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From Las Vegas to 'Kellyoke': How Kelly Clarkson Plans to Balance Her Wildly Busy 2020

Kelly Clarkson
Aaron Davidson/Getty Images for Norwegian Cruise Line

Kelly Clarkson performs on stage at the Norwegian Encore Christening Ceremony on Nov. 21, 2019 in Miami.

Back when she was a kid in the school choir, Kelly Clarkson had all kinds of dreams. But rescuing daytime television? She didn't even know it was in trouble.

"Ya know when I found out? Whitney Cummings came on my show and said 'congratulations -- you're bringing daytime to life again!' And I was like 'what?'"

With her trademark candor and an unending cache of 'Kellyoke' covers (is there a song she can't sing?), the three-time Grammy-winner has made The Kelly Clarkson Show the highest rated new syndicated program this season. Last week NBCUniversal, which distributes TKCS in 200 U.S. markets, blessed it with an early renewal, guaranteeing it will run at least through 2021.

Succeeding in a space that has vexed TV programmers since Rosie O'Donnell and Oprah Winfrey hung up their mics in 2002 and 2011 respectively, Clarkson says she had no idea how many bankable names failed in the last 15 years trying to plug daytime's holes. At the moment Clarkson is the fourth-ranked talker (and rising), trailing only the top veterans Ellen DeGeneres, Kelly & Ryan and Dr. Phil.

Yet even as broadcast television grows quainter in a streaming world -- and her own schedule remains packed between NBC's The Voice, writing children's books, hosting the Billboard Music Awards two years in a row, prepping a Las Vegas residency and new music for 2020 -- Clarkson appears unfazed.

Talking with Billboard last week in Miami, she explains she's been hired for yet another job -- this one as "godmother" of Norwegian Cruise Line's new ship, The Encore.

Lest anyone view Clarkson's champagne christening and pier-side concert as purely ceremonial, Norwegian CEO Andy Stuart makes the company's priorities clear when it comes to the down-home star: "We take this very seriously. Kelly scores in the top quadrant in everything. We want a longstanding partnership."

Lots of people want to be in the Kelly Clarkson business. The question on fans' minds is, how is she doing it all?

"Not by myself, is how. We're a family unit," she says, tilting her head in the direction of husband and manager Brandon Blackstock, who was nearby sitting on one of the tiny benches inside the ship's River Rose Reading Room, a kids library named for their daughter. (He and Clarkson have two children and he has two teens from a previous marriage.)

"Our 13-year-old is actually here today because it's his birthday and we didn't want to miss it, so he's hanging with us in Miami and we're dropping him off at his mom's after this, and you just try and work the schedule with your life. It's also helpful that the two shows I'm doing are on NBC and everybody talks with one another."

This particular week was especially busy with six episodes of TKCS to shoot, two live episodes of The Voice, a long Voice rehearsal the next day, and then a flight to Florida, during which she lost three hours in the time-change.

"Whoa, you definitely don't bring that up!" she said. "If we're on a plane and people bring up change of time I go, 'shut your mouth - not today Satan!'"

In other words, what she doesn't know will make her stronger.

"'Ignorance is bliss' is such a handy thing sometimes," she says. "I don't even look at my schedule. That's why I don't get overwhelmed. I'll ask my assistant, 'how many things today?' - and she'll say 13. And I'll say OK, cool. Let's work backwards."

As her residency shows draw closer, does she envision workdays shooting in L.A. while commuting by jet to Vegas by night?

The answer is a hard "no."

"They know," she says motioning toward Blackstock and the team that's trailing them today, "when I'm singing on tour every song is like running a marathon. I don't generally do anything else on show days. I need everyone in this room to hear me right now when I say that."

Since launching the very first Kelly Clarkson Show on Sept. 9 with Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" (a sly aside to her own hardworking life), she realized she'd instantly raised her own bar.

"Oh girl, don't I know it -- I set myself up! Now everybody's like 'it's our favorite part.' So the music has to stay. But the original plan was always to open every show with music because what am I gonna do, a monologue?

"And we do the fan request thing all the time on tour, which is easy — but I was forgetting that there are only so many shows on tour, but there's 180 episodes of The Kelly Clarkson Show per season. So there's gonna be days you love Kellyoke, and there's gonna be days you'll say, okay, she sang... that.

"Garth Brooks was on and he said 'are you ever afraid to cover anything?' I said I'm never afraid, but I probably should be."

Together with her longtime musical director Jason Halbert, Clarkson knows the labor-intensive process of quickly arranging and rehearsing songs by Lizzo, Cher, Heart, Prince, Carrie Underwood, Katy Perry, Dua Lipa, Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox, Shawn Mendes, Sheryl Crow, you name it, isn't for the faint-hearted.

But it is her comfort zone, a fact she made clear right out of the gate 17 years ago during those grueling final weeks of American Idol's inaugural season when she nailed every song thrown at her. In winning the top prize and going on to global success with breakthrough chart-toppers of her own, she broadened the industry's thinking, making it clear that discovery by a record label was not the only way in.

"I don't believe it matters how you get here -- it matters how you stay."