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THE FALL SEASON

'Idol' Goes to Vegas, and Everywhere Else

A Fox special is one in a long line of appearances by Kelly Clarkson

September 23, 2002|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Debbie Allen keeps getting in Kelly Clarkson's face.

Wherever the newly crowned "American Idol" goes, Allen is right behind her, insisting, "You want fame? Well, fame costs. And here is where you start paying. In sweat."

Well, not exactly.

Clarkson has never met Allen or seen the TV series "Fame," in which Allen, who played a demanding dance teacher at New York's High School of the Performing Arts, makes the declaration that opened each episode.

But Allen's words certainly fit with the grueling schedule Clarkson has faced in the almost three weeks since she beat hundreds of hopefuls to win Fox's hit "American Idol" talent competition.

And yet, only a few days after her first single hit stores, she said she is more interested in artistry than celebrity. "I'm not seeking fame," Clarkson said Thursday, the day after taping "American Idol in Vegas," a Fox special airing tonight spotlighting the 30 "American Idol" finalists performing at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. "I'm glad that I have a job I really enjoy. I love singing."

But if Clarkson says being a celebrity is not her top priority, the forces behind "American Idol" have put their star-making machinery in overdrive, putting her on the fast track to fame.

In their design to transform the former cocktail waitress into a true American idol, her new managers--the Britain-based 19 Entertainment--have put her on a dizzying, seemingly nonstop schedule of talk-show and public appearances, with the goal of making her fresh face and voice an unavoidable beacon on the pop culture landscape.

"She is going to be very busy," said Tom Ennis, who runs 19 Entertainment in the U.S. "There's pressure any time you have to stick to a tremendous schedule. The amount of attention thrust suddenly on her is a tremendous burden to bear. But Kelly is completely and totally a pro, and she's handling it."

Clarkson's "Idol" triumph scored her a record contract with RCA Records, and her first single, with the songs "Before Your Love" and "A Moment Like This," is already a huge seller after its release last week. RCA Records is preparing to get Clarkson into the studio for work on her debut album, which 19 Entertainment executives would like to get into stores by Thanksgiving.

Today, in addition to appearing on the Las Vegas special, Clarkson is scheduled to appear on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," which tapes in the afternoon (she first appeared on the show Sept. 5, the day after winning the competition). Later tonight, she is slated to sing at a big charity event on Rodeo Drive.

Other appearances this week to promote the single include the syndicated "Live With Regis and Kelly," NBC's "The Today Show," MTV's "Total Request Live" and other gigs. Meanwhile, preparations are continuing for the national 28-city tour starting in early October that will feature Clarkson, "Idol" runner-up Justin Guarini and the other top 10 finalists.

"Everyone will have a solo, but there will be more of an emphasis on Kelly because she is the 'American Idol,' " Ennis said. "She will have more solos."

There's also the shooting of the "American Idol" Christmas special in Aspen, Colo., also with Clarkson and the 10 finalists. And starting early next year, Clarkson and Guarini will begin shooting a musical film produced by 19 Entertainment for release in the summer.

Despite the relentless schedule, Clarkson will hold up well, Ennis believes."She is already a seasoned professional. We got reports back from her first video shoot, which turned out to be a 20-hour day. She never flagged."

Still, the experience for Clarkson is likely to be overwhelming, said Lou Pearlman, the Orlando entertainment mogul behind the creation of popular boy bands the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. Pearlman also created the group O-Town for the ABC unscripted series "Making the Band." O-Town briefly flirted with fame but has not been heard from much lately.

"With O-Town, all the guys had each other," Pearlman said. "But Kelly is a solo artist, and there is no one else to lean on at the end of the day. She has all the pressure and all the expectations. It can get very overwhelming. There will be a lot of long days. It's what she has to do to become a big star."

Simon Fuller, the founder of 19 Entertainment and the key creative force behind hit phenoms the Spice Girls and S Club 7, has established an infrastructure that will keep Clarkson sane and focused during the next several months, Ennis said. One 19 executive will be with Clarkson at all times, assisting her and coordinating her schedule.

"We put our artists with the right people that will be their friends," Ennis said.

Richard Sanders, executive vice president and general manager of RCA Records, said he is impressed with Clarkson's stamina.

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