Weeks before Kelly Clarkson walked off American Idol a winner, a SWAT team of producers, songwriters, video directors, stylists, A&R men, photographers and image makers gathered to map out her future. RCA, the label that was guaranteed a record deal with whichever artist won the television contest, recruited big-name tunesmiths such as Diane Warren, Desmond Child, Dallas Austin and Walter Afanasieff to come up with original songs for the winner. And before the final episode aired, RCA sent the three remaining finalists into a studio to record a two-sided single: "Before Your Love" and "A Moment Like This." The plan was to have the winner's disc in stores by September 17th.
But can RCA turn Clarkson's television celebrity into recording success? Label execs admit they will be feeling their way as they go along. "She will be a pop artist, but whether it will be rock, country, urban, Top Forty hasn't been decided," says general manager Richard Sanders. "I've been told she writes songs, but everybody says they can write. We'll have to record a lot of material to see what works." The one sure thing is that Clarkson's stage image will be "girl next door" or "a little older than a Britney Spears look, but accessible," Sanders says. "Every girl's dream."
In the next several weeks, Clarkson will appear on countless TV talk shows, film a pair of videos as well as an MTV documentary, and launch a twenty-eight-city tour also featuring nine other Idol finalists. Somewhere along the way, she'll record her album, due early next year.
"The hardest thing is going to be keeping the momentum going until the record comes out," says David Wolter, an A&R executive at Virgin Records. "It's definitely a here-today, gone-later-today phenomenon, but people are so hot on the Cinderella-story aspect. All RCA has to do is get the record into stores. People will buy it."