In March, Kelly Clarkson’s Piece by Piece became the singer’s third LP to top the Billboard 200. It’s also the final installment in the six-album deal she signed with RCA Records immediately after winning American Idol‘s first season, in 2002. Clarkson says she’s loving her new freedom. “Man, I have no frigging clue what’s coming next, but it’s going to be fun,” she says, calling from her Nashville home. “I haven’t ever been able to pick who to work with as an artist, so it’s nice now that it’s a choice. It’ll be cool to ‘Breakaway,’ for lack of a better term, and see what‘s out there. If I want to make a country record, I‘ll make a country record. If I want to make an R&B record, I‘ll make that. I‘ve made enough money in my career. This is just the cherry on top.“
So does this mean that you can finally burn all the existing copies of From Justin to Kelly?
[Laughs] No, I think I would have to own it first. But that is something I will look into. I have a little joke with our nanny, because she told me she loves that movie. She was like, “My roommate and I used to watch it all the time! I’m totally going to show your daughter From Justin to Kelly.” I’m like, “I will fire you.”
You went back to Idol recently as a guest mentor. Would you ever consider rejoining the show on a more permanent basis as a judge? [Ed. Note: This interview took place before the announcement that Idol will end after its next season.]
I actually love the mentoring process. It was nostalgic to be there – it was the same hallway that I was warming up in 13 years ago, when I was 19. It did make me feel a little old. But it was really cool. When I went on that show, I thought maybe I would end up being a backup singer for someone. So I couldn’t have wished for more.
Would you really consider making an R&B album, or was that just an example?
People always tell me I should do a covers album because of all the fan requests I do at shows – from Foo Fighters to Coldplay to Patsy Cline. And on the radio right now, you have everything from Sam Smith to Zedd to Tove Lo. There’s a little bit of everything, and that’s cool.
People have noticed that your new “Heartbreak Song” sounds a lot like Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle.” Were you surprised by that comparison?
I didn’t write the song, I just sang it. But I didn’t catch that. Nobody behind the scenes did. What’s funny is that I was a huge fan of that Jimmy Eat World album! We actually thought our song sounded like the Postal Service – that was our big concern. I thought it was really cool of Jimmy Eat World to say, “Hey, no harm, no foul.” There are only so many chords. I felt so bad for Pharrell when he got sued – he’s a huge fan of Marvin Gaye, and you know he didn’t mean to rip him off. And he’s the sweetest guy ever. It sucks.
You recently came out in favor of legalizing marijuana. How come?
I’m not even a pothead, I just think it’s funny that we legalize something as destructive as alcohol or pills and not that. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some alcohol, but I don’t know anybody in rehab because of pot. And I know a ton of people that have died either from liver cancer or behind the wheel. We legalize things that are so disturbing for our bodies, but one that’s completely fine, we say, “No, that’s bad for you.” I’m like, “Okay, enjoy your scotch. Enjoy your Xanax.”
You’re married to Reba McEntire’s stepson. Are your Thanksgivings basically like the CMAs?
Yes, we give out awards every time [laughs]. No, our family gatherings are just a bunch of grandchildren and nieces and nephews. Our job is very egocentric, so it’s nice to be able to reflect on something else.
What do you do for fun when you have a night off?
We have a movie theater in our house, and we just watched Interstellar. Oh, my gosh, it’s so trippy! I want to be an astronaut at this point. We also play board games. My sister, my mom, me and Reba are the gamers in the family. Everyone else we just drag into it.
Reba and I are both competitive – she’ll tell you she’s not, but she’s a liar. I can win Sequence, but if we play backgammon or Mexican Train dominoes, she kills me. She’s like a backgammon magician.
You’re a well-known Jane Austen fan. Who’s your favorite Austen character?
That is hard! Persuasion is my favorite book, but my favorite character – I’m going to be so cliché right now and say Elizabeth Bennet, even though Pride and Prejudice is not my favorite. I like her boldness. But my favorite character from a book is Jane Eyre, actually. She’s thrown every hurdle known to man – she was never shown love, she was thrown into that orphanage, she was fighting just to exist, and then she ends up falling in love with this tortured guy. And I love that she never caved or succumbed to a dark side. When you’re thrown into the worst parts of your life, that’s what really shows your character.
There’s a campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill instead of Andrew Jackson. Who would you put there?
Oh, Lord. I love that idea. We should probably put Oprah. I feel a little bad about taking someone else off, though. That’s kind of the worst slap in the face. Andrew Jackson is somewhere really pissed off.
Speaking of presidents, the election is starting to get in gear. Do you like any of the candidates?
I’m a fan of Hillary. She’s badass. I don’t just want a woman to win, I want the right person. And I think she’s also that.
Would you ever consider running for office? You’ve proved you can win a national vote.
Oh, my God, that’s the worst job in the world. It’s like being a football coach. When things are going well, the coach is just lucky, and then when everything goes to shit, it’s all the coach’s fault.
You recently introduced a line of greeting cards. Help me out here. What’s an appropriate situation to give someone a Kelly Clarkson greeting card?
Well, they’re all based on humor. I like a good laugh. Even if you’re sad or it’s a birthday card or a sweet one for your mom, it can still be funny. My sense of humor is a little crass. I’m a little white-trash and a little class.