‘The Kelly Clarkson Show’ Is Toxic Behind the Scenes, Staffers Say
When The Kelly Clarkson Show debuted on NBC in the fall of 2019, the talk show immediately became a beloved, fresh addition to the traditional daytime lineup. With a built-in fan base from Kelly Clarkson’s singing career who have been rooting for her since she won the first-ever American Idol competition in 2002, the show captivated audiences. Over the past four seasons, the pop singer has interviewed guests like Hillary Clinton and Dolly Parton, performed “Kellyoke” segments where she sings covers of other people’s popular songs, like Whitney Houston’s “Queen of the Night” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” and has maintained a level of candor and relatability with viewers at home.
But behind the scenes, employees say they were overworked, underpaid, and that working at the show was traumatizing to their mental health, describing The Kelly Clarkson Show as a toxic environment. These employees are veterans in the entertainment industry who know the potential downsides of working in a high-pressure environment like daytime television, and are disappointed to see this culture perpetuated on a show that had a chance to make a difference in the industry. One current and 10 former employees spoke to Rolling Stone under the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, and say they’re confident the talk-show host doesn’t have a sense of how unhappy employees are with the working conditions.
“NBC is protecting the show because it’s their new money maker, but Kelly has no clue how unhappy her staff is,” one former employee says.
A second former employee adds, “I remember going up on the roof of the stage to cry, being like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what am I doing? Why am I putting myself through this?’”
NBC did not provide a comment for this story after being given several days to do so. Clarkson and the show’s executive producer, Alex Duda, did not respond to separate requests for comment.
The Kelly Clarkson Show leads in the ratings compared to with competitors, boasting 1.4 million daily viewers as of December 2022, according to Nielsen, and growing in numbers year after year. The Emmy Award-winning show is helmed by executive producer and showrunner Duda, who previously served as an executive producer on Steve Harvey and The Tyra Banks Show, and has been renewed through its sixth season in 2025. According to a current employee, The Kelly Clarkson Show was supposed to tape new episodes until May 20, but because of the writers strike that went into effect on May 1, employees don’t think they will finish the current season. They were told they’ll still be paid through the next few weeks.
Former employees say the toxic behavior behind the scenes starts with Duda, who shields Clarkson from what staffers say they’re enduring because of the climate Duda created.
“I think Alex Duda’s a monster,” a former employee says. “I have a friend who’s an executive producer who warned me about taking this job, because apparently she has done this on every show she’s worked on.”
As for Clarkson, the current employee as well as 10 former employees are under the impression she isn’t aware of how bad things are for lower-level staffers, some of whom say they’ve taken on other jobs as babysitters, dog walkers, and Uber Eats drivers to pay their bills. They say there’s a divide behind the scenes between staffers who are favored by executive and senior producers and those who aren’t. Former employees are also frustrated that there hasn’t been a shift in the culture at the show despite a number of HR complaints, and they worry the longer the behavior continues without repercussions, the worse it will get as the seasons go on.
“Kelly is fantastic. She is a person who never treats anyone with anything but dignity and is incredibly appreciative,” one former employee says. “I would be shocked if she knew. I’d be floored if she knew the staff wasn’t getting paid for two weeks of Christmas hiatus. The Kelly that I interacted with and that everyone knows would probably be pretty aghast to learn that.”
One former employee says they recently quit working at the show because a producer who reports to Duda yelled and cursed at them multiple times onstage. They say they developed so much anxiety from the way they were treated at work that they would regularly vomit and exhibit physical signs of sickness.
“This job deteriorated my mental health,” they say.
A second former employee says they took a leave of absence because their mental health was also suffering. They say they were bullied and intimidated by producers who went out of their way to make staffers feel scared to ask questions and get their work done. According to the staffer, this prompted them to take a month away from the job and see a psychiatrist for the first time in their life because they “truly couldn’t handle it mentally.” The former staffer says they’ve worked in the entertainment industry for years on a number of different sets, but The Kelly Clarkson Show “is by far the worst experience I’ve ever had in my entire life.”
“It deterred me from wanting to work in daytime ever again,” they say. “When I say I was traumatized, I was really traumatized.”
While this former employee says they were hesitant to approach HR with their issues about mistreatment behind the scenes of the show, other employees say they did report issues to HR. Seven former staffers say they used their exit interviews with NBCUniversal to outline their negative experiences.
A third former employee says they even had a follow-up call with HR after their exit interview regarding their issues with two producers. The HR representative told them they found the producers’ behavior unprofessional, but ultimately, those same producers ended up getting promotions.
“I don’t know what HR does at that show, frankly,” the former employee says. “Nothing of consequence happened.”
A fourth former employee says they quit the show after they felt bullied, picked on, and put in uncomfortable positions by executive-producer Duda. The former employee, who is white, says one time in a conversation about wanting to diversify Clarkson’s audience, Duda asked them, “Why don’t Black people want to come to the show? Why don’t Black people want to see Kelly?”
The same former employee says they were approached by HR to participate in an investigation initiated by another colleague about management, but they were never told the results of the complaint.
“You would think that they would be very proactive and actually care, but they just nod their heads and take notes and it goes nowhere,” they say.
A fifth employee says their production manager was verbally abusive to them and others, which other current and former staffers corroborated. They say co-workers regularly walked on eggshells around the production manager, and that they saw him throw a stapler across their office.
“He would speak in a way that you’re not supposed to in a professional environment — cursing, raising his voice, and throwing a huge temper tantrum,” the former employee says. “Other people who know him would laugh it off and say, ‘Oh, he’s in a bad mood,’ but it shouldn’t be laughed off. Why does he get a pass for bad behavior?”
The former staffer says they reported their production manager’s behavior to HR on more than one occasion before they left the show, but “they didn’t do anything.”
“They knew my situation, they knew my story, but I didn’t have the support from them that I really needed,” they say. “What’s the point of HR? They’re lying to you, too. They make it seem like they’re there for you, and then when push comes to shove they’re not around.”
A sixth employee says they were reprimanded by Duda for asking how executive producers were going to have the show address the spread of anti-Asian hate crimes. They say after they reported the incident to HR, they were subsequently bullied, yelled at, and left out of future meetings by the executive producers they complained about. The former employee eventually left the show because they felt retaliated against and forced out without any other options.
“I thought I was doing the right thing. Someone brought this to me and I thought it was important,” the former employee says. “I can’t believe I raised something that wasn’t easy to raise in the first place, got attacked for it, and then when I told them how they made me feel uncomfortable for bringing an important issue to them, they attacked me again and made me feel even worse.”
The Writers Guild of America has also launched an investigation into the show, according to emails obtained by Rolling Stone, because The Kelly Clarkson Show is a part of the Writers Guild and only writers are permitted to write on a unionized show, but producers also allegedly wrote episodes, violating a protection under the WGA’s Minimum Basic Agreement. The Writers Guild of America didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The upcoming season of The Kelly Clarkson Show is set to film in New York City. That’s presenting issues for crew members and employees based in Los Angeles, where the show has filmed for the past four seasons. According to one current and four former employees, rumors about the show moving locations had been swirling for months. Then, during a staff meeting in January 2023, following the show’s holiday hiatus, they say Clarkson revealed her desire to head back to the East Coast because she wanted to be closer to her family and be able to pursue Broadway and other passions. Duda also individually met with people to take their temperature on whether or not they would be interested in moving with the show.
Staffers say they were unaware of concrete details regarding the upcoming move until they received an email from Duda two minutes before Variety confirmed the news on Monday.
In a statement posted on Instagram Friday following Rolling Stone‘s report, Clarkson wrote, “In my 20 years in the entertainment industry, I’ve always led with my heart and what I believed to be right. I love my team at the Kelly Clarkson Show. And to find out that anyone is feeling unheard or disrespected on the show is unacceptable.”
“I have always been and will continue to be committed to creating and maintaining a safe and healthy environment at the Kelly Clarkson Show,” she continued. “As we prepare for a move to the east coast, I am more committed than ever to ensuring that not only our team that is moving, but also our new team in NY, is comprised of the best and kindest in the business.”
“There is always room to grow and ensure we are all being/becoming the best version of ourselves in any business, especially when it comes to leadership, to ensure that any notion of toxicity is eradicated,” she added.
The Kelly Clarkson Show isn’t the first daytime show to report major staff problems behind the scenes. According to seasoned TV staffers with decades of experience working in Hollywood, there’s a deeply ingrained culture of mistreatment in this arena. In July 2020, BuzzFeed News reported on the toxic workplace environment at The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which led to the firing of three executive producers. In September 2020, The Hollywood Reporter published an investigation alleging a longtime toxic culture at Telepictures, the production company behind The Ellen Show, TMZ, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, and The Tyra Banks Show, where Duda worked before The Kelly Clarkson Show. Employees at Dr. Phil also told BuzzFeed News in 2021 that working at the show was abusive and toxic, with some saying it destroyed their mental, emotional, and physical health, allegations the show categorically denied. Many people say the cycle of behind-the-scenes misconduct and wrongdoing continues in daytime television because the same executive producers and showrunners who build careers in that world bring their experiences and behaviors to other shows. But those who still work in the trenches of daytime want to see that cycle come to an end.
A current employee who spoke to Rolling Stone was initially excited to work at The Kelly Clarkson Show after spending years feeling unhappy and afraid at another daytime TV show, where there was an alleged toxic environment. But now they’re disappointed because they say this experience has shown them a pattern in the behavior and culture behind the scenes of daytime television in general.
“I was trying to find a new job after already experiencing the toxicity of daytime, and it had the potential to be a fresh new start, but Alex [Duda] and the people who are loyal to her haven’t broken that cycle. You can’t be a leader if you’re going to let all of this bad stuff continue to happen and promote a bad culture,” the employee says. “All these daytime shows are supposed to make you feel good and be happy. Kelly [Clarkson] uses a sign-off, ‘Make it a great day, and if it’s not great, change it,’ but it’s hard to exist and work in a machine that’s pumping out this happy, bubbly, positive messaging [when] you have people here who are just treated badly.”
Some employees are skeptical about the potential for change at The Kelly Clarkson Show, especially those who say they reported their issues to HR representatives to no avail. But others want to see producers take accountability and shift the workplace environment for the better.
“There’s a culture of nonaccountability for some people, and that needs to change,” a former employee says.
“People shouldn’t be treated like this,” another former employee says. “Especially when you’re working on a TV show that’s winning Emmys and bringing in millions of ad dollars.”
UPDATE: Following publication, an NBCU spokesperson provided the following statement: “We are committed to a safe and respectful work environment and take workplace complaints very seriously and to insinuate otherwise is untrue. When issues are reported they are promptly reviewed, investigated and acted upon as appropriate. The Kelly Clarkson Show strives to build a safe, respectful and equitable workplace that nurtures a culture of inclusivity and creativity.”
UPDATE March 13: This story was updated with Clarkson’s statement on Instagram regarding the allegations.