Editor’s note: CMT Crossroads: Kelly Clarkson and Reba McEntire debuts Sunday (June 24) at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
Despite her international fan base and the daily demands of being the original American Idol, it isn’t hard to track down Kelly Clarkson — if your name happens to be Reba McEntire.
“Any time Reba’s involved, everybody knows I’m gonna do it,” says Clarkson, who pairs with her musical idol on the latest episode of CMT Crossroads. “My management didn’t even ask me. They told CMT ‘yes’ and came to me and said, ‘They want you to do Crossroads with Reba.’ I was like, ‘I’ll do it!’ I’m pretty much on board with anything because I learn so much by just watching her.”
Among the songs they perform on CMT Crossroads are McEntire’s “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” and Clarkson’s “Because of You.” The two singers recorded the latter song for Reba Duets, McEntire’s new CD scheduled for release on Sept. 18.
A few hours before taping their high-energy show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Clarkson and McEntire talked to reporters about finding inspiration, telling a story through song and embracing the roar of the crowd.
How did you first come up with the idea to do CMT Crossroads?
McEntire: They asked me a long time ago if I wanted to do Crossroads, and I said, “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know.” Then Kelly and I started hanging out together in L.A. She came and did the television show [Reba] with me, and I asked her to do the duets album with me. Then Narvel [Blackstock, McEntire's husband and manager] said, “Crossroads is calling again.” I said, “Kelly — yeah.” I’ve been dragging her everywhere. Come on!
Kelly, what inspiration have you received from looking up to Reba?
Clarkson: It’s really the storyteller aspect. Even today, listening to “Because of You,” a song I wrote when I was a kid, it’s very close to me and I don’t really like other people singing it. But when she does it, it totally amazes me. It’s way better than I told it. And it’s my story. Listening to her is amazing. She’s got this whole aspect of being a storyteller that I don’t think a lot of singers have — and, honestly, a lot of professionalism. I’m very much a rookie. I get really nervous about talking. Singing, I’m fine, but talking, I’m not so fine. I learned a lot of that from her, too, just by watching her.
What does the history of the Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, bring to your performance?
McEntire: I can’t really stand there and sing and think about where I am.
Clarkson: I was just going to say that. I would start bawling.
McEntire: You can’t think about it because it does hold such reverence to my whole growing up. This is the only vacation we ever took. We did rodeo all the time, but the only vacation we took outside of work when I was growing up was the Grand Ole Opry.
Kelly, do you have a lot of country fans in your audience?
Clarkson: I don’t know. My audience is so weird. I’m blessed. American Idol really opened up my whole audience spectrum. If you come to my tour, you’d think it would just be young girls, but it’s not. It’s like old, young kids, guys, girls. My audience is pretty wide. I’m lucky. It’s because of American Idol, obviously.
McEntire: When she came on the Reba set, it was so exciting and so cute to watch everybody, from catering to the writers’ rooms. Everybody wanted to come down and watch. She was so sweet to everybody.
Clarkson: That’s one thing that I’ve learned from her, too: Everything starts at the top. I went to see her in Vegas, and it was my first time to see her live because I was really poor growing up. Everyone in her band, everyone that she works with, everyone is really cool, and I think it starts with her and Narvel. They’re so great and appreciative of people. I don’t think a lot of people are like that, so hopefully I’ll pick that up.
McEntire: You already are.
If you had gone the country route — like Carrie Underwood did after winning American Idol — do you think you would have had more success today?
Clarkson: I didn’t have a whole lot of say. I think that’s true for a lot of beginners in the business. You don’t have a lot of say with what goes on your first record. I was lucky to get “Miss Independent” and “Thankful” and some of the songs that I wrote on there. It was a really big battle between a lot of people with that record. People wanted a country record, people wanted an R&B record, people wanted a pop record. … I don’t know. I definitely will in the near future make a country record. I love country music. I have since I was a kid. I don’t like to hear people singing the same stuff all the time. It’s boring. I like to change it up a bit.
Describe what it feels like in that moment when you’re getting approval and applause from the fans.
Clarkson: It’s hard for me to sing songs that I write because sometimes you’re so involved with the song that you’re like, “Oh, God, this is emotionally draining.” You want to give your best performance. You have to kind of revert back to that place. Luckily, my fans are amazing, and I don’t even have to sing “Because of You,” which is good, because they sing it back to me. To hear someone singing your lyrics or a song that is really touching to you, I lose it. I will cry on stage. It’s the most amazing feeling and it’s very inspiring. It inspires you to keep going and do more.
McEntire: You get addicted to it. It’s sort of like when you come home and your child runs to you with that open adoration and that open, unconditional love. That’s what it feels like on stage when you get through with that opening number or you first walk on stage. The roar of the crowd is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard in my life.