By Brian Ives
Last week, as Kelly Clarkson was celebrating her version of “It’s Quiet Uptown,” which is part of the newly-released Hamilton mix tape, she got another bit of good news: she’s nominated for the GRAMMY for Best Pop Solo Performance. Her song, “Piece By Piece” got the nod, but not the version that served as the title track of her last album. Instead, the nomination is for a stripped down version of the song that she performed on American Idol.
She tells Radio.com that the performance wasn’t her best, technically speaking. “I just did it with me and a piano. I could not hold it together [for the performance]; for one, I was pregnant. Super-pregnant. Eight months. And super hormonal. It was already a sad song that’s hard to get through.”
Adding to that was the emotion of returning to American Idol, the show where she started her career. “Coming back and having kids running around the hallways that I used to rehearse in. And I was married now, it was such a different situation. I was super emotional and totally cried and choked through the whole song. Apparently people liked that! I like emoting, it’s what the song calls for, but it’s pretty personal, and it was pretty difficult.”
She discussed the song’s origins: “I wrote that song after an intense conversation with my sister. We didn’t have a very high bar – or any bar – set for what a father figure should be like. Or what a man should be like. I think a lot of girls date someone like their father. I didn’t want to do that! I don’t know him very well, but I know that he’s awesome at abandonment. I wrote the song about how that sucked.”
“I don’t think I realized how devastating that was until I was pregnant with my own child. I think, as a society, we make it the norm: ‘Oh, you grew up with your mother, you didn’t know your father.’ I think we’ve made that way too normal. I think people need parental figures in their life. And I can’t imagine not being there for my kids.”
But, she notes, the song has a happy ending: “Both me and my sister met men who are exceptional men and partners and fathers. We really lucked out, because that doesn’t always happen in our situation.”
She said she was hesitant at first even to release the song: “Sometimes it’s nerve-wracking to put something out like that, because you don’t want to sound like you’re whining. That’s why I made it happy at the end. But at the same time… I remember when Alanis Morissette put out Jagged Little Pill, I thought [about some of the songs], ‘This is me.’ I want to write songs that people relate to—I mean, you don’t want them to relate to ‘Piece By Piece’ —but it’s nice to know that you’re not alone.”
Ultimately, the emotional message of the song trumped her desire to be technically perfect at the Idol performance. “I have changed drastically from when I started. I grew up singing classical music, and everything had to be perfect. All of those competitions: you had to nail it, every time. That came down to tone and pitch and lyrics. So when I first started, I was really hard on myself.”
“But one time at a show in Australia, I came backstage and I was so bummed [about my performance] and my manager said, ‘This is ridiculous, you did a really good job! You need to let go of the idea that you have to nail every note every time. You don’t have to have perfect pitch every time to be amazing!’ That was the point where I started letting go of that.”
These says, she takes it a bit easier on herself. “I’m not perfect every time you see me, but I’m definitely having fun. I’d rather be an emotional singer than a perfect one. But learning that was a good ol’ big bridge that I had to cross. I feel like if you harp on it too much, you lose the soul and you start to sound like a robot. Which certain producers love! But I don’t!”
Clarkson’s next album, her first for Atlantic Records, is due out next year.