Pop superstar Kelly Clarkson hit the top 10 of Billboard's Hot 100 chart on March 7 with "Piece by Piece," a single released last November from her album of the same name. Following an emotional performance of the personal song on American Idol, the show that launched her career back in 2002, she connected with a wide audience who pushed the aging tune to top of iTunes. "Piece" is just one instance of Clarkson's slow burn success that's seen as unusual in world with those quick to judge a single as a hit or flop.
Clarkson was catapulted into superstardom with her win on season one of American Idol. Her debut single, "A Moment Like This," leaped to No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart and went on the become the best-selling song of 2002. The lead release from her first album, "Miss Independent," would be a sign of things to come, taking three months to reach the top 10. The well-oiled Disney machine would keep the hits coming with "Breakaway," Kelly's third top 10 from The Princess Diaries 2 soundtrack.
The pressure was on once it was time to release album No. 2, Breakaway, in Nov. 2004. This was Clarkson's time to find an audience outside of Idol and she achieved it, slowly but surely, with the pop-rock anthem, "Since U Been Gone." After taking five months to reach No. 2 on the Hot 100 chart, the kiss-off track would be her first to transcend hit status to become more of a moment that resonated with listeners. Her label saw the dollars signs and kept the hits from the album coming.
One of the few times in which Clarkson followed the pop music status quo and instantly shot into the top 10 came with "Never Again," from her dark album, 2007's My December. She made the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the record her label refused to properly promote loud and clear with the angry and embattled track. The fans took notice of the sad circumstances and pushed the single into the top 10 themselves through iTunes.
The following album, 2009's All I Ever Wanted, saw Clarkson return to complete command of her label. "My Life Would Suck Without You" jumped to No. 1 in two weeks with RCA throwing the promotional machine back into full gear. When 2011's "Mr. Know It All" from the Stronger album initially missed the top 10, some were ready to label Kelly a flop, but the sassy number ended up taking a few months to reach No. 10. She would come back with a vengeance with the second single, the title track, that shut down the naysayers and eventually became her third No. 1 hit.
Moving past the greatest hits and Christmas album, Clarkson returned with her newest studio album, Piece by Piece, in February of last year. Even though the album opened at the top of Billboard, it yielded lower first week sales for the singer. Lead single "Heartbeat Song" peaked at No. 21 on the Hot 100 and follow-up "Invincible" missed the chart. Usually a label halts promotion for an album with those kinds of results but fortunately the title track was given a shot in November. Up until last week, it too was a chart no-show.
The magic of Clarkson's slow burn success came through once again at its most delayed for the final season of American Idol on Feb. 25. Kelly performed a stripped version of "Piece by Piece" where she let the tears fall contrasting her deadbeat dad with her caring husband. Clarkson simply sang at the mic stand and reached out to all those who connected with her message. A year after the release of the album, the song she co-wrote debuted at No. 8 on Billboard. The pieces always fall into place for Kelly once her musical moments take hold of listeners. Just give her some time to warm up.