Kelly Clarkson Says Season 1 Cast Thought 'American Idol' Was a 'Joke': 'There for That Paycheck'

"I mean, we didn't think it was going to come of anything," Kelly Clarkson told Kevin Hart on the comedian's Peacock show

American Idol was a smash hit when it premiered in 2002, but season one champ Kelly Clarkson said the cast was skeptical at first about the show's long-term success.

Speaking with Kevin Hart during a recent episode of "Hart to Heart" on Peacock, the 39-year-old singer said the inaugural cast of the revolutionary singing competition initially "thought it was a joke."

"I mean, we didn't think it was going to come of anything. Like, we were the first season of American Idol. So, we were there for that paycheck that [SAG-AFTRA] gives you, to pay for some bills," she told the host, 42. "Nobody knew that anything would actually come to fruition. That's what everyone hopes, but that doesn't usually happen."

Looking back on her life after winning the first season of Idol at age 20, the three-time Grammy winner said she's "thankful" to have skipped the "surreal" part of shooting to stardom.

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"I love what I do and I love singing and I love what you're able to do with your spotlight, but I think because I skipped all of that so fast and I was thrown in, there was no time for people to really drill me on, 'You have to do this. You have to do this,'" she told Hart.

Clarkson has made similar comments about Idol about in the past, telling The Hollywood Reporter nearly a decade ago that the show felt like being "kids in camp."

"Nobody knew what to do. The show was ever-changing every day," she said in 2012. "They dropped us off in a mall and said find some clothes to wear on national television. I am maybe the closest to white trash you can get. What do I buy? White pants I guess? I definitely looked like a cocktail waitress."

She continued: "Now they have stylists, and hair and makeup people everywhere. They didn't want to see the floor monitors because it wasn't aesthetically appealing ... they had them under the stage, and nine times out of 10 you couldn't even hear yourself. It was like you were basing it on what you did in rehearsal and hoping to God that you were somehow in rhythm. It was a hard season, but it prepared me."

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During Clarkson's conversation with Hart earlier this month, the stars discussed the emotional "switch" performers learn to flip when at work. The artist said she didn't know how to find that rhythm at first and "hit bottom" because of it at a young age.

"I always let everybody in. I'm very inclusive. I'm not great at boundaries," she told Hart. "I just didn't know that I could say, 'No.' I didn't want to be difficult — especially as a woman — I didn't want to be perceived as bitchy or difficult or whatever."

Learning to be the boss of "grown men and women" so young, she added, also proved to be a challenge, "especially being raised that you respect your elders" and "can't tell them what to do."

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Clarkson has since used her leadership skills and musical talent to help other artists launch their careers. It all came full circle in 2018 when she joined NBC's The Voice as a coach, where she has mentored rising hopefuls ever since.

In March, Clarkson coaxed one singer onto her team by citing her own experience under pressure in the same situation.

"I've obviously navigated a singing competition myself before, so I do think there is some strategy to it," the coach told contestant Gihanna Zoe during the blind auditions for season 20.

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