LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson bring out the best in each other, and it's clear that their 2 Worlds 2 Voices tour is no gimmick. They really do love singing together.
From the curtain's rise to the encore, there was never a time when either singer left the stage during their Friday night (Jan. 18) concert in Louisville, Ky., and they traded verses like they've known each others' songs for years.
For someone who's been around as long as McEntire, it would be really easy to just go through the motions, sing "Fancy" for the millionth time and cash the big check. However, she is clearly giving it her best shot -- and smiling all the way through. Six or seven times in the show, Clarkson gushed about Reba, Reba, Reba -- maybe too much -- so the expectations for Clarkson's fans who don't know a thing about McEntire were probably very high. As always, the ambitious country singer is up for a challenge.
Of course, Clarkson is no slouch either. When she sang "Up to the Mountain," McEntire stopped the show to get a tissue, then called her one of the world's greatest vocalists. Many times, McEntire slipped behind the back-up singer's microphone for harmonies and choruses while Clarkson worked the stage. It reminded me of the scene from Dreamgirls -- when Effie declares, "I don't do backup!" -- only because a completely opposite scene was unfolding.
Clarkson has been an obsessed fan since she was 12 years old, when a friend played McEntire's version of "Cathy's Clown" at a party, and she told the audience the tour was hands-down the coolest thing she's ever done. Clarkson met McEntire for the first time after winning American Idol in 2002, when McEntire agreed to perform with her. However, the partnership really gained steam when they recorded one of Clarkson's songs, "Because of You" -- a big hit at country radio and the lead single from McEntire's most recent album, Reba Duets. McEntire told the crowd that after they filmed CMT Crossroads, they immediately decided to put a package tour together so they could sing all the songs they wanted, and that their mutual manager, Narvel Blackstock (also McEntire's husband), made them narrow down the song list.
Over the course of two hours in Freedom Hall, the two women pulled out all the songs you'd expect, but Clarkson also persuaded McEntire to include a few older tunes, which the diehard Reba fans are all about, like "How Blue" and "One Promise Too Late." Imagine what that must be like to tour with your favorite singer and to handpick the set list. You'd probably be freaking out, too.
McEntire told the crowd that Clarkson often e-mails her a variety of songs by other artists in the middle of the night, emphasizing that she's appreciative of the broader spectrum of music she's discovered because of her friendship with Clarkson. Indeed, McEntire seems to be riding a natural high when Clarkson is around. She's not trying to be cool and young and hip and all that. Instead, she's just doing what has worked since the 1980s -- storytelling, those distinctive vocal trills and looking the audience in the eye. At first, it's kind of a surprise to hear her belt out a rocker like "Miss Independent," but it turns out to be a pleasant surprise.
If you discovered Reba in the 1990s, the show includes the big hits from that era, too. I still find myself bracing for that last verse of "And Still." They each brought their own touring bands, too. The biggest difference between then and now is that McEntire only changed clothes one time, from a brown blouse and jeans to an orange blouse with jeans. There was a big screen behind them and a broad staircase for a grand entrance. Other than that, the special effects were kept to a minimum. Even so, 2 Worlds, 2 Voices is likely to go down as one of McEntire's most memorable tours.