Kelly Clarkson Recalls Feeling Pressured to Be Sexual in Early 2000s: 'I Had to Fight Like Hell'

"I have no problem with nudity. I'm, like, a total nudist. But that's just not my vibe, artistry-wise," Clarkson told Variety in a new cover story interview

Kelly Clarkson Variety
Kelly Clarkson. Photo: Brian Bowen Smith for Variety

Two decades after winning American Idol, Kelly Clarkson is reflecting on what it was like to be an artist in the early 2000s.

In a new cover story interview with Variety published Wednesday, Clarkson opened up about facing pressure during her early days in the music industry to present herself as a sexual pop star and how she worked to combat it.

"It was not great," said the 40-year-old singer-songwriter of her first memories of post-American Idol fame. "It was just really hard for me to navigate the industry."

She then recalled a conversation she once had with a colleague. "I remember this one tool I worked with — this dude came over my house and put down some magazines and was like, 'So this is what you're competing with,'" Clarkson told the outlet. "There were naked people on the cover!"

Kelly Clarkson Variety
Kelly Clarkson. Brian Bowen Smith for Variety

"I have no problem with nudity. I'm, like, a total nudist," the Kelly Clarkson Show host explained. "But that's just not my vibe, artistry-wise. A little mystery goes a long way for me. But I literally looked at this older white man and was like, 'Uh, no. That's not what I'm competing with. It might be what you feel like I am competing with, but that's not me.'"

When Clarkson hit the music scene with early hits like "A Moment Like This" and "Miss Independent," her peers were midriff-bearing pop stars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson, for whom sexy music videos and photoshoots were a frequent occurrence.

Clarkson had no interest in following suit, however, she told Variety she was "one hundred percent" pushed in that direction. "At the end of the day, a lot of people look at you as a product, because they're in a business — they'll get fired if they don't make money. So I don't blame them," noted the musician.

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Kelly Clarkson Variety
Kelly Clarkson. Brian Bowen Smith for Variety

"Women love to be sexual. Everybody likes to be flirty. Everybody likes to be sensual," Clarkson continued. "But every woman is not just that one thing; we are multifaceted. And they try to take that one thing and blow it up."

The American Song Contest host added, "I had to fight like hell to make sure that it didn't push the envelope for me. I think it's hard if you're a young girl, a teenager. You're still growing up."

As for how she was able to avoid the pressure, Clarkson said, "The biggest thing for me is I never thought I'd be fighting so hard to just be myself."

"People don't think what you are is going to sell is going to make them money," she explained. "And I was like, 'Well, I am just going to be me. If that happens for you, that's great. If it doesn't, sorry.' It's worked out, the hard work. But it was very hard."

Kelly Clarkson Variety
Kelly Clarkson. Brian Bowen Smith for Variety

She then told a story about clashing with another creative individual over her image during a photoshoot at the time. "I had this one photographer overseas who was like, 'I just want you to hold this cigarette and act rock 'n' roll,' and I started laughing because I thought she was joking."

Clarkson continued, "She got so mad at me. Apparently, she was like this big photographer. She was like, 'I want you to crash this beer bottle and hold it up.' I was like, 'What? What type of frat party are we at?' She was so angry."

In concluding the topic, Clarkson looked back on the difficulty she faced early in her career before using a cheeky self-reference to illustrate her current mindset.

"I had so many of those instances that are just uncomfortable. It just bummed me out," she said. "But you know what? It's all right. Because what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

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