Kelly Clarkson at ease - Metro US

Kelly Clarkson at ease

On tour, she replaces dancers with horn and string sections. On stage, she wears jeans instead of jumpsuits. And in life, Kelly Clarkson just wants to be herself.

“If I had of started off trying to create a whole different image around myself, I’d be very unhappy right now,” said the inaugural American Idol winner, 27. “I’m happy I started off on this foot.”

It’s a foot of humility, compared to the more self-admiring, sexualized starlets of pop with whom Clarkson shares the spotlight. But even though she still considers her seven-year-old Idol victory “lucky” and “a blessing,” and talks down her 20 million plus worldwide record sales, her modesty hasn’t kept her out of the tabloid culture for which train wrecks like Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse are usually fodder.

“I think it’s human nature to automatically go to those juvenile little places in your head,” said Clarkson. In the past year, she’s been criticized for gaining weight and accused of being a lesbian because of her singlehood, in the celebrity press. But she said she’s always been the butt of some sort of criticism in such circles and after almost a decade in the industry, she doesn’t really care.

“I’m very comfortable in my skin. Sometimes I do wish other people would be as comfortable in theirs, so maybe they didn’t have to critique everyone so much,” she said, “But you can’t ask people to change. They are who they are.”

However comfortable, for Clarkson, doesn’t mean unchallenged. She said the most onerous part of her career has not related to her celebrity, but standing up for herself, to have her voice heard behind-the-scenes, “without being blackmailed,” she said with a laugh.

“I’ve had to do that with every record since day one,” she said. “It’s kind of flattering, because everyone wants to be part of your career but at the same time, it can be very hard because there are so many cooks in the kitchen.”

The major record labels have inhibited artists out of fear because of financial shortages, said Clarkson, who doesn’t know what course of action she’ll take when her recording contract expires. But she said the cash-strapped, creativity-curtailing excuse is bogus, and anyone who uses it is just being greedy.

“It’s really hard to be super-creative in this environment,” she said, “There are no Bruce Springsteens or Janice Joplins going on right now. If there are, they’re not working with a record label.”

Kelly Clarkson performs at Casino Rama tomorrow night with The Veronicas and Parachute.

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