Kelly Clarkson on breaking into the industry 20 years ago: 'I never thought I’d be fighting so hard to just be myself'

When Kelly Clarkson got her start, fresh off her 2002 American Idol win, the music industry wanted her to fit into the mold of the pop stars of the day: Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and Christina Aguilera.

"The biggest thing for me is I never thought I'd be fighting so hard to just be myself," she told Variety in an interview published Wednesday. "People don't think what you are is going to sell is going to make them money, and I was like, 'Well, I am just going to be me. If that happens for you, that's great. If it doesn't, sorry.' It's worked out, the hard work. But it was very hard."

Now 40, Clarkson has managed to stay exactly herself, Texas twang and all, on her hit albums, as a judge on The Voice, host of American Song Contest and, especially, on daytime talker The Kelly Clarkson Show, which returns for a fourth season Sept. 12, in the time slot that leads into the local news and was previously occupied by The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

"Nobody is going to fill Ellen's shoes,” the "Stronger" artist said. "I hold the Oprahs and the Ellens in such high regard. Very few people can conquer what they conquered. My team is very stoked, and I believe in my team. But by no means am I filling anyone shoes — I don't want that pressure."”>View this post on Instagram

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Clarkson recalled that, in the '90s, she was a big fan of Rosie O'Donnell's talk show. This season, she's looking forward to the debuts of her competitors, believe it or not. And she specifically shouted out the hosts of the new Sherri and The Jennifer Hudson Show, which stars a fellow American Idol favorite.

"I am so excited for Sherri Shepherd. I’m so stoked for her. She's one of my favorite guests. Literally, I pole-danced with her on my show," Clarkson said. "And I'm so excited for Jennifer Hudson. Who would have thought two girls from Idol would be doing this type of thing?"

And, no, there's no competition there.

"There's room for everyone," she said. "I just wanted to say that, because I don't like how people pit us against each other. I want to be sure that everyone knows that we are supportive of each other. We are all so different, and daytime is an amazing platform for all of us to bring something positive into the world."

Daytime TV allows her quality time to parent, too. Clarkson has two kids, 8-year-old daughter River Rose and son Remington, 6, with her ex-husband, Brandon Blackstock. (An album filled with songs she wrote following their breakup will be out next year.) She makes parenting a priority — this season, the show pushed everything back 30 minutes so she could take the kids to school — but she still has mom guilt.

"My mom, I did call her once — this was years ago — and I was like, 'Do I see my kids enough?' And she was like, 'Oh, my God, Kelly, you see your kids way more than I saw you!'" Clarkson said. "A lot of people don't have the means, so I'm very fortunate. The scheduling can get tricky, but I have such a great team: Everyone at NBC is amazing, and everybody wants everyone to be successful. It's really helpful to have that type of unity in your environment at work. There are a lot of parents at the talk show and at The Voice and at my label. And there are a lot of women."

Yes, there have been changes throughout the industry since Clarkson arrived. She insists that she has stayed the same.

"I find myself to be incredibly normal. I don't know how that happened," she told the publication. "I always feel bad for artists who can't go anywhere. I can go to Target all the time, anytime I want. Somehow, I lucked out."

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