(Originally posted on August 27, 2012 at I Dig Your Girlfriend.)
10 years ago, in the summer of 2002, I started watching a new reality show called American Idol. I was somewhat late to the game; on the night I first tuned in, the preliminary “loser” rounds were over and we were down to the top eight finalists.
The production values were laughably low-budget back then. They had canned background music and a tiny octagonal stage facing a tiny audience. At the centre of this modest octagon stood a short, curvy girl with a microphone. She was wearing a necktie and what I believe is referred to as a trilby hat, and she was singing Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman. It was 60’s Night.
I was recording the show (on VHS!) as I watched, because I was expecting a phone call and I didn’t want to miss any of the songs. I took my call, and then resumed the episode where I had left off. Once I reached the end, I hit ‘rewind’ and watched Kelly’s song again. I watched it a few times, actually, and I became thoroughly confused with myself.
Why was I re-watching this? What was it about this performance? What was it about this girl? How could I rationalize keeping this instead of taping over it?
In my haste to be normal (a losing battle if ever there was one), I taped over Kelly with something else. This was before the days of YouTube… there were no guarantees that I would ever get to see this bit of video again.
A week went by. I watched (and taped) the new episode of Idol.
The theme was 70’s Music this time. Ms. Clarkson was wearing a black asymmetrical top with red pants. Her outfit was unremarkable to me, but her hair looked really pretty, her voice sounded rad, her face and body were super expressive, and she had such a great smile… seriously, what was up with me? She sang a song I had never heard called Don’t Play That Song For Me.
Even then, I didn’t allow myself to delve into any uncomfortable self-identity questions. But this time I didn’t tape over the performance, as I was still kicking myself for doing so the last time.
Another week passed. After the 60’s and 70’s themes, my assumption was that this was going to be 80’s week. I entertained the possibility of Kelly singing Eternal Flame by the Bangles and I could scarcely contain myself.
The hosts informed us that this week’s theme was actually Big Band Music. I was thoroughly disappointed. I didn’t even really know what Big Band was. (Apparently, it’s music performed by a large-scale jazz ensemble, popularized in the Swing Era.)
Five contestants performed grand, splashy numbers, and the audience dug it. Kelly was slated to sing last. She finally took the stage, this time in front of real, live, Big Band musicians, and… oh my.
She was working the 30s vibe – hairstyle, dress, pearls, and moxie in spades. And before the end of her song (Stuff Like That There), I was a lesbian.
It’s that simple.
Obviously I understand that Kelly Clarkson didn’t actually make me gay. She merely brought to light what was already there. But this was no small task. This little Texan with the big voice had managed to do what so many others had failed at. Jo Polniaczek, Sydney Andrews, Lisa Loeb, Tiffani Smith, Joey Potter, Cordelia Chase… all of these women should have been big neon signs pointing me to Gay Town. But no one said it louder than Kelly. With her undeniable voice (and an ass that, to this day, refuses to quit), how could I ignore the truth any longer?
Kelly is funny, and dorky, and sexy. She can rock glamorous gowns but her best look is casual – jeans and a tank top. She is smart and creative and ridiculously talented. She has a Texas drawl and a tendency to ramble.
She enjoys playing Guitar Hero and likes to walk around her house naked. She gets lost in her own hometown. She rejected the pop tart path she was expected to take because she knew she would rather be a rock star.
She is confident without being cocky, and she has awesome stage presence. She writes. She hasn’t let fame corrupt her. In ten years, she has yet to say or do anything that would disappoint me or change my opinion of her.
Gay rumors have floated around Kelly for a while now. She’s been single for most of her career, and she doesn’t always exhibit stereotypically girly traits. Her voice is loud, her words are blunt, and she says “dude” a lot.
When filming the music video for her song I Do Not Hook Up (which includes fantasy scenes of her making out with random guys), Kelly pushed to include a scene where she hooked up with a girl. The scene never materialized, but I like the fact that she would sooner fan the gay rumor flames than angrily try to douse them.
I have been single for the extent of my adult life. In all that time, my feelings for Kelly Clarkson have never wavered. She’s never let me down, and to this day she continues to hold my interest. If I am in a bad mood, listening to a Kelly song can bring a sort of pure and simple happiness that is hard to explain. Her voice just makes me feel better. It’s like a drug. A sexy, sexy drug.
Kelly has released five albums since winning American Idol. She’s had dozens of singles and music videos. She’s toured internationally more than once. I’ve seen her in concert twice, once in Seattle and once here in Edmonton. I will see her again whenever she returns.
Maybe I’ll bring a girlfriend to the next concert. Or the one after that. I know now that this is in my future. I am on a clear path. It’s been a long road of self-discovery, and my home girl has been there at every turn. Ten years’ worth of steps, and she was the first one.
That was the summer of 2002. By December of that same year, I was coming out to people. And it wasn’t just a matter of telling people I was gay. No, I was telling people I was gay for Kelly Clarkson.
No one can truly know us without knowing what we love. Because of you, Kelly, people finally know the real me.