How Kelly Clarkson's 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' cover reveals her recipe for success

Clarkson has conquered "American Idol," the pop charts and "The Voice." Can she win over America's daytime fans, too?
Image: Kelly Clarkson
Is this the face of America's next talk show queen?Adrian Lam / NBC News
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By Ani Bundel

Broadcast viewership numbers are on the decline. The diversification of how audiences consume entertainment has eroded the once-powerful Big Four channels (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC). But lost in all the discussions of primetime Nielsen nosedives is what this is doing to the daytime landscape. Soap operas have been reduced to four remaining titles from over a dozen. Broadcast has responded attempting to find the next great talk show host.

This season introduced a new albeit highly recognizable name looking for long-term syndicated success: original “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson. While celebrity alone is not an indicator of talk show gold, Clarkson seems to have hit on a new recipe for success with “The Kelly Clarkson Show” on NBC.

While celebrity alone is not an indicator of talk show gold, Clarkson seems to have hit on a new recipe for success with “The Kelly Clarkson Show” on NBC.

This isn’t the first daytime host to attempt genre crossover success. Rachael Ray, for instance, was a Food Network stand-and-stir star when she was tapped for mainstream stardom. More importantly, Clarkson had already shown she can succeed on television with her aggressively bubbly judge role “The Voice.” She’d also been the first judge on the show to win her first two seasons in a row. (Winning on “The Voice” is as much about getting the audience on the side of the judge as it is picking the correct contestant.)

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So far, the numbers for Kelly’s first month in September suggest she was a smart investment. “The Kelly Clarkson Show” debuted with a strong start for a syndicated series, landing a 1.6 household rating, which translated to 2.16 million viewers in her first week. To put that in context, long-running champs like “Kelly & Ryan” (previously “Regis & Kelly,” and before that “Regis & Kathy Lee”) debuted new seasons the same week with a 1.9 rating, or 2.54 million, and Ellen DeGeneres did only marginally higher with 1.9/2.67 million.

“The Kelly Clarkson Show” has since bounced up and down a bit — in the week ending October 13, she pulled in a 1.4, for example, but so far the show is averaging 1.9 overall. And Nielsen isn’t the only metric to watch for. There’s the nostalgia factor of course. The fledgling series made headlines for bringing back the original “American Idol” judges and the first runner-up from her season, Justin Guarini.

But the real story is how smartly she's playing her segments for YouTube. Most notable are her show-opening "Kellyoke" karaoke segments. Covers have long been part of Clarkson’s pop star repertoire. Starting with her “Stronger” tour in 2012, Clarkson loves cycling through cover songs during her tours. These became a YouTube staple (and excellent promotional bonus), with fans uploading the different songs at each stop. She did the same thing in 2015 during her “Piece By Piece” tour, with enough covers to fill a Top 100 list by the time she was done.

Taking this fan-favorite bit and moving it to her show is a brilliant move, giving social media and entertainment blogs material to post ahead of every episode, the same way “Late Night with Seth Meyers” uses his “A Closer Look” political deep dives, or a “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” uses his monologues, or how HBO consistently posts the main segments of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

This symbiotic relationship between late night and YouTube has been going strong ever since “The Daily Show” clips started to become regular YouTube viewing in 2006. At this point, the two mediums have become so entwined, hosts like Jimmy Fallon and James Corden have segments they deliberately created with YouTube in mind, like Fallon’s “Toy Instruments” routine or Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke.” NBC even hired Lilly Singh, a YouTube star, to replace Carson Daly in the 1:30 a.m. slot, cementing the mutual relationship between the two mediums.

But daytime TV hasn't caught on to this relationship in the same way. This is partially because it hasn’t had to. Broadcast is still the default in many public spaces, like waiting rooms and building foyers, giving these shows a baseline viewership. (This seems to have increased since Trump’s election, when more spaces have started to elect to move away from controversial channels like Fox News and CNN.) There's the occasional “Ellen” segment that might make YouTube or Twitter, but those are accidents, not deliberate. This is especially true since her show would likely prefer audiences to send those clicks to her website, where she runs the alternate “EllenTube.”

Clarkson, on the other hand, is deliberately taking a page from the late-night playbook, forging a path that’s already proven to work for these types of syndicated series. It’s also one that can easily be tweaked to help cross promote “The Voice” as long as she still sits in a judge’s chair. (Or even when she takes a season off.) With the live shows scheduled to begin towards the end of October, “The Voice” is still one of the top primetime series on Monday nights, and it’s easy to see how a symbiotic relationship could develop between the two shows and YouTube as well.

With broadcast leaning ever heavier on the celebrity host format — CBS just announced recently actress Drew Barrymore will join the ever-expanding club — the daytime field is bound to become more crowded soon. Also, with no less than three major streaming services launching in the next six months, these shows will need more than just name recognition and a fanbase for the host to stand out. If others are smart, they'll find ways to follow Clarkson's lead.