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"Excuse me, is this the line for The Kelly Clarkson Show?"
I'm standing on the main floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and I'm bombarded with a crowd of people waiting on a cold November day to get into a taping of one of the most popular daytime series at the moment. Kelly Clarkson has just moved her talk show to New York City for season 5, and it took everything in me not to scream when a publicist reached out with the opportunity to attend one of her shows.
I'm idling patiently with my confirmation and ID in hand. The excitement from other people is palpable. A group of women behind me discuss that they had previously attended the morning taping of the show, while those in front of me guess who the guests for the afternoon taping might be (The Kelly Clarkson Show does two tapings a day — one in the morning at 10 a.m., and one in the afternoon at 3 p.m. — and fans can get tickets for free).
After about 20 minutes, an NBC page comes around asking for a QR code and proof of identification. "Come with me," she replies after looking at my email confirmation. "Let's get you over to the next step of entry."
As I rush up a grand staircase and stand on another line, an official ticket and a waiver gets thrust into my hand. I sign the paper, and after sometime, I'm ushered toward security.
This is where I meet a family who came in from Rochester, New York for the occasion. It's the first time in New York City for one of the members, and the group snagged last-minute tickets the day before.
"We weren't expecting this," one of them said. "But if this experience doesn't capture the magic of the holiday season, I don't know what does."
Indeed, she's right, because as soon as we go through the airport-level metal detectors, we're all directed to the iconic Peacock Lounge, filled with bright screens oscillating between images of The Voice alum and guests from previous seasons. Numerous couches are spread throughout, and for those intrigued by a photo booth, NBC has one set in place to help create a memento of the day.
As I wait for my next step, I overhear a conversation between two soon-to-be audience members. One person flew in from Houston to attend the taping on short notice. The other took the day off work because she wanted to see what the original American Idol looked like in the flesh. It's amazing the lengths people go to just for a chance to watch Clarkson do her thing, which speaks volumes to her connection to her fans.
After another NBC page comes around to explain taping rules (no cell phones or leaving the premises when the show begins), it's time to head upstairs to Studio 6A. The location itself is iconic, as it is right across from where The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon tapes, and it once housed shows hosted by both David Letterman and Conan O'Brien.
I get ushered to my seat right in front (making this camera-shy writer slightly uneasy), and after looking around at the size of the seemingly small studio, I immediately ask a PA how many people could fit in it.
Given its unique horizontal layout (as opposed to The Tonight Show's vertical layout, with the seats facing the same direction you came in from), The Kelly Clarkson Show can hold up to 200 audience members — something you wouldn't expect. While bigger than the majority of the studios in 30 Rock, it's still small enough to give an intimate feel on set.
After warm-up comedian Jay Flats gets the audience hyped with jokes and a rundown of how a taping of The Kelly Clarkson Show works, a high-pitched singing voice breaks through the air. The room erupts into shrieking because, without any notice, Kelly Clarkson is officially on stage and ready to go.
Dressed in a white long-sleeved shirt and billowing pants, she takes a few moments to work out a new musical arrangement with Y'all (a.k.a. her house band). Suddenly, the director tells everyone to get on their feet, and Clarkson jumps into a high-energy rendition of Madonna's "Vogue" for her opening "Kellyoke"segment. Every person in the room is dancing to the classic tune, and Studio 6A is instantly a concert venue.
This is Kelly Clarkson in her element. She's commanding the stage, causing a few tears from her fans, and shining as she does the thing she loves to do most.
As the hour and a half-long taping commences, viewers get to see Clarkson interact with her guests: Saturday Night Live star Kenan Thompson and music sensation Sean Paul. Even actor This Is Us's Sterling K. Brown manages to make a surprise appearance, gifting Clarkson with a bag of Doritos, so the two can lick the cheese dust and throw the chip away ("I just have an addiction to salt," she jokes in between takes).
Watching Clarkson from my seat during a commercial break, a hair and makeup team comes running out from backstage for quick touch-ups. Amid contour brushes and a fluffing of her ponytail, she converses with Thompson about his shower etiquette. The two banter back and forth about how to properly bathe, and as a way to squash the debate, she turns to the audience for their thoughts.
"What do you think?" she asks. "Am I right, or is Kenan?" People scream out their answers, and after a minute of hearing responses, Clarkson and Thompson agree to disagree before the next segment.
It's also clear she connects with her crew as much as she does her guests and audience. During one moment, I see her go up to a camera grip to ask how his kids are doing. She then talks about how she recently took her children (daughter River Rose and son Remington "Remy" Alexander) to see the Christmas lights in New York City. She declares her daughter isn't into the idea of trekking around to see the spectacle, leading her to say a typical mom quote: "You're gonna do it and you're gonna love it!"
After the show finally ends, a security guard directs people to exit Studio 6A the same way they entered. Because I'm there to write a story, the publicist instead meets me on the stage to introduce me to key members of The Kelly Clarkson Show.
As I shake hands with executive producer and showrunner Alex Duda, we chat about how the taping went. "I felt so welcome here and certainly felt the love from Kelly," I earnestly tell her. This leads Duda to emphasize one thing I felt throughout the taping: "Kelly is a connector," she says.
The publicist then walks me backstage, where I meet Jessi Collins, the vocal director of Y'all, in the hallway of dressing rooms. After I congratulate her on a great performance, I take a peek into the different rooms.
Each one is designed around Clarkson's favorite artists (yes, there's even a plaque of her former mother-in-law and country music queen Reba McEntire on one of the doors, and every green room's vibe reflects the musician whose photo is hung on the door.
We eventually make our way to the elevators to part ways, and I share a quote with the publicist that my mom loves to tell me. "Change your place, change your luck." Because while Clarkson's luck might have shifted since moving her show from Universal Studios Lot in California to New York, it's clear this new energy is doing wonders for her.
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