But if you ask the superstar, 41, there’s one memory that bubbles to the top: when her daughter River Rose, 9, and son Remington Alexander, 7, joined her onstage at her Las Vegas residency in August. “They were a little nervous, but it was their idea, not mine,” Clarkson tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story of her children, whom she shares with ex-husband, Brandon Blackstock.
Performing in front of a sold-out theater, River opted for a duet of her mom’s hit “Heartbeat Song,” while Remington gleefully danced backup as Clarkson sang “Whole Lotta Woman.”
As her kids watched their mom captivate the audience, “I was like, ‘I feel like how you’re looking at me is how you watch Spider-Man,’ ” Clarkson recalls. “It caught me completely off guard, and it was the most magical moment because they were so happy and at ease. They were just in awe.”
Since winning the first season of American Idol in 2002, Clarkson has carved out a singular career in showbiz. Counting 10 studio albums under her belt, she’s also nabbed three Grammys (her latest album Chemistry is nominated for best pop vocal album), served as a coach on The Voice and launched her own talk show, for which she relocated from L.A. to New York City for season 5.
While her talk show just scored six wins at the Daytime Emmy Awards — including outstanding daytime talk series and host for Clarkson — her Vegas residency, which added more shows through the winter, is named after her most recent album, a collection of songs written about the unraveling of her nearly seven-year marriage to Blackstock, her former manager.
When she started writing Chemistry, “I didn’t see it other than: This is my outlet. I’m a let-go person; I don’t hold grudges. So it was really delving into what happened in my life and why—and what am I going to do about it?” she says.
“I cannot express how appreciative I feel for having that kind of healthy outlet. Because the level of depression and things that come with divorce or grieving is extraordinarily hard. You feel alone, and it’s just a blessing to be able to have that outlet for those emotions that are overwhelming.”
Finally releasing it “[was] like, ‘I’m taking my power back,’” Clarkson adds. “That sounds very therapy, but that’s because I love therapy, and I think it’s important to have those tools to navigate your life and relationships.”
Today as she builds her own village as a single mom in New York City, Clarkson, who is also an ambassador for Wayfair, is especially grateful for new beginnings. “Sometimes you don’t know what life has in store for you, and you think your life is going to go one way, and it’s OK that it doesn’t,” she says. “You never know how beautiful that might be.”