In the 16 years since she became American Idol’s first winner, Kelly Clarkson has taken home three Grammys, notched three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 and 11 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Most recently, she released her favorite album to date, Meaning of Life, on her new label, Atlantic Records. But none of that, and not even her current coaching gig on NBC’s The Voice, prepared her for her next job: hosting the Billboard Music Awards live on May 20 (at 8 p.m. ET on NBC). “I’m terrified-slash-excited,” says the 36-year-old singer with a laugh. “I literally went from saying no to even presenting awards, to this. I keep telling people it’ll at least be funny to laugh at.” Ahead of her first-ever awards-show hosting gig, Clarkson spoke on the phone from Los Angeles about what to expect when a filter-free pop star takes over BBMAs hosting duties.
Your mother-in-law, Reba McEntire, recently hosted the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas. Did she give you any pointers?
She was just like, “Oh, Lord, just be you.” We’re so different, though. She’s such a professional. I never stick to a script; I ramble. Comedians are the best at [hosting]. Ellen [DeGeneres], Seth Meyers, James Corden -- they can push the envelope and address serious issues with dry humor. I don’t think of myself as funny, but I’m not afraid to make a subtle joke here or there.
Awards ceremonies lately -- namely this year’s Grammys -- have become platforms for artists addressing more serious issues. Do you look at this as an opportunity for escapism or to talk about what’s happening in the world?
Both. A lot of times artists are the ones who push change, and I think we’ve established how the art community feels about [Donald] Trump. It has been such a steady thing, with the Time’s Up movement and people talking about politics, that I don’t think it needs to be solely about that. We’re at the Billboard awards, not pushing legislation. I would love to find that happy balance of addressing things that should be addressed but also celebrating music. I don’t want to take away artists’ moments.
After the Grammys, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow addressed women’s underrepresentation by saying they needed to “step up.” How did you respond to that?
That was obviously a turd comment. There are just so many other things he could have said that would have gotten his point across, and he chose poorly. But I get that we all speak poorly sometimes. It sounds so sad, but I’ve been working for 16 years and I’ve never had a female producer. And I had never thought about it until he made that comment. Let’s take the negative and turn it into a positive: It became a conversation.
Among women artists, who do you think is killing it at the moment?
I’m obsessed with Cardi B’s [Invasion of Privacy]. And Kacey Musgraves’ new album [Golden Hour]. That is why I am excited about hosting. I love being able to say, “I think you’re super rad.” Maybe I will make my whole opening stage-five clinger and talk about how much I love everyone.
I have to ask: There has been a rumor that Allison Mack, an actress who was part of a sex cult, had reached out --
Oh, my God, and somehow my name and Emma Watson’s came up?
Yes. Do you have a recollection of her tweeting at you?
No -- my publicist called me the other day, and I didn’t have a clue [about it]. I’m in a state of bewilderment. I guess she tweeted me and tried to reach out years ago. I mean, I was a fan of Smallville [the show on which Mack appeared], but I don’t know her. The only kind of sex I’m into is the kind I’m having.
You’re getting the spontaneous live-TV experience on The Voice. Only a few other American Idol contestants enjoyed the success you did. Do you have more hope for the Voice artists you mentor?
Take it from someone who has won: Sometimes it’s better when you don’t win! I just got out of my [RCA] deal. One of the biggest things is keeping momentum. So that’s why I’ve been all over them that it’s not just about the show. It’s about the aftermath. The industry is so flippant and fickle and fleeting -- wow, how many F-words can I use?
How is the experience of being on the other side?
It’s heartbreaking. I was that kid who could’ve gone home, and my whole life could have been different. You know Sliding Doors, that Gwyneth Paltrow movie? One thing could change everything. And the industry is far worse than Simon Cowell! I’m very blunt with my team. More than anything, I want them to have great character. You don’t have to be the most talented person in the room, you just have to love what you do. And don’t drink your Kool-Aid. That’s the best advice.
Will you throw back a glass of wine before the ceremony to calm down?
I will have it afterward, because my teeth are so porous and I only like red wine, so I don’t want to look like a vampire who just fed on someone.