Dear ‘American Idol,’ Stop Calling Everyone The Next Kelly Clarkson

Madison VanDenburg American IdolJill O'Rourke | Talent Recap

We’re only three episodes into the new season of American Idol, and the judges have already declared two young female singers to be the next Kelly Clarkson. At this rate, they might as well just rename the show.

The first Clarkson reference came during Myra Tran’s audition last week. The 19-year-old Vietnamese singer performed “One Night Only,” which was sung by American Idol alum Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. But the judges didn’t go with JHUD as a comparison.

“You’re up there with the Kelly Clarksons of the world,” Luke Bryan told her. “That’s the only way I can say it.”

Is it really the only way you can say it, Luke? Notice that he said Kelly Clarksons, plural. That apparently includes 16-year-old Madison VanDenburg, who auditioned in Sunday night’s episode with a cover of “Speechless” by Dan + Shay.

“I think you’re as good as Kelly Clarkson,” Katy Perry told her after she sang. “You could be the next Kelly Clarkson. You’re a massive star.”

“Kelly said it,” Luke agreed. “I mean, I’m like, I’m witnessing the next Kelly Clarkson.” It’s such an unoriginal comparison, he ended up parroting both Katy and himself.

I understand why they keep making these comparisons. It makes for a good headline, and if you’re going to compare someone to an American Idol success story, nothing sounds as impressive as Kelly. She was the first winner, and she has carved out an amazing career for herself — to the point where she’s now judging new talent on The Voice.

As David Boreanaz once said in an episode of Bones, “Everybody thinks they’re the next Kelly Clarkson.” And apparently the judges agree.

But because it’s the most obvious choice, and because they keep repeating it, it starts to sound disingenuous — and, frankly, meaningless. What do they mean by “the next Kelly Clarkson”? That could simply mean they’ll win the show. In that case, they judges predicted that for even more people than just Myra and Madison. (Not to mention, winning American Idol doesn’t exactly guarantee you fame these days.)

If they absolutely have to compare contestants to existing artists, why not be a little more creative? Even some of Katy’s other comparisons from Sunday night, like “country Lana Del Rey” and “country Justin Bieber,” offer a little more specificity than just throwing out the most famous name you can think of. And if they want to keep the comparisons in the American Idol family, there are plenty of other talented stars who go their start on the show.

But really, do they even have to make any comparisons at all? Sure, it can be helpful in expressing the kind of vibe a contestant gives off or get an idea of what kind of career they want to emulate, but isn’t originality what makes a great artist? As Lionel Richie told Myra Tran after Luke’s Kelly Clarkson comment, “There is nothing to compare you to. You have stepped into a zone that’s yours.”

Instead of giving these contestants an out-of-this-world standard to live up to, why not just encourage them to be themselves and find their own sound? That’s what Kelly Clarkson did, and look at her now.


Jill O'Rourke
Jill O'Rourke

Jill O’Rourke is a contributor at Talent Recap, writing news stories and recaps for shows like ‘AGT,’ ‘The Voice,’ and ‘American Idol.’ She graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in English and Film Studies, and has been writing about pop culture since 2012, with previous bylines at Crushable and A Plus. Jill spends her free time binge-watching sitcoms and daydreaming about life as a hobbit

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