Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson

No one had to put one of the nine guns Kelly Clarkson owns to her head to get her to appear on The Voice. The American Idol veteran, who recently talked to National Public Radio in the U.S. about her gun collection and the fact that she sleeps with a Colt .45 under her pillow, was more than happy to accept a recurring advisory role on the hit TV talent show where celebrity judges, including her pal, country star Blake Shelton, sit in chairs with their backs turned to the singers and choose talent based on voice alone.

"I am obsessed with that show," Clarkson admits. "I just want to audition and I want to see how many chairs will turn around. I'm, like, so competitive."

Clarkson was in Toronto recently ahead of a couple of Southern Ontario concert dates. The "Mr. Know It All" singer is on the road in North America until April touring her fifth album, Stronger, which came out last fall to generally positive reviews and sales of well over 600,000 in North America so far. But The Voice gig, she says, was less about self-promotion -- although its timing is fortuitous -- than simply getting the chance to be a part of a similar environment to the one in which her own career was spawned.

"I love Idol, I still watch Idol," she says. "I love all those shows. I think especially in an environment where there's not a lot of artist development going on right now because people need to make money right off the bat and it's so formulaic, so it's hard. Yes, people do hit every once in awhile but not like they used to. So I think it's kind of cool with these shows [that] you get this raw talent that comes on this stage, and I think that's awesome."

Clarkson should know. The Texan broke out internationally when she was chosen to compete on the very first season of American Idol back in 2002. That led to her hit 2003 debut album Thankful and a recording career that has spawned another four albums, over 24 million record sales, and two Grammy Awards.

While the Fort Worth native is generally considered a pop star, she recently won a Country Music Association award for Musical Event of the Year with Jason Aldean for their hit single "Don't You Wanna Stay." The change in direction, she says, was primarily an attempt to stave off boredom, not a rejection of her pop roots.

"I like being able to sing different stuff. I don't want to ever sing the same stuff over and over and over, and I'm forced to sometimes; in the past I have been. So I don't want to get stuck in that rut.

"I like being able to go and do something country or go sing for the Pope. It's for me; it's more selfishly for me. Not even to prove to people I can do this, more like I get bored out of my fricking mind doing the same damn thing over and over and over. So I need it. It's a challenge for me creatively."

Perhaps Clarkson's greatest creative challenge during her decade in the spotlight has been to simply be herself, which has sometimes meant not making the most commercially accessible music. She famously feuded with RCA Records head Clive Davis over the artistic direction of her third album, 2007's My December. Less dance-oriented than her previous work, My December was a more sombre record but still proved to be a critical and commercial success.

Following her instincts and standing up for herself is never easy, Clarkson says, but "[i]t's getting easier now because I've been doing it for a decade. But my whole twenties... People find it unbelievable... Even, like, my previous manager, he wanted me to be the biggest star in the world. That ain't a goal of mine. I don't care. Like, I don't want to work that hard! I don't want my life to revolve around this.

"I have a life separate [from my career], and I want that. I want to one day have kids and be able to take them to school. I just have bigger dreams than that. And I think a lot of people in this industry can't fathom turning down million-dollar deals, they can't fathom [that] you want a life. And I love my job, but I want to love my job. I don't want to hate my job or resent it. I've had to pick and choose. I don't think life is about sacrifice, I think life is about priorities, and my priorities are just very different from most people in this industry.

"So I've had to really work for that. And there's been a lot of ups and downs with that. But in the end it's all been worth it, and I think people have a really good grasp of who I am now. But I think you'll always have to work at that, right?"

Right.