I can't remember if I wanted Kelly Clarkson or Justin Guarini to win when I watched the season finale of the first-ever American Idol in my friend's basement on a hot night back in Sept. 2002. I may have been rooting for Guarini due to his connection to Philadelphia and his curly hair, two things I'm a sucker for, but I can say with full confidence now that she not only deserved to win Season 1 of American Idol, but that Kelly Clarkson is the greatest American Idol winner in the show's history. With the singing competition series coming to an end on Thursday, April 7 after a three-night extravaganza, I feel it is only appropriate to recognize Clarkson for her phenomenal performances, range, staying power, attitude, and — of course — voice, since she was made a star after winning the series.
Not to take away from the many talented singers that American Idol has produced like Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, and more, but Clarkson's empowering lyrics and her diva belt just speak to me. I have seen Clarkson perform live twice — once in 2006 (complete with a non-Clarkson affiliated department store "Miss Independent" T-shirt bought solely for the occasion) and again in 2012 — and neither time did she disappoint. Her voice is as good as you'd expect from those original long-ago live performances on Fox's American Idol stage, and she's a giving and engaging performer.
In honor of Clarkson staying true to herself and tearing up the music scene since her discovery on American Idol back in 2002, here are 18 of her greatest songs. While most of this were released as singles by Clarkson, it's a true testament to her talent that she has had so many pop chart hits over the years.
1. "The Trouble With Love Is"
This song from her debut album Thankful could have perhaps been just a little release that showed her big voice, but thanks to its use in Love Actually , it will always have a special place in my heart.
"Low" was the first hint at something deeper lurking underneath Clarkson's cheery American Idol surface.
3. "A Moment Like This"
This is definitely not one of my favorite songs by Clarkson, but how can I deny the song that she sung live after she won American Idol? Plus, gotta love that husky tone to her voice.
4. "Since U Been Gone"
This badass anthem for scorned people is perhaps Clarkson's greatest hit ever. And it also marks the beginning of my love of her second album Breakaway.
5. "Behind These Hazel Eyes"
Speaking of badass anthems, "Behind These Hazel Eyes" may not have been as poptastic as "Since U Been Gone," but it was just as fierce. Plus, there was a memorable music video to boot!
6. "Because of You"
Before 2015's "Piece by Piece," Clarkson had "Because of You," a powerful ballad about the struggles with her father leaving her family when she was young. Excuse me while I go cry about Clarkson's vulnerability on courageous display.
While not a single, "Addicted" may be my favorite Clarkson song. She started the 2006 concert I saw with it in an epic fashion, and she claims in the above video it was her favorite song off of Breakaway.
8. "Walk Away"
Singing along to the bridge of this song is perhaps the most empowered I have ever felt — unfortunately the same can't be said for people who hear me singing to it. And, thus ends the Breakaway section of this list. (Trust me: It was a struggle not to include almost every song from that album.)
9. "Never Again"
A bad breakup in Clarkson's love life inspired the dark album My December , which may have been bad for Clarkson personally, but was pretty great for her fans musically.
Just wait until Clarkson goes up the octave toward the end of "Sober" — it's truly chill-inducing and worth the build up.
11. "My Life Would Suck Without You"
When I initially heard this single from Clarkson's album All I Ever Wanted, I was slightly disappointed in the juvenile lyrical content, but as with all things Clarkson, it eventually won me over and strangely, I like it more at 29 years old than I did at 22.
12. "I Do Not Hook Up"
Almost a companion to "My Life Would Suck Without You," this other All I Ever Wanted single showed Clarkson's sassy side that was refreshing to hear after the depressing My December.
13. "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)"
Her 2011 album, Stronger, saw Clarkson return to her peak form, thanks largely to the title song.
14. "Dark Side"
Even though she is not asking me if I can love her dark side in this song, as a person who thinks some of Clarkson's best songs are her most emotional, I definitely can and do.
15. "Catch My Breath"
Clarkson released this song as a new single off of her Greatest Hits — Chapter One album. Although it technically wasn't a hit when she put it on her album, it absolutely deserved a place along her greatest songs.
16. "Tie It Up"
I'm not big on Clarkson's country-inspired songs and collaborations, but this stand-alone single is so cute and catchy that I couldn't ignore it.
17. "Heartbeat Song"
This up-tempo tune from 2015 marked another comeback for Clarkson.
18. "Piece By Piece"
As previously mentioned, this emotional ballad mentions her father, but there is a happier side to it than "Because of You," thanks to Clarkson being in a healthy relationship with her husband Brandon Blackstock and having a child of her own — and another on the way!
Fans have watched Clarkson grow up (and possibly grown up alongside her) to be the independent woman and mature artist she is today since American Idol Season 1. While American Idol helped propel her to stardom, it does not solely define her career. However, as her first album title referenced, she's thankful to the series and she'll show that one last time when Clarkson performs through a prerecorded video during the final night of American Idol on Thursday, April 7 at 8 p.m. And at least you have a plethora of Clarkson songs to get you through emotionally after the series ends.