Review: Kelly Clarkson lets personality, vocals shine at Little Caesars Arena

The pop singer let loose during her Thursday night concert

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
Kelly Clarkson's 'Meaning of Life' tour performs at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan on February 21, 2019.

Kelly Clarkson is perhaps our most relatable pop star, and the original "American Idol" champion proved why during her casual but vocally powerful concert at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday night. 

"I haven't toured in three years," the 36-year-old mother of four told the audience early in the show, explaining she's been off "making children." 

"Thank you for showing up!"

It was that sort of down-home Texas charm that gave the show a feeling of laid-back intimacy, like catching up with an old friend for drinks. And it was her knockout vocals and the emotion she baked into her songs that reminded you she's a powerhouse singer who can turn loose whenever she feels like it. 

Clarkson opened Thursday's show, boldly, with an a cappella rendition of "A Moment Like This," her "American Idol" crowning song from 2002. It's been eons since Clarkson sang that ballad on a Hollywood stage as sparks showered down from above and a nearby Justin Guarini accepted his "Idol" runner-up status. No one knew at the time that Clarkson's career would still be going strong nearly 20 years later, but the same attributes that made her the "Idol" champ still apply today.

The LCA crowd spanned from kids to grandmothers, with a concentration of fans in their 30s. Clarkson gave it up for her own 30s, describing it as a decade of self-discovery. "Your 30s are frickin' fantastic!" she exclaimed, after choking back tears during an emotional "Piece by Piece." 

Clarkson was backed by a five-piece band, a three-piece horn section and four backup singers, who rounded out the sound — a little too much, in the case of her bass-heavy drums — during the 20-song, 100-minute concert. 

Hits like "Walk Away" and "Breakaway" mixed with songs from her 2017 album "Meaning of Life," and a mid-show medley spotlighted deep cuts from her eight-album career (including a choice but too short "Good Goes the Bye"). 

During her "Minute and a Glass of Wine" segment, which was broadcast live on Facebook Live, she performed a stunning cover of Brandi Carlile's "The Joke," in which she gave all credit to Carlile. "Whoa, she can write a song, y'all," Clarkson said after the performance. "You've gotta go see her in concert. She's insane!"

Clarkson is so natural with a live microphone that you're never sure where she's going to go next, and neither is she. She's the type to notice a fan in the audience and let them derail her completely, like when she saw a child in the audience that resembled her own daughter. "How old are you?" she asked, entering into a conversation she had no clean way out of, which carried on like a bad game of telephone. "I don't have a segue," she said afterward, veering back on track. "A real professional would have a segue after that, but I don't." 

She didn't need one. Clarkson's goofy, dorky charm is her superpower, and it's one of the reasons she's been given her own daytime TV show, which debuts in the fall and which she plugged several times during the evening. "I got a TV show, y'all!" she said, which wouldn't make a bad title for the show. (Alas, it's called "The Kelly Clarkson Show.")  

Clarkson was barefoot for a good portion of the night, bouncing up and down on stage during "My Life Would Suck Without You," "Stronger" and the closer, "Since U Been Gone." Openers Brynn Cartelli and Kelsea Ballerini joined her during "Miss Independent," and former "The Voice" contestant D.R. King got a chance to shine with Clarkson during "Run Run Run." 

Clarkson still has the ability to feel the words she's singing; darn if she didn't sell "A Moment Like This" like she was singing it for the first time. It's easy for pop stars, especially those in tour mode, to check out and go on auto-pilot. Clarkson, however, still lives in the moment, and she brings her fans along with her.