Midway through the third night of her Piece By Piece Tour, Kelly Clarkson got personal.
“Sometimes we don’t get great dads, or good dads, or present dads,” she told the crowd at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. “But that’s all right…Things happen.”
Clarkson’s issues with her parents' divorce have been documented in song with her No. 1 Billboard hit “Because of You,” but Clarkson took it a step further with the title track of her new record, Piece By Piece, which is a lyrical affirmation that her husband, Brandon Blackstock, is going to be a wonderful father to their one-year-old daughter, River Rose. Things must be going well -- she hinted that the couple is going to work on a second baby.
“It’s good for people, especially women who didn’t have that relationship with their father to not seek out the same relationship in a partner,” said the Texas native.
The song, written after an emotional phone call with her sister, was a shining moment in the American Idol winner’s 90-minute set at July 14 concert. Clarkson got so caught up in the moment, she fought back a tear towards the end.
That is the most endearing trait about Clarkson. Many fans talk at great length about how real and down to earth she is, and those qualities were on full display on a humid night. Three songs into the set, the barefoot singer quipped that she will trip no less than three times before the night was over. She apologized to a fan for sweating on them, joked that she forgot the lyrics to “Breakaway” because she got caught up with talking during the song, and shared that she wasn’t loving a jacket she chose to wear.
The set list was a nice blend of anthemic hits -- “Stronger,” “Mr. Know It All,” and an altered “Miss Independent” lowered into a darker register -- and newer songs, like the current single “Invincible" and powerful "Take You High," soared to impressive heights.
The tradition of the nightly fan request, which challenges Clarkson to take on material from other artists, is continuing on this trek. Last night, she offered a beautiful version of Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do,” adding a few glory notes to a stripped down arrangement for dramatic effect.
Every night, Clarkson is allowing budding artists to share the stage as part of her open mic contest currently being held on Twitter. Again, part of her charm is coming off like she’s just one of us, and this was never more evident than when she called attention to how old she was when she asked the winners -- a duo from Manalapan, New Jersey -- if they had a MySpace page.
A giving performer who has no problem sharing the spotlight, Clarkson allowed her backup singers to step up front and center for a cover of Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj’s “Bang Bang,” only emerging towards the end to join in. She additionally gave props to openers (or "co-headliners" as she preferred to reference them) Abi Ann -- a perky Texas teen who impressed with a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Better Than Revenge” and her own song, “Future Ex Boyfriend” -- and the soulful Eric Hutchinson, who also bowed to Swift with a cover of “Shake It Off” in his set.
A cappella quintet Pentatonix continues to stun with creative renditions of today’s hit parade, including Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” OMI’s “Cheerleader” and an amazing medley of Michael Jackson songs. A new original, “On My Way Home,” was a hit with the audience, who actively participated in a group sing-along.
While there were many more outstanding highlights in the show, here are 5 that stood out:
5) It just wouldn’t be a Clarkson show without a big anthem, and “My Life Would Suck Without You” fit the bill as the second song of the evening. The entire crowd was screaming and pogoing in time, and the 33-year old singer drew from that energy, accepting flowers from a fan and gushing afterwards, “Oh my gosh, you guys have been good,” she said.
4) The only mention Clarkson made of her reality show roots was a nod to her longtime musical director Jason Halbert, “who has been with me since American Idol.” Halbert sat alone at a piano and accompanied Clarkson in a beautiful medley of hits, including “Because of You,” “Don’t You Wanna Stay” (her duet with Jason Aldean) and “Breakaway.” In this stripped down setting -- which she does to hear the audience sing along -- Clarkson’s glorious range was on display in all its raw beauty.
3) Clarkson’s enthusiasm as a parent is a beautiful thing to see, and she proudly brought out her 8-year old stepson, Seth, out for a mashup of "Walk Away" and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk!” The experiment is a fun way to close the set, and the audience ate it up.
2) The aforementioned Pentatonix were brought on for an a cappella and full band collaboration of Clarkson’s “Heartbeat Song.” The result is a must-see vocal master class.
1) Is there still anything better than “Since U Been Gone”? The ultimate girl power anthem is still a crowd pleaser nearly 11 years after its release.
Watch "Piece By Piece" below: