Sometimes the stars just align — or they’re rewritten that way — to link up two wonderful things. Today’s celestial configuration: the Hugh Jackman circus musical The Greatest Showman and modern pop icon Kelly Clarkson.
The 36-year-old singer — she of the spin-happy chaises of The Voice and the fresh Meaning of Life single “Heat” and an upcoming daytime talk show that’ll have you stanning your local listings — is among the A-list names featured on The Greatest Showman: Reimagined, a new tribute album (out now) featuring Top 40 pop makeovers of the songs from 2017’s surprise musical blockbuster. The soundtrack notably went mega-viral earlier this year, topping global charts, dominating iTunes, and spending more than 30 weeks in the Billboard 200’s top 10 (one of only seven soundtracks to do so in the past half-century).
And like the soundtrack, the assemblage of musicians who have reimagined Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s theatrical tunes are each no stranger to the top of the charts: There’s Pink (“A Million Dreams”) and Panic! At the Disco (“The Greatest Show”), Missy Elliott (“This Is Me,” with Kesha and Keala Settle) and Sara Bareilles (“Tightrope”), Zac Brown Band (“From Now On”) and James Arthur (“Rewrite The Stars,” with Anne-Marie) — and Clarkson, who sings the soaring power ballad “Never Enough,” a fan-favorite anthem sung in the film by Loren Allred and “sung” “in the film” by Rebecca Ferguson.
Even in the wide spectrum of mainstream pop, it’s not controversial to say that nobody does a cover quite like Clarkson; her string of covers along her 2015 Piece by Piece Tour was prolific and has inspired many a comprehensive internet list.
But before she gears up for her sure-to-be-cover-filled Meaning of Life Tour next year, she’s dropping a new one for you now — one was so enthusiastic about, she hopped on the phone with EW to gush and discuss the greatest show of all: musical theater.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Well, first off, I can’t believe we’re talking about The Greatest Showman.
KELLY CLARKSON: I know. I honestly love it.
What’s your relationship to the film?
Honestly, it was out for a while and I was just so busy, I never had a chance to go see it in the theater. We were traveling so much and we have a lot of kids and I have a lot of jobs, so we didn’t get to see it when it came out, and I was so bummed because everybody kept talking about it. Then I heard the music before I saw it, and it amped me up even more. And then one night I stayed up late for some reason and my husband was out of town so I was like, “You know what? I’m just gonna watch this.” And I did the thing where you, like, pay for it at your house or whatever, and I watched it and it was so incredible. I live-tweeted about it, I was so excited. It was kind of how I felt when I was younger and saw Moulin Rouge.
That’s a solid comparison.
They’re totally different, but it’s very rare to have a movie musical that’s not cheesy but is, like, so moving and inspiring and just cool.
So how did you get involved in this album of covers?
I don’t know if it had anything to do with this, but it may have happened because I went to the Golden Globes to represent The Voice and I ended up presenting [Pasek and Paul] with their award. And when I handed them their Golden Globe, they were like, “Oh my God, we’re such big fans,” and I was like, “You have no idea, man.” So I don’t know if that sparked maybe an idea about it. But they were really nice [when I recorded “Never Enough”]. They were like, “We tried to imagine who could pull this off if we asked them to do this song.” And I was so glad they picked me. Obviously any singer loves to be able to just wail on an emotional song like that. It was a perfect fit for me, personally. I just loved the song so much.
This is such a bad question, but were you more into belting “never enough (never, never)” or “for me (for meee)”?
It’s funny because even though I’m a singer, my favorite parts are never the big ones. My favorite parts are like… you know that breath right in the beginning? [Sings] “I’m trying to hold my breath” and then she [breathes in]. Loren Allred did such a frickin’ killer job on that song. I remember searching, like, “Can that actress [Ferguson] sing like that?” And then I found out it was a girl who was actually on The Voice! Loren Allred. She’s an incredible singer. And honestly I thought she did such a great job with it that when they came to me with the reimagined idea, I was kind of like, “Well, I don’t know why we did it again. It was done really well the first time!” But I had done “It’s Quiet Uptown” for Hamilton, so I thought, oh, that’s kind of the idea they’re going for.
What do you like about these cover albums? Between this and The Hamilton Mixtape, it does seem like mainstream pop covers of Broadway songs may become a thing again.
I remember way back in the day when Rent came out and everybody was singing Rent! I love [these albums] because as an artist that grew up in musical theater, it’s a really cool thing for us to get to do. A lot of people, especially if you didn’t grow up around or in it, always go, like, “Oh, I don’t do musical theater, it’s cheesy,” but I’m like, man, it’s so powerful. Musical theater is such a powerful medium. I remember being a sophomore in high school and we did this whole choir trip to New York in ’96, maybe ’97, and we saw Les Mis and I literally cried. And I mean, I get that as an adult — you’re emotionally attached — but that’s not cool when you’re like, a teenager. But I just wept. And it wasn’t even like any of the big stuff. It was Jean Valjean’s prayer song, and it just got me. I was like, “Oh my God, this is the most beautiful thing. I must be a part of this.”
What would it take to get you to do a musical, be it on film, televised, or on stage?
I think my predicament is I don’t know if I could settle for less than actually doing it on Broadway. And I don’t have the time! Like, we’re shooting a couple seasons of The Voice, and then I’m doing a talk show, and then we’re going on tour, so there’s just never time to do it. Like, literally, never enough.
Oh my God.
I know. But yeah, like, I love the idea of doing a movie musical because I also grew up on all the Barbra ones and the Bette ones and all those. But I don’t know. I would really love to do something on Broadway one day. And honestly, I’m [exploring] the idea of doing a kids thing right now that might involve me a tiny bit. I’m a mom and I always go to Broadway, and yeah, there’s Frozen, which is amazing, and there are a few things that are for kids, but there aren’t really new originals, like Annie. You know what I’m saying? Original things that make kids totally inspired and make you want to be a part of it. So a couple of my friends and I are talking and I’m kind of working on something — but more behind the scenes — that might have a small part for me.
On film or stage?
Yeah, we’ll see. And my thing with the movie musical thing — it’s not that I’m against it, I just don’t like repeating myself. I like being in the moment. I’m not a good actress in that sense, to be able to do it repeatedly. I’m a better actress on stage, to be able to do it the one time, where you get one live take. I just do better under that kind of pressure. Anyway, there might be a time when I can do [Broadway] for a certain amount of time, but now I have a TV show starting, I have seasons of The Voice, I have a tour. It’s kind of impossible to think about now. If I were to do anything now, it’d have to be something that was taped.
Speaking of The Kelly Clarkson Show, what are you hoping its relationship will be to pop culture like, say, The Greatest Showman?
It’s gonna be a little bit of everything. But it’s definitely gonna have have a lot of music. Vibe-wise, it’s definitely a mix of, like, the heart that Oprah had, but also the humor that Ellen had, but also the fun games and musical elements that Jimmy has. It’s kind of got a little of all of that, because that’s all of my personality. I open every show with a fan request. It’s gonna be very musical, it’s gonna be very humorous. I don’t know if they’re just laughing with me or more laughing at me, probably, but there’s a lot of heart to it. Not to get cheesy, but I think that as a mom, it’s been a really rough couple of years, you know? For everyone. And regardless of where you stand on politics, faith, where you are in your relationships, whatever — I think it’s been a really hard couple of years, and it’s nice to have something to watch that does bring out heart. I think a lot of people need that right now, to laugh and also to think outside of ourselves and look at what’s really happening in our communities.
Daytime seems to be a landscape where those conversations actually tend to be heard by viewers.
That was the only way I’d do it. When everybody brought up the idea of me [doing a talk show], I thought, the only way I’ll do it is if I can do it how I feel. Because I don’t feel like anything in my career has worked unless it’s authentically me. That’s the stuff that usually soars. So it’s like, you know what? If we’re gonna do it, let’s just do it how I would do it, and if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, and that’s cool. But I definitely thought I should just be real about it and not try to… it’s not gonna be Ellen, it’s not gonna be Oprah, it’s not gonna be Rachael Ray, or Hoda and Kathie. It’s different. The whole concept is just different. It’s never really been done, how we’re doing it. So we’ll see!