The stunning transformation of Kelly Clarkson

Since taking home the crown as the very first American Idol winner in 2002, Kelly Clarkson has been captivating the hearts of fans everywhere with her undeniable talent, catchy hits, quick wit, Southern charm, and no-nonsense attitude. The songstress has built a wildly successful career spanning more than a decade with hit songs such as "Breakaway," "Because of You," "Heartbeat Song," "Since U Been Gone," and "Miss Independent," and she's showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. 

Most impressively, perhaps, is Clarkson's ability to experiment with — and dominate — any genre of music she chooses. From pop princess, to rock-n-roll diva, to country queen, Clarkson can quite literally do it all. If you don't believe us, you obviously didn't see her opening performance at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards — the gal rapped Kendrick Lamar's "HUMBLE." and totally killed. 

From her evolving sound to her evolving look, Clarkson is a star to be admired for her ability to remain super down-to-earth despite her mega fame. Here's a look at the stunning transformation of the original American Idol. 

She grew up "pretty close to church and with God"

In her hit song "Breakaway," Kelly Clarkson sings, "Grew up in a small town [...] Dreaming of what could be/And if I'd end up happy/I would pray." Even though Avril Lavigne, not Clarkson, is credited for writing the lyrics to the song, the words seem to perfectly reflect Clarkson's own childhood experience.

A real-deal small town girl, the original American Idol superstar was born on April 24, 1982 in Fort Worth, Texas. In a 2017 interview with The Chicago Tribune, Clarkson described how her small town roots have helped her to cope with the pressure of fame — like not being able to go anywhere without somebody recognizing her. "[I'm] from a small town… where everybody knows you and you can't keep anything secret," she said. "I think [that has] helped me wrap my head around [fame]."

Another thing that's helped Clarkson is her faith in a higher power. "I've always grown up pretty close to church and with God," she said in 2004. "He's the only One I can lean on."

Her childhood was "really great, but really hard"

In a 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kelly Clarkson provided the soundtrack to her life — for instance, particular songs that defined the monumental moments in Clarkson's life both before and after becoming a superstar. When asked to name the song that made her want to pursue a career in music, Clarkson responded with Reba McEntire's "Read My Mind." 

"Growing up, my mom [was] a single parent; it was just a really hard life. It was really great, but really hard," Clarkson explained. "When I was a kid, for whatever reason, [McEntire's] voice sounded like home."

Clarkson has been open with her fans about her experience growing up without her father — but she doesn't want anyone's pity. "I think If you don't grow up with it… it's hard to miss something you never had," she told Today. And the star is in a much better place today. After all, the woman who inspired her to pursue a musical career is now her mother-in-law! It's a small world, after all. 

She credits Alanis Morissette for making her a better writer

Every artist has their influences. In Kelly Clarkson's case, one of her greatest influences just so happened to be one of her biggest secrets. In a 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Clarkson was asked to name a song that makes her want to "turn up the radio." Her answer? "Anything from Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morrisette." 

According to Clarkson, her conservative family barred her from listening to Morrisette, a female rocker known for her provocative, angst-ridden lyrics. But this gal isn't one to follow the rules. "I was not allowed to listen to Alanis Morissette; I did anyway. It was kind of that forbidden fruit for me as a kid," she told Entertainment Weekly

It's a good thing Clarkson decided to go against her family's wishes and listen to Morrisette, because she now credits the Canadian-born songstress as helping Clarkson become the songwriter she is today. "Alanis took it way past the line of what women talk about in songs, how you sing a song," Clarkson said. "It was so dirty and raw! It made me a better writer. It made me a better singer."

This small town girl didn't even know she was auditioning for American Idol

Kelly Clarkson may be famous for being the original reality singing competition star, but according to the star herself, she had no clue what she was even getting herself into! In a February 2018 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Clarkson dished that she had no idea what she was signing up for when she decided to audition for American Idol

"I was one of those dumb people that was like, 'Where do I sign?' I had no idea it was a TV show until the third [audition]," the star told Fallon, laughing. "[Singing was] really the only gift I possessed, so I was like, 'I gotta make money somehow off this,'" Clarkson joked. "It could've ended very poorly."

Luckily for Clarkson, her run on the singing competition ended in the best way possible. The former small-town Texas gal was voted in as the very first American Idol in September 2002, kicking off a wildly successful career. 

From Justin to Kelly to… embarrassment?

Kelly Clarkson's American Idol win certainly kickstarted her career, but according to a 2017 Entertainment Weekly feature, the star didn't want to win. Whaaa?

While being the very first American Idol is definitely an accomplishment any aspiring singer would love to add to their resume, Clarkson had one particular reason to prefer second place — the first place winner was required to star in a movie. "I was like, 'It would be really super cool if I got second and [Justin Guarini] got first, because the winner has to do the movie and the second one doesn't,'" Clarkson told Entertainment Weekly about the moments before her big win. 

Of course, Clarkson did end up winning and starring in the box office bomb From Justin to Kelly — a movie Clarkson has sworn to never tell her children about. "I just want it to go away," Clarkson said about the flick in a 2015 TIME interview. The one good thing to come out of From Justin to Kelly? Clarkson's highlighted, layered bob that gave us total early 2000s hair envy!

Taking control of her voice

In 2007, five years after her American Idol win, Kelly Clarkson announced the release of My December — the singer's third studio album and a noticeable shift from her pop roots. 

"People are probably going to be like, 'What happened to you?'" Clarkson joked to MTV about "Never Again," an angsty single from her 2007 album. Clarkson, who credits Alanis Morrisette's provocative Jagged Little Pill album for making her a better songwriter, drew comparisons to the Canadian-born rocker with lyrics like "I hope the ring you gave her turns her finger green/ I hope when you're in bed with her, you think of me." The racy lyrics were far removed from Clarkson's previous hits such as "A Moment Like This" and "Breakaway" — a fact the songstress owned with pride. "There's more 'me' on this record," she told MTV of My December. "I had more hold on the reins because I wrote the entire thing." 

Not only did Clarkson begin to sound more like Alanis Morrisette with the release of My December — she traded her blonde highlights for dark locks that favored the "Head Over Feet" singer's signature, sultry look. 

First comes love, then comes baby

They say that good things come to those who wait, and Kelly Clarkson can certainly attest to this. After all, we're talking about the girl who waited six years to start dating her husband to-be, Brandon Blackstock, after meeting him for the first time in 2006. 

At a SiriusXM show (via People) in 2017, Clarkson explained to the crowd that, although she felt an undeniable attraction to then-married Blackstock, she isn't the type of girl to intrude on someone else's marriage. Though the pair first crossed paths in 2006 at a rehearsal for the Academy of Country Music Awards, it wasn't until 2012 — after Blackstock and his wife had divorced — that she made a move. 

Blackstock and Clarkson got engaged in December 2012 and married the following October, making Clarkson a stepmom to Blackstock's two children, Savannah and Seth. In June 2014, Clarkson gave birth to the couple's first child together, daughter River Rose. Nearly two years later in April 2016, the couple welcomed son Remington Alexander to the family. Though both pregnancies were difficult for Clarkson, the singer said that having the chance to "pop out magical unicorns" made the struggle totally worth it. 

What didn't kill her made her stronger

Body shamers, begone!

In 2017, Clarkson was praised for her response to a mean-spirited Twitter user who took to the social media platform to call the "Because of You" singer fat. Clarkson's quick-witted response? "I'm still f—ing awesome." 

Though society may associate skinniness with happiness, Clarkson sees it the other way around. As she told Redbook (via Us Weekly) in a 2017 feature, she's usually happier when she's sporting a few extra pounds."People think, 'Oh, there's something wrong with her. She's putting on weight," Clarkson told the magazine. "I'm like, 'Oh, no! I'm sorry, but that represents happiness in my emotional world. For me, when I'm skinny is usually when I'm not doing well." 

Clarkson also spoke to Attitude (via CNN) in 2017 about her battle with weight, blaming the pressures of newfound fame for her thin appearance toward the beginning of her career. "I was miserable, like inside and out, for four years of my life," the singer lamented.

Sharing the secret to her slim down

In early 2018, Kelly Clarkson looked noticeably slimmer in photos posted to her personal Instagram page, as well as during appearances at awards shows like the 2018 Academy of Country Music Awards and the 2018 Billboard Music Awards. Even though she had obviously dropped some pounds, Clarkson looked as curvy and healthy as ever — and fans were dying to know the secret to her impressive, healthy figure.  

During a 2018 press conference for The Voice (via Entertainment Tonight), Clarkson jokingly revealed the "secret" to her weight loss. "I have to shout out my whole glam squad," Clarkson replied, joking, "I literally hired Harry Potter and SPANX, it's all like a sausage." 

All jokes aside, Clarkson dished to Extra the real reason for her dramatic 37-pound weight loss. The singer explained how her weight fluctuation throughout the years had been caused by "an autoimmune disease and a thyroid issue" she had, and credited the book The Plant Paradox by Steven R. Gundry for helping her develop better eating habits and take control of her health. "I'm not on medicine anymore because of this book," Clarkson gushed.

Return to reality TV

In May 2017, it was announced that Kelly Clarkson would be making her return to her television roots as a judge on a popular reality television singing competition. And while American Idol had recently announced its return to TV, Clarkson wouldn't be joining the show that kickstarted her career for its reboot. Instead, Clarkson joined the judges' panel on the hit NBC series, The Voice

Many people wondered why Clarkson would choose The Voice over the show that started it all for her. Clarkson's reasoning was simple (and totally understandable) — she wanted to be with her family. Since her husband, Brandon Blackstock, manages Blake Shelton, a fellow judge on The Voice — Clarkson told Entertainment Weekly that she usually found herself on-set with her husband and children anyway. 

With her husband and kids close by, accepting a position on the judges' panel was a total no-brainer for the singer. And considering Clarkson's team won the competition during her first season as a judge, it seems the original American Idol winner hasn't lost touch with her singing competition roots.