Kelly Clarkson Surprise: Singer Proves Why She’s An ‘American Idol’ Queen, 13 Years Later

It’s hard to believe Kelly Clarkson became the first American Idol 13 years ago. Wednesday night, the singer returned to the show where she got her start and gave current contestants quite a surprise – Kelly sang her audition song.

That tune was Etta James’ “At Last,” and the surprise rendition earned Clarkson a standing ovation. Viewers didn’t even notice that she was actually pretty nervous, AOL reported. Kelly’s ear pieces weren’t working and she worried her golden pipes faltered off key.

Of course, they didn’t, and Clarkson was glad to give Idol hopefuls such an encouraging surprise, she told People.

“It’s nice for them to see that you can have longevity and a career from a show like this. I know a lot of people get flack for coming from shows like this. I know I did. It’s a talent show, but at the end of the day, it’s not how you get into the industry, it’s what you do once you’re there.”

Kelly Clarkson’s surprise Idol visit was surreal in more ways than one. Contestants parsed their songs from Kelly’s songbook, which she told People was far more diverse than she thought.

“It’s nice to see that my catalog isn’t boring and I don’t do the same song twice.”

Kelly also used her position as the older, wiser queen of the competition show to dispense some sage advice about the industry. Clarkson’s two main points: sing with emotion, not perfection, and just have fun.

“I used to be so uptight and if I had a sucky performance, I used to be, like, ‘Nobody come into the room. I just want to be by myself.’ And I’d be so down on myself but my manager came in one night and said ‘You’re crazy. This is supposed to be fun.'”

[Photo Courtesy Kevin Winter/Getty Images]