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Kelly Clarkson Gets Personal at Atlantic City Tour Stop: Concert Review

Kelly Clarkson NY Dec 9 Performance - H 2012
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

The Bottom Line

Clarkson's personable nature and powerhouse vocals prove that she is growing stronger with each album and tour.

Venue

Trump Taj Mahal
Atlantic City, New Jersey
(Sunday, Jan. 15)

It’s hard to believe that 2012 marks Kelly Clarkson’s tenth year in the music industry. That’s right, she won the very first season of American Idol a decade ago, long before the show allowed instruments, had pyro or even housed a proper stage.

Clarkson made reference to the platform that launched her career on the second night of her “Stronger” tour, as she joked about people coming up to complement her performances, offering the tainted praise, “You were cute on your karaoke show.”

Indeed, Clarkson is still thanking the audience for voting for her, and as a nod to her fans, is including them in the evolution of her live show. As the singer told a sold-out Atlantic City crowd at Trump Taj Mahal’s Mark G. Etess Arena, she’s welcoming input on her nightly set lists, and will perform requests made through her Twitter feed. “Since the beginning of my career, you all have been involved, voting and all,” she said. “So you still get some control.”

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At her first show at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, Clarkson honored a request to perform a cover of Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You.” On Sunday in New Jersey, she was more than thrilled that a fan requested, “The War is Over” from her new album.  She even name-checked the girl -- Stephanie Greenspan -- as if she were a close friend.

In other words, Clarkson is the performer you could totally hang out with, and this is why her audience keeps coming back. She is that rare entertainer that connects with people on a human level while inspiring them through her music to stand strong through any personal trials.

Clarkson addressed a few of her own in dramatic fashion with her opening statement, the song “Dark Side.” A strong visual projected on a screen screamed the newspaper headlines: “Kelly is Fat,” “Record Label Drops Clarkson,” “Make-Up mishap for Clarkson,” and other assorted negative labels such as “Failure,” “Losing Sponsors,” “Album Leaks,” and the aforementioned, “Fat” (curiously, no mention of the recent Ron Paul controversy, however).

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Clarkson stood center stage, adorned in a simple sequined top and backed by an eight-piece band, without whom she would “suck,” said the 29-year-old Burleson, Texas native. She set the pace immediately, sandwiching the bombastic “Behind These Hazel Eyes” with a techno, punk version of the kiss-off anthem, “Since U Been Gone” (which she punctuated with an image of a heart monitor). She dusted off “Gone,” a song that was excluded from the last tour, Clarkson lamented. Jason Aldean got the Nat King Cole hologram treatment for the duet, “Don’t You Want To Stay,” and newer songs like “Let Me Down” (a track that would surely blow up if it were the next single) were accompanied by lasers and a lighting spectacle that only added to the excitement. By the time the band mixed in Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” during Clarkson’s hit “Miss Independent,” people were pumped.

Throughout the evening, Clarkson mixed and matched plenty of material from her post-Idol career, including a medley of songs that included Love Actually’s “The Trouble With Love,” and a doo wop sing-along number, “I Want You.” There were also plenty of opportunities for New Jersey to bop along to the radio hits, including “My Life Would Suck Without You,” “Mr. Know It All,” and the new single, “(What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You) Stronger.”

But it was her quieter moments and well-chosen covers that best showcased what makes Clarkson such a unique talent in the first place.  Well-versed in many musical genres, from metal to country to alternative, Clarkson is a true fan of music, as evidenced by one of the night’s most intriguing surprises, Florence and the Machine’s “Heavy in Your Arms.” She wowed again with Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t.”

STORY: Kelly Clarkson Casually Endorses Ron Paul, Responds to Twitter Backlash

Re-interpretations of her own songs were also a treat and included a quiet rendition of “Already Gone,” with her band adding only a choral background and allowing the audience to savor the singer’s range, as well as a stripped down version of “Never Again,” was inspired by a fan’s suggestion. Clarkson thought it was a “rad idea,” and unveiled her version aided by a lone piano.

Clarkson’s southern charm was palpable throughout the show. Despite her obvious superstar status, she is a personable performer that can have a conversation with an audience member, even if they are in the back of the arena. She complemented outfits, (“I love the sequins, girls”) accepted gifts, chatted with the front row, lovingly chided the “spotlight guy” (she was practically circling the stage trying to stay in it, but found it more humorous than annoying, joking, “I’d love whatever the spotlight guy is drinking”), accidentally introduced “Because of You” as “Breakaway,” (again, her strong sense of self turned the very human moment into an audience bonding opportunity), and bragged about winning $1,000 playing "Wheel of Fortune.” She even made a movie recommendation (Best in Show) riffed about the show Glee (“I’m a choir nerd”), showed her social conscious with a plea for the charity housesofhopeafrica.com, and shared insights into how certain songs wound up on her album,  who helped write them, and how excited she was to work with producer Rodney Jerkins.

However, Clarkson was made sure to point out that as much as she’s considered “Girl Next Door,” she still carried plenty of bite, quipping, “I could never write this song… it’s called 'I Forgive You.'”

That may be precisely how the producers of Idol will feel when they see their inaugural winner mentoring on NBC’s The Voice (following a a Super Bowl bow where she’ll sing the National Anthem), but when it comes to the hard-working Americans still voting for Clarkson with their dollars, she can do no wrong.

Set List: 

Dark Side
Behind These Hazel Eyes
Since U Been Gone
Gone
You Love Me
Heavy in Your Arms
The War is Over
Medley
I Know You Won't
Don't You Wanna Stay
Let Me Down
I Forgive You
Already Gone
Breakaway
You Still Won't Know What It's Like
Stronger
Never Again
Because of You

Encore:

My Life Would Suck Without You
Mr. Know It All
Miss Independent