'Stronger' Clarkson comes to Taj with new hit album

Kelly Clarkson, shown performing at a December concert in New York, returned to Atlantic City on Sunday.

Kelly Clarkson isn’t that angry. Really.

Somewhere along her pop music journey, Clarkson, the breakout winner of the inaugural season of “American Idol,” has earned a reputation for two things — singing angry-but-infuriatingly-catchy breakup anthems such as “Since U Been Gone” and “Walk Away,” and trying to shake off the “Idol” label that made her a household name 10 years ago.

But if Clarkson’s sold-out show Sunday night at the Trump Taj Mahal’s Mark G. Etess Arena proved anything, it’s that Clarkson doesn’t have a chip on her shoulder. She has a message.

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She is her own woman.

Wearing tight black pants that accented her curves (Clarkson has been the subject of negative press for her fluctuating weight) and a sequin top, Clarkson, backed by an 8-piece band, stood behind a screen while the words “fat,” “failure” and “girl next door” flashed across the screen. Behind her appeared more newspaper headlines: “Make-up mishap for Clarkson.” “Record label drops Clarkson.”

As she began to sing the words to her single “Dark Side” from her latest release “Stronger” —  “Nobody’s picture perfect … do you love me?” — it was instantly clear why fans feel a bond with the singer.

Even after a fast rise to fame that could give anyone a head trip, Clarkson remains surprisingly relatable, almost embracing any criticisms about her style or appearance. But for the unmistakable, pitch-perfect voice, it almost seemed like it could be any well-mannered girl in the audience on the stage, having a conversation with a few thousand people.

“OK, so not to brag, but I played Wheel of Fortune yesterday,” Clarkson told the audience after a few songs. “And this kid (pointing to herself) hit the $1,000 jackpot. There is some security footage somewhere that is hilarious. I flipped out like I had just won a man.”

Even her band introductions were adorable.

“Ya’ll don’t realize this, but I would really suck without them,” Clarkson told the crowd.

For someone who did fight for her “Idol” independence by the time album No. 3 rolled around, Clarkson had no qualms about discussing her time on the show, even thanking fans for their votes and their loyalty a decade after emerging as the show’s winner.

Staying true to her “Idol” roots, Clarkson even let fans request favorite songs through her Web site. She ultimately chose “The War is Over,” requested by an Atlantic City fan.

“Since the beginning of my career, you all have been involved, voting and all,” she told the crowd. “So you still get some control.”

Clarkson’s show was surprisingly low-key in terms of the staging, with minimal lighting and costume changes — one of the cooler tricks was a giant hologram of Jason Aldean singing alongside Clarkson for their country duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay.”

But the pared-down show kept the focus where it belonged, which is on Clarkson’s voice.

Her cover tunes — which sometimes can be a low point in a show — were well-chosen favorites such as Florence and the Machine’s “Heavy in Your Arms” and fellow “Idol” Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t.”

Opening for Clarkson was singer/songwriter Matt Nathanson, whose blend of folk/pop/rock was a nice match for Clarkson’s radio-friendly style. Nathanson mostly played tracks from his latest album, “Modern Love,” along with a few fun covers (his medley of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” managed to not sound too cliché), and seemed to find some common ground with the Clarkson fans who embrace those famous breakup anthems.

“How many people here have been in a relationship with someone who is, say, evil?” Nathanson asked.

The crowd erupted.

Looks like any spurned lovers came to the right show after all.

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