Tough Choices: The Kelly Clarkson Story

The original American Idol has been dethroned, her tour’s been canceled, she fired her management and reviews for My December have been less than golden.

But exactly what caused the shift? Kelly Clarkson’s been the most successful of the Idols up to this point, grossing more than $35 million in U.S. ticket sales and moving millions of albums.

What happened to Clarkson this year is a big question mark. She has successfully unshackled herself from "American Idol" and has the highest ticket gross of any of its spawn. Yet, she could not reach arena status this time out.

Did the tour need more support from Clive Davis’ label? Is it a sign that there is a shelf life to American Idols? Are concertgoers getting ticket-price fatigue?

Then again, is the question – after an amphitheatre tour that didn’t sell out – whether it was a good idea to try even larger rooms and more markets? Or, maybe the question is if Clarkson can’t do this, who possibly can?

All that is known is what happened with the record. The much-publicized issues between Clarkson and RCA over My December may have generated enough controversy to overshadow the release itself.

Sean Ross of Edison Media Research told the Washington Post the media frenzy surrounding the label’s noted lack of excitement for the album became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"It’s sort of extraordinary to me that this much judgment has been passed before everyone has heard the album, which I think to some extent will color how people see the album," Ross said.

He wasn’t so quick to discredit the entire record, as the single "Never Again" has reportedly fared well on iTunes.

"It is still a hit, which then raises the question of what is a hit record," Ross said. "If a hit record is only what the radio plays, then [the song by] Corinne Bailey Rae wasn’t a hit record but it was a very successful sales story."

Because Clarkson wrote much of the material on the album, it would be easy to chalk up the whole debacle to the old artist vs. label fight for creative control, but there’s more to the story.

Clarkson may in fact have found herself in the middle of a tug of war between her management company, The Firm, and the label.

At this year’s CIC, The Firm CEO Jeff Kwatinetz gave a telling glimpse into the inner dealings between his company and RCA during a panel discussion.

"I don’t understand why I have to give RCA any money when Kelly Clarkson records a live record in a venue and sells it when people are walking out," Kwatinetz said. "Not only that, but they’re the ones in control of it; you can’t move it forward. That’s why it’s a great thing that record companies are falling apart. It’s a great thing!"