Behind the Scenes of ‘The Kelly Clarkson Show’: Curated Playlists, Filming Out of Order and Leaning Into Human Interest

Ever since her inaugural win on “American Idol” two decades ago, Kelly Clarkson has steadily risen in the music industry to occupy a coveted position in the public consciousness as one of the country’s preeminent sweethearts. She’s dominated the Billboard charts, won three Grammys and served as a judge on NBC’s “The Voice.” Now, with five Daytime Emmys under her belt, the multihyphenate is looking to solidify her standing as the go-to daytime host with her eponymous talk show on the same network, taking over the time slot that catapulted Ellen DeGeneres into daytime royalty as “The Kelly Clarkson Show” goes deeper into its fourth season.

“She’s a natural connector, she’s naturally curious — that is a great thing for daytime,” Alex Duda, who serves as showrunner and executive producer along with Clarkson, told TheWrap, “and she’s a fan. She loves art and she loves stories about art, and as an artist, she looks to art to heal. So that came in handy, especially the last couple of years that we’ve been going through the pandemic.”

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Duda, whose background in executive producing talk-shows stems from her time in the reality TV world and programs like “The Steve Harvey Show” and “The Tyra Banks Show,” said Clarkson’s series plays to the singer-star’s strengths as a musician and effective communicator.

When in doubt, the producers go back to the maxim of “connection and music and positivity,” and that’s why the show kicks off with Clarkson’s signature “Kellyoke” segment of song covers. Duda says that a typical day with the host will feature her in the makeup chair with headphones in as she listens to the musical arrangement long-time musical director Jason Halbert has prepared for her.

With 180 episodes a season and as many “Kellyoke” segments, the producer works two weeks out from airdate to arrange six tracks (per each episode taped a week), cut to a minute-and-a-half for TV. After that, Halbert and vocal director Jessi Collins lay down a scratch guide (or reference track) for Clarkson and the band, which gets one rehearsal before recording.

“The morning of the show, I send Kelly her two references, usually about 6:30 a.m. and while she’s in glam, she listens to the songs and then she comes out on stage and rehearses them maybe one time and then we do it,” Halbert explained, adding that being “nimble” is key in case songs need to be changed day-of without a reference prepped in advance.

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As “The Kelly Clarkson Show” aims to hit the right notes in its fourth season (which premiered Sept. 12) and coveted daytime spot, Duda likened the experience to the beginning of a college journey, with the program debuting new segments and going deeper with its human-interest storytelling.

“What was important to us as we went into these new time slots, we knew a lot of times we’re moving a little later, and we were leading into news for a lot of our partner stations, and so we wanted to be good partners and good news lead-ins,” she explained, adding that the show will sometimes tap into the markets to cross-promote other projects for mutual benefit.

Some of the new material includes emphasizing celebrity panel segments, featuring the casts of Netflix’s “The School for Good and Evil” or Apple’s “CODA” the year prior, as a lead-in to cash-based competition shows. The series has also launched an initiative called Good Neighbor, which highlights everyday people who are stepping up for their community. As for “Kellyoke,” everyone from Dwayne Johnson to Sam Smith want in.

Coming up, the singer will duet on the show with none other than Dolly Parton, with whom she recently recorded a reimagined take of the latter’s iconic “9 to 5.” Halbert said that part of the show’s growth has been exemplified by the singing segment’s success in clearing tracks for television from artists such as Florence + the Machine, Mumford & Sons and the Prince estate, who have previously denied their usage.

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Per NBCUniversal, “The Kelly Clarkson Show” is the only syndicated talk show to grow in consecutive seasons since 2014 and the only one among the top 3 to grow year after year. Averaging 1.3 million daily viewers to date, the show is also rising in key demos locally including year-over-year double digit percentage increases among Adults 25-54 in multiple top markets.

But ultimately, Duda said the show prioritizes its narrative aspects, always going back to Clarkson’s roots, like her time in the Nashville music scene with the recent segment on the artist collective The Song House.

“We try to tell good stories, and I think that always wins in the end,” Duda said. “The beginning, middle and end as far as the human interest [part], and people just want to feel better on our show.”

At the same time, the show is willing to explore more serious issues, having found its footing along its run. In a segment last month, Clarkson — a native Texan — journeyed to Uvalde with veteran newscaster Lester Holt to highlight the community’s process of grief and healing via art.

“It felt important as a mom, and we have Lester and that felt like the right combination for the panel,” Duda recalled. “And the way we told that story was through a group of artists who were painting murals of all of the victims all over town, to give the families a place that was happy where they [could] remember all the great things about their kid, and it was really hard day, but I think it was an important one for us.”

When it comes to the technical aspects of stitching together a successful daytime program, Duda said prep time for the series is “essential,” working in tandem across booking and production departments to cultivate story via the various guests and segments on a given show. Then, on the day of, it’s about efficiency: getting guests in-and-out and taking advantage of the free-flowing movement of the taping, which can and often does film out of order by virtue of being a syndicated rather than live show.

Oftentimes, “The Kelly Clarkson Show” will do a full run-through interview with a guest, opting for pickups for commercial breaks later. Duda credited Clarkson with tracking her continuity as host and the entire team for having each other’s backs to make decisions “on the fly.”

“You always go in with a script so you know what you want, but you also have to be open to letting it go where it wants to go because you can get something better,” Duda said. “So the trick is listening. And that’s the trick for any talk show host anyway, just to be a good listener.”

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