“I feel so popular right now!” said Kelly Clarkson last night at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles – and beyond the capacity crowd, it wasn’t hard to see why. Playing one of the final dates of her current North American tour, Clarkson peppered the nearly two-hour show with surprise cameos by several high-wattage pals, including Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton, the latter of whom joined her for a rendition of Clarkson and Jason Aldean’s pop-country power ballad, “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” Michelle Branch and fellow American Idol alum Tamyra Gray also appeared. “It’s L.A., y’all,” Clarkson explained at one point. “I got a lot of friends here.”
The guest stars inspired big audience reactions, but Clarkson hardly needed the help as she ran through hit after hit from her five studio albums: “Since U Been Gone,” remade as a sleek dance-punk jam; “Already Gone,” with close-harmony backing vocals from her eight-piece band; a fiercely propulsive “My Life Would Suck Without You”; “Mr. Know It All,” which she introduced by asking if anyone in the house had ever “dated a tool” before. (“I dated maybe the biggest douche in L.A.,” she added.) After a stripped-down “Never Again,” from 2007’s gloomy My December, the singer offered a warning to all future boyfriends: “Never piss me off – I’ll write some shit.”
In addition to “Mr. Know It All,” Clarkson sang a handful of tunes from last year’s Stronger, which she called her favorite of all her records. “Einstein” was a laidback folk-soul tune, while “You Love Me” had an appealing Eighties-R&B vibe; later, the album’s chart-topping title track blasted the room with strobing disco synths. Clarkson did several covers as well, including “Heavy in Your Arms” by Florence and the Machine and a gospel-fired take on Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends.” She and Gray revived “When You Believe,” the 1998 Mariah Carey-Whitney Houston duet from The Prince of Egypt, and Clarkson summoned more dueling-divas energy with McEntire during “Because of You.”
Toward the end of the show she reached back to the Disney-princess pop of her first big solo smash, “Breakaway,” telling the crowd the song was “where people started really getting behind me and supporting my career.” Nearly a decade later, as last night’s parade of stars demonstrated, that career has grown exponentially. But somehow Clarkson retains an essential one-of-us quality. She still can’t believe she’s the popular girl.