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The Ten Best Kellyoke Performances of 2021

Kelly Clarkson is still killing it with her daily two-minute cover songs.
  • Photo: NBC
    Photo: NBC

    Three years in, The Kelly Clarkson Show remains the classiest thing going in daytime talk. And the jewel in the show's crown continues to be Clarkson's daily "Kellyoke" performances, an ingenious idea to court viral attention while also allowing Kelly to exercise the competitive advantage she holds over the rest of daytime: her formidable voice.

    Some of her performances are reinterpretations, while others are a cosmic match of Kelly with the material. Either way, they're a daily highlight. Here are our ten favorite Kellyoke performances of the year:

    "Rolling in the Deep"

    Original Artist: Adele
    Air Date: June 30, 2021
    The combination of Kelly Clarkson and Adele feels almost like an unfair advantage these days. Months before Adele's new album had mainstream America by the throat, though, Kelly burned her studio down with her rendition of Adele's most propulsive banger, her 2010 hit "Rolling in the Deep." Kelly begins the performance dramatically backlit and has slowed down the lead-in, before that drumbeat hits and her vocals start wailing about how we could've had it all.

    "River Deep Mountain High"

    Original Artist: Tina Turner
    Air Date: October 27, 2021
    One of the fun things about Kellyoke is that it allows us to imagine Kelly Clarkson on any number of different career paths not taken. This performance of the Ike and Tina Turner classic "River Deep Mountain High" made us ponder the sensation Kelly could have been as an early '70s bluesy rocker touring the country with her traveling band. Tina Turner is a daunting mountain to climb, no pun intended, but the thrill of this performance is watching Kelly scale that mountain with utmost confidence.

    "Unchained Melody"

    Original Artist: The Righteous Brothers
    Air Date: January 28, 2021
    The American Idol vibes of Kelly covering such an aggressively Simon Cowell-approved song as "Unchained Melody" can't be denied, but when it's right, it's right. The 1965 Righteous Brothers hit went through minimal translation, but Kelly (to borrow another Idol classic) made it fully her own, with a patient, unadorned vocal that still managed to take down the room. Kelly has few peers when it comes to feeling the emotion of a cover song, a reminder that despite the name, these performances go so far beyond karaoke.

    "7 Rings"

    Original Artist: Ariana Grande
    Air Date: December 3, 2021
    Some of the best Kellyokes are when she outdoes the original artist without it seeming like she's intentionally showing them up. That's what she does on "7 Rings," a song that becomes so much more enjoyable when you swap out Grande's baby whispers and bling posturing for Clarkson's more robust delivery.

    "Nothing Compares 2 U"

    Original Artist: Sinead O'Connor
    Air Date: April 14, 2021
    It's tough to imagine anyone rivaling the sheer emotional impact of Sinead O'Connor's voice in the 1990 original, but damned if Kelly's version isn't running side-by-side. Clarkson's gift for imbuing her vocals with so much pain while at the same time indulging in the kinds of vocal acrobatics that won her American Idol all those years ago would seem to be at cross-purposes. And yet Kelly's vocal runs here never feel showy, but rather an extension of the song's soaring regrets and remembrances.

    "Welcome to the Black Parade"

    Original Artist: My Chemical Romance
    Air Date: November 11, 2021
    Of all the ways in which Kellyoke reminds us of Kelly's time on American Idol, one of the most fun is in how some of her song choices let us imagine she's back participating in some kind of theme week. And for Gothy Emo Millennial week, Kelly took on My Chemical Romance's most bombastic hit and didn't back down from the challenge. The performance was a reminder that this song is a banger and that Kelly's voice works in pretty much any context.

    "Just a Girl"

    Original Artist: No Doubt
    Air Date: February 15, 2021
    Kelly doesn't always see fit to reinterpret the songs she performs on Kellyoke, but when she does, the results can be stunning. That was the case when she covered No Doubt's boppy '90s feminist anthem "Just a Girl," which in its original incarnation broke the band into the mainstream on the back of its bright ska tempo and Gwen Stefani's sneaky bravado. Clarkson stripped all of that tempo away for her cover, revealing a haunting, dramatic take on the song.

    "Driver's License"

    Original Artist: Olivia Rodrigo
    Air Date: June 14, 2021
    The whole thing about Olivia Rodrigo is that she's an actual teenager with big teenage feelings that she understands from her teenage vantage point. "Driver's License" was among the year's most definitional songs because it tapped into that place inside of us that we've never left. Kelly Clarkson's version, however, has all the grit and hard-won wisdom of years lived and relationships weathered; Kelly's reinterpretation looks back from a distance, with a vocal that grinds those memories into dust.

    "Escapade"

    Original Artist: Janet Jackson
    Air Date: September 21, 2021
    It's tough to imagine a more joyful union than Kelly Clarkson covering Rhythm Nation-era Janet Jackson. This performance kicked off "We Love L.A." week on The Kelly Clarkson Show back in September, and damned if the bright, infectious spirit of going out and having such a good time aren't the perfect fit for that theme.

    "You're No Good"

    Original Artist: Linda Ronstadt
    Air Date: December 7, 2021
    Kelly has covered Linda Rondstadt several times in the short life of her talk show, and each time she does, it feels like the universe is opening itself up and aligning exactly the way it is supposed to. Kelly's voice is a perfect fit for Ronstadt's throaty attitude, and her clear affinity for the material makes it easy to imagine her belting this out in a dingy bar, after hours, three whiskeys deep.

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    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Kelly Clarkson Show, Kelly Clarkson, 2021 In Review, Music and TV