This has been quite a year for musicians who like other musicians. Cher is coming off the hot success of her biggest album in decades, an all-ABBA cover record full of urgent tracks that sound like the last song you hear before a dancefloor self-destructs at midnight. Rami Malek’s doing Queen for Bohemian Rhapsody, Willie Nelson released a Frank Sinatra tribute not nearly enough people are talking about, and Elton John’s music enlisted both a pop and a country roster for dual cover albums earlier this year.
Now, add The Greatest Showman to the list. The disproportionately popular Hugh Jackman circus musical that half the country can’t seem to get rid of and the other half can’t seem to get enough of will mark its anniversary with an all-star album of pop covers. That alone is is quite the stunning decision, considering the movie will be less than a year old at time of release (Nov. 16) and that the movie’s original soundtrack had already felt produced to sound like at any given moment you could imagine one of its songs being the most-requested on Radio Disney. (Don’t get me wrong though: I saw it three times.)
The line-up for the album is striking, to say the least: There’s Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco, fresh off the best album of his career, singing the opening song that now feels like it was custom-written for him to one day wail in a tent; Missy Elliott and Kesha are teaming up with Keala Settle, the film’s Bearded Woman, for a “reimagined remix” of drunk snow-dance anthem “This Is Me”; and if anyone is going to make you not skip “A Million Dreams” and “Tightrope,” it’s Pink and Sara Bareilles!
And then there’s Kelly Clarkson, who is in a league of her own when it comes to covers. Arguably the best unreleased album of Kelly’s career is her string of live riffs on her favorite songs, specifically from her cover-packed Stronger tour (but certainly from her later pantheon, too).
Here, she’ll be giving life to “Never Enough,” which is already a vocal highlight of the Showman soundtrack and thus stands to have theatre fans gasping for air once her version is released. Now, I’m not one to overhype something a pop star does before she does it — enough Lady Gaga fans already did that when they read the very first Deadline hit about A Star is Born — but all it takes is a look back at what Clarkson has done with other showtunes to know that The Greatest Showman’s power ballad is in good hands. When Kelly sings musical theatre, it’s time to pay attention, especially because it’s really only a matter of time until the 36-year-old finds a Broadway role worthy of her voice and her itinerary.
“It’s Quiet Uptown” (Hamilton)
In the early days of Hamilton’s endeavor to give fans more Hamilton than the actual Hamilton, an A-list mixtape dropped featuring artists from across the genre charts (and the success of that album almost definitely feels like the stimulus for this Showman record, to be sure). Out of the entire roster, though, the biggest surprise to emerge was Kelly, who took the emotional peak of the entire show — the impossibly depressing “It’s Quiet Uptown,” a gut-punch of dead children, hand-holding, and unimaginable exercise through gardens — and transformed it into a radio-ready showstopper. Can you imagine!?
“All I Ask of You” (The Phantom of the Opera)
After Hamilton and Evan Hansen memes, the most significant bridge between theatre and the mainstream is Broadway’s new prince, Josh Groban, who along with Sara Bareilles has done wonders for the mass unveiling of theatre geeks hiding throughout the music industry. On his soaring 2015 all-theatre album Stages, he enlisted Kelly as the featured star of a dazzling Phantom duet. Carlotta was pissed.
“My Favorite Things” (The Sound of Music)
Who-lie Andrews!? Kelly snapped some jazz into Maria von Trapp’s feel-good bedroom bop, which still remains the only good song ever written about strudel. No, she doesn’t make the lyrics sound any less insane outside of an Austrian mansion during a rainstorm, but Kelly’s cover is still sassy as hell and you know Kurt was into that.
“My Man” (Funny Girl)
There’s a chance it escaped your radar, too, that Kelly is a self-admitted Broadway nerd. In 2012, she proudly declared her loyalty when she covered Barbra Streisand in front of thousands of tweens—a rare feat heretofore only achieved by Lea Michele and Lady Gaga.
“Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” (All Shook Up, kind of)
So, confession, I can’t actually think of any other Broadway songs Kelly has sung in public. But she did cover this Elvis staple on tour once! Theatre fans will remember it as quite the finale for All Shook Up, the 2005 Elvis musical which was quite the dud starring Jenn Gambatese, arguably the Nikki McKibbin of 2000s musical theatre. Full circle!