Once the people's champion, always the people's champion.
This much was clear 30 seconds into Kelly Clarkson's Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort concert Saturday night, as the opening verse of "All I Ever Wanted" had a capacity crowd on its feet.
In the second week of her fall tour in support of her fourth album, "All I Ever Wanted," Clarkson wowed an all-ages crowd with a hard-charging set of favorites and covers that show the singer is at the peak of her pop powers, each song punctuated by an anything-but-low roar from her adoring fans.
The adulation was to be expected. Give the woman a stack of take-out menus to sing, and she still would have received a raucous standing ovation after every one.
Almost two years to the day of her last appearance in Atlantic City, the Clarkson that emerged from behind a sheer white curtain was a more confident, polished performer than the one who has appeared three other times in the resort since being crowned the first "American Idol" champ.
Dressed from head to toe in black, she owned the Taj Arena, backed by a crack 11-piece band that included a DJ and horn section. The additions added a welcome texture to such Clarkson standards as "Walk Away."
At other times, she stripped the arrangements down to their core. A powerful "Behind These Hazel Eyes" relied on little more than her voice and two guitars. It came during the night's slowest section, when Clarkson's voice took center stage on the Black Keys' "Lies," a bluesy version of Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" and "Hazel Eyes."
Still, the singer and her band rarely lifted their feet from the gas, powering through 20 songs during their 85 minutes on stage. From her faithful rendition of "Because of You" to the fizzy pop of "I Want You," Clarkson was willing to stretch beyond the confines of her records, and the show was the better for it.
Throughout, she took time to thank the fans so willing to give her their love. They stood on chairs, snapped pictures at will and often offered a fist-pumping exclamation point to the ends of songs.
As for her opening act, Parachute set the table with a jumpy 30-minute set of pop-rock that had the crowd riled up by its end. It would be no surprise to see the all-male quintet return as headliners before long.
But the group is still working its way up the ladder, a situation far different from Clarkson's climb from unknown to "American Idol" to bona fide pop superstar.
It makes you wonder: If not for "Idol," would the world have discovered Kelly Clarkson? The suspicion, after nearly 90 minutes of pulse-pounding pop-rock Saturday night, is yes.
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