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Dateline NBC
updated 6/3/2005 4:52:00 PM ET 2005-06-03T20:52:00

Before there was Carrie Underwood, this year's "American Idol," there was Kelly. Kelly Clarkson was the first "American Idol," and is still the show's biggest success. In fact, her second album has just gone double platinum.

Hitting the right note makes you a contest winner. Finding a way to hold on to it, makes you a star. It's been two years since she became the first "American Idol" winner. Dateline was there exclusively behind the scenes as Kelly rocked a Detroit crowd, in the midst of her 30-city, sold out concert tour.

Hoda Kotb: “Do you still pinch yourself? Do you still look around and say you know is this my life?”

Kelly Clarkson: “Oh, that's every day. I mean, because you just wake up and like you -- I don't know -- I'll just talk to one of my friends and they'll just be like, dude, do you like realize like what you're doing?”

Even in our instant celebrity culture, a lot has happened to this 23-year-old in a very short amount of time.

Her career really started when she was in junior high. Kelly was plucked from obscurity. She was the small town Texas girl who couldn't get a record deal until she tried out for a then unknown singing contest in the summer of 2002. Thirteen weeks later, on the strength of over a million call-in votes, Kelly Clarkson was voted the first 'American Idol.' Slideshow: American Idol

Kotb: “Was there a point where you realized your life wasn’t really your own anymore.”

Clarkson: “That next morning, I got like four hours of sleep. And I woke up and I came down and did every show know to man that day. I literally felt like kind of like a herd of cow, just kind of being directed around. I think that day I was kind of like, 'Oh God this is going to be very intense.’”

Oh, it was intense. Kelly's first album, "Thankful," released seven months after her "Idol" win, sold more than two million copies. Her song "A Moment Like This" was the best selling single of 2003.

Kotb: “Were you surprised by the success of your first album?”

Clarkson: “I was floored by that. With the first record, I was so exhausted, I just went from auditioning from 'American Idol' to the end of the album. I didn't even realize my album was number one when it came out.”

The fans loved her. Some other musicians, well, maybe not so much.

Kotb: “Do you ever think that other musical celebrities look down on you because you know, here's the girl who won the contest.”

Clarkson: “Oh the contest. People are going to do that all the time no matter what. But I'm not here to please those people.”

And then came the chorus of music critics who said her success was based on a popular TV show and it wouldn’t last. Her 15 minutes of fame were just about over.

Clarkson: “It didn’t really bother me because I knew I was going to be around. I knew I was going to be around. Whenever I am out of this business it will be because of my decision. It won’t be because I’m not popular enough anymore.”

That sort of confidence came in handy, especially when she need a little pick-me-up after her first movie, “From Justin to Kelly,” co-starring the guy who came in second on "American Idol."

Kotb: “One word to describe your movie,’From Justin to Kelly.’”

Clarkson: “One? Okay. Legality – like, I legally had to do it.”

The reviews were pretty bad one paper summed it up best. "Chicago may have revived the movie musical, but ‘From Justin to Kelly’ could bury it again.”

Clarkson: “It wouldn’t have mattered if we would have got the script for ‘Shawshank Redemption,’ nobody was going to like that movie with two TV stars, two kids. It was destined for failure.”

But Kelly's career wasn’t. Right after she wrapped her first album and concert tour, she started working on the second album. This time around, Kelly decided to take a more hands-on approach, co-writing six of the album’s songs and adding a little edge to her sound.

Clarkson: “I knew the people I wanted to work with, I knew the direction I wanted.”
Kotb: “How much pressure was there, when you have a hit first album, to make sure that this one does as well?”

Clarkson: “As long as I’m happy – I’m really that person, as long as I’m making something that I’m proud of, I don’t really care if millions of people like it. You know, I love it.”

As predicted, back came the critics. Was she a one hit wonder?

Barry Jeckell: “I think almost anyone, even at her own label, may have said she's a good singer, she won 'American Idol,' when her second album comes around if she’s not in the headlines anymore, let's see how well she can do. “

Billboard Magazine online editor Barry Jeckell says on her second album Clarkson had to prove herself all over again.

Jeckell: “When Kelly makes this album, it's her record. Its her chance to shine on her own terms.”

And shine she did. "Breakway," released this past November, is currently the top selling album by a female artist this year, with two songs off "Breakaway" already reaching number one on the Billboard singles chart.

Jeckell: “Kelly Clarkson is now Kelly Clarkson, rather than Kelly Clarkson on 'American Idol.' And that’s a big deal.”

But by "Breaking Away" from her "American Idol" past, is Kelly consciously changing her image?

Kotb: “But what about the people who say you know we picked you we loved you because you were girl next door adorable, you weren’t Hollywood glam and now you’re kind of Hollywood glam.”

Clarkson: “I'm not. Everybody says that. I'm so not. I wear like a tank top and a scarf. I wear stuff that’s revealing, but not that revealing. It’s not that I’m a prude or conservative, I just really want people to focus on the music and the more artistry part of it.”

She says she has not ‘celebed’ herself up, no entourage, no crash diets, and you won't see her following the other pop tarts through the tabloid pages.

Kotb: “Is there ever any pressure, like, look you’ve got to grab some headlines. So go make out with someone from ‘The O.C.’?”

Clarkson: “My publicist he knows I’m not like that. I mean, in the beginning he was always like okay, girl, you’re not as flamboyant as I need you to be. That’s just not my bag.

American Idol may have given Kelly Clarkson her start, but the success, she earned herself.

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