Credit: Steven A Henry/WireImage

As Kelly Clarkson sets out on her long-awaited 36-city tour—it’s been years!—the powerhouse vocalist tells EW about sharing the stage with fans, the impossible search for her next sound, and a mascot in a onesie.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Should we expect to hear your latest songs from Piece by Piece or the old hits?

KELLY CLARKSON: New songs keep it fresh for us and for the audience, but we’re definitely doing all the hits people want to hear. And we’re adding an open-mic night to give someone in the audience [who submits a video through social media] the chance to perform.

Fans love your covers of other artists’ songs. Any in the mix?

We do a fan request every show, letting someone in the audience pick a song for us to cover. It’s a lot of fun for me and the band because the shows can become monotonous, and this keeps us on our toes.

Meghan Trainor and Sam Smith recently had vocal troubles. How do you keep your voice in shape?

I warm up and cool down to keep it intact, but at the end of the day, we’re all human and we all get tired or sick. I had to let go of trying to be perfect every show—it’s never gonna happen. I can control my attitude, however, and still have fun with the fans.

How do you mellow out after a show?

Downtime is hanging out with my little girl on the road. She’s 1 now, and she’s like our mascot. River literally goes everywhere with me.

What comes after the tour? Vacation?

I’ll be working on new music. Touring is always an inspiring time for me. Musically, I’ve really been into old-school R&B/pop and dance tracks, but who knows? My biggest problem is deciding on a musical direction. I love so many different genres—it sucks to have to pick.

A version of this story appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1373, on newsstands Friday, July 17.