and Clarkson batted cleanup, driving home Jessie J’s big bang climax of the song.

Clarkson’s signature is her powerful vocal range, which was in fine form on Sunday. But she’s at her best when she’s just interacting with the crowd — even when she’s swatting away bugs she’s funny, self-deprecating and honest.

She had a free-form dialogue going with the crowd throughout the night, and she passed on relationship advice (“don’t get married until your 30s,” she said plainly), tried avoiding her “Beyonce fan” at the foot of her stage that kept blowing in her face and teased the crowd about its participation (“that was LAME,” she said, during a half-hearted audience callback during the evening’s closer, “Since U Been Gone”).

What comes across is the person, not the performer. Clarkson — who performed barefoot the entire show — doesn’t hide behind a persona or a character, she’s herself. And that’s why — while many have come after her — she’s still an American idol and she’s still reigning supreme.