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Track Review

It seems like just a moment ago that a sassy, fresh-faced 20-year-old girl next door from Burleson, Texas, was singing "A Moment Like This" after capturing the hearts of America and subsequently being crowned champion on the inaugural season of American Idol.

Ten years, five studio albums and 14 Top 40 hits later, Clarkson has made good on the promise of that title. American Idol may be getting a bit long in the tooth these days, but it seems as if Clarkson herself is just hitting her stride, a suggestion that's reinforced by the title of her latest album, Greatest Hits: Chapter One. Kelly's latest, "Catch My Breath," is one of three original new songs from that compilation.

Perhaps it's fitting, then, that "Catch My Breath" reflects on the relational and professional costs of becoming a genuine pop idol. Against the backdrop of thoroughly contemporary drum-machine beats and synthesizer-infused EDM flourishes, this mid-tempo ballad finds Clarkson ruminating on the challenges of fame and voicing her determination to keep her priorities straight as she moves into her second decade of superstardom.

For Clarkson, the celebrity life has been a delicate balancing act, and one that's had its fair share of conflict. "I've spent most of my life/Riding waves, playing acrobat," she confesses in the first verse, "Shadowboxing the other half/Learning how to react." She says she's dealt with deception ("Catching breath in a web of lies") and battled feelings of isolation ("I don't wanna be left behind/Distance was a friend of mine").

As she ramps up into the chorus, we hear that personal sacrifice has been the name of the game when it comes to her fame: "Catching my breath/Letting it go/Turning my cheek for the sake of the show." Now, however, she's determined to live life on her terms and not to let others dictate her decisions: "Now that you know, this is my life/I won't be told what's supposed to be right."

To the extent that Clarkson is taking healthy ownership of her life and choices, and rejecting those who would try to manipulate her, that last line could be heard as a message of empowerment. If, on the other hand, it's a statement about her determination to do whatever she wants regardless of what anyone else thinks, it could also be interpreted as reckless and arrogant.

The latter outcome, however, seems unlikely given the fact that Clarkson is more sure than ever of who has her best interests at heart. She's determined to make those relationships a priority. Where she once had a "heavy heart," she now describes her buoyant outlook as a "weightless cloud," and she's "making time for the ones that count." To those who've loved and supported her along the way, she sings, "You helped me see/the beauty in everything." And as for the days ahead, "I'll spend the rest of my time/Laughing hard with the windows rolled down."

Regarding the place of faith in her life—Clarkson has described herself as a Christian—we get one passing, casual nod to it, albeit mashed up euphemistically with a bit of Eastern spirituality: "Leaving footprints all over town/Keeping faith, karma comes around."

All in all, it sounds as if being the first American Idol hasn't been easy. In fact, it's been a lonely, disorienting journey for Kelly Clarkson at times. But a decade in, the feisty pop diva seems to be zeroing in on who and what matters most to her in life, even as she encourages her many fans to do same.

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October 15, 2012

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Adam R. Holz

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