"It's really cool where it's brought me," says Kelly Clarkson of her TV talent show beginnings in this week's cover story

By Janine Rubenstein
August 29, 2019 08:00 AM

Kelly Clarkson has come a long way.

“Who would have thought, right? [From] cocktail waitress to having your own show. It’s cool,” says the star of her amazing journey.

In this week’s issue of PEOPLE. Clarkson opens up about taking on her upcoming syndicated Kelly Clarkson Show, premiering Sept. 9 on NBC-owned stations as the lead in to Ellen — and the wild ride she’s taken to get to this point.

Clarkson, now 37, burst onto the scene as a contestant on the first season of American Idol 17 years ago. The cheerful cocktail waitress from Fort Worth, Texas, immediately blew judges away with her powerful voice and she went on to become cemented in pop culture history as the inaugural winner of the hit show.

[ent-hotlink id="18450" href="/" title="Kelly Clarkson"] on American Idol in 2002
Kevin Winter/Getty

But the star says being a guinea pig wasn’t always easy. “Everyone looks at talent shows on TV now like it’s normal. It was not normal my first season and a lot of people didn’t like it,” she says. “It was not fun in the beginning.”

Simon Cowell, Kelly Clarkson, Paula Abdul, Justin Guarini and Randy Jackson in 2002

Still, she’s not complaining. “It’s like that Rascal Flatts song. Like, ‘God Bless the Broken Road’,” she says. “Because it’s really cool, where it’s brought me.”

RELATED: Kelly Clarkson Reveals Another Health Scare — a Cyst on Her Ovary Burst While She Filmed The Voice

After making it through a tough childhood — “We moved around and there was divorce. I had total abandonment issues,” she says — the star built up a confidence that she’d use to help get her through the throes of fame. In her 20s she took top music execs and her old label to task for trying to change her.

Watch the full episode of People Cover Story: Kelly Clarkson, streaming now on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite device.

Kelly Clarkson on the cover of PEOPLE
Jim Wright

“I’ve just had so many jerks in my life tell me what I should be doing, ‘This is what a pop star should do, blah blah blah.’ It really helped me signify for myself what I should be doing for me,” she says. “So I kind of thank all those jerks. It helped solidify who I am.”

Now, gearing up to host her own talk show, she’s admittedly nervous for one of the first times in her career. “I had a complete panic attack last night in my closet with my husband,” she says. “I was like, ‘What am I doing? I hope I don’t fail.'”

RELATED: Kelly Clarkson Insisted on Having Time in Her Talk Show Schedule to Take Her Kids to School: ‘Prioritize and Don’t Feel Guilty’

That said, Clarkson is trying not to put too much pressure on herself. “I’m aware that not everyone’s going to like me. I don’t even like everyone,” she says. “So when you wrap your head around that, all ego goes out the door.”

Kelly Clarkson on the set of her talk show
Jim Wright

And as far as she’s concerned, she’s already won.

“There have been some really major hurdles in my life, but I wouldn’t change any of them. I never thought I’d be this happy. If somebody told me at 19, ‘You’re going to have your own TV show!’ I would have laughed and said, ‘No one’s going to watch that.’ But anyway,” she says with a shrug and a smile, “I hope they do.”

For more on Kelly Clarkson’s journey from American Idol winner to the new face of daytime, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

The Kelly Clarkson Show premieres Monday, Sept. 9 in syndication on NBC-owned television stations. For more information visit KellyClarksonShow.com.

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