Monday, July 16, 2007

The KEL

A couple months ago I got the opportunity to write what has been my favorite articles of all time.

In my Literary Journalism class I was assigned to write a 2,000-word piece about anything of my choosing, so as long my professor approved. My first inkling was to write on a fanatic - specifically one of those Oprah-is-God suburban moms who is glued to her TV every afternoon at 3 p.m.

But alas, a college campus isn't the best place to find Oprah-obsessed mothers, so I took a lead from a fellow classmate and got in touch with a SU student who claimed to be a "huge" Kelly Clarkson fan.

As many of you know, I'm a Kelly fan myself, but not to the point of postering my wall with her or filling my workouts with a playlist Kelly, Kelly, Kelly!

My interviews with this fan - Stefani - were fascinating, and the more I talked to this girl, the more she wanted to tell me. Linked here you'll find the article, what I called "Buying Kelly Clarkson".

Buying Kelly Clarkson
By Nick McCarvel
June 5, 2007

Kelly Clarkson can’t be bought. At least, that’s what Stefani Kauppila was told the first time she asked.

She persisted, however, offering $20; begging the man separating Stefani from her coveted Kelly.

She upped her offer to $50, threw in a little sweet talk, a bit of desperation and reminded the man that Kelly would probably just be discarded at the end of the day, anyway.

He didn’t understand. But Stefani persisted. How about 100 bucks?

Finally, he agreed. $100 would do.

Stefani was delighted. Her friends, meanwhile, terrified.

She had purchased Kelly for $100. Well, a cardboard cutout of her, that is.

And that’s just one of 66 items on Stefani’s “Kelly Expense List”, also known as the KEL.

“[Cardboard Kelly] is not as creepy as my Kelly blanket,” Stefani grins. The blanket shows up as $55 on the KEL. “My roommate makes me leave that one at home, in Spokane. Sleeping with Kelly is a little too much for her.”

Stefani can’t figure out why she is so intrigued by, so fixated upon, so passionate about or so obsessed with Kelly Clarkson. She stopped trying to figure that out a long time ago…around KEL item number seven or so – the From Justin to Kelly DVD.

“The worst slash corniest movie ever,” she admits. "But yes, I bought it!”

“It’s this impulse,” she says, making a fist over her chest. “I just can’t help it.”

This impulse began five years ago, in the spring of 2002. Stefani agreed to sit down with family and watch an episode of American Idol, a new reality television show on the Fox Network.

The minute Kelly began to sing – her southern voice booming out of her petite frame – Stefani predicted that she (“That Clarkston girl from Texas,” as she called her) would win the contest.

That prediction wouldn’t have meant much, yet at the time, 32 contestants remained. But Stefani was sure. She can’t remember why.

But she did know one thing; she was hooked on Kelly Clarkson.

A few weeks later, she made KEL purchase number one, an issue of US Weekly, with Kelly on the cover.

So began their personal relationship. Or something like that.

When talking about Kelly, Stefani often speaks of her as if she is a close friend. Other times, Stefani refers to Kelly as “we”: “We didn’t need that. We weren’t thinking straight.”

She’s only met the pop star twice.

“She’s hilarious drunk,” Stefani comments coolly as she watches Kelly perform on the season finale of American Idol 6 on a warm May evening.

Stefani dives into a story about Kelly being pulled onto stage of a concert she was watching on TV once. She gives details of what alcoholic beverage Kelly was drinking, and how she was visibly intoxicated.

Stefani can give specifics about a myriad of Kelly quirks: from boyfriend drama to band members, from personal preferences to career decisions.

It’s as if they really are close, personal friends.

Stefani’s first meeting with Kelly Clarkson came at the fifth Kelly concert she attended, in the spring of 2004; item number 19 on the KEL.

It was the week before Easter and Stefani had watched Kelly perform in Seattle the night prior before driving (she got home at 3 a.m.) to her parent’s house in Spokane for another show the night of April 9th.

“The Davenport is the only nice hotel in Spokane, so I knew that’s where she had to be staying,” Stefani explains.

She sat alone in the lobby following the Spokane show. A mother and her pre-teen daughters fidgeted across the way, obviously awaiting the same excitement. As tour busses pulled up out front, a crowd from the lounge rushed to greet the incoming pop star. But Stefani sensed differently, and made her way to a side door. Just as she approached it, a van pulled up and out popped Kelly Clarkson, Stefani’s close friend.

“I thought: be normal! I thought I would freeze up, but I didn’t,” Stefani says. “I just said, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ I was really nervous, but she was just really nice.”

Kelly, dressed in a Gonzaga sweatshirt and season-appropriate bunny ears, chatted with Stefani for a couple minutes, took a picture and made her way through a now-crowded lobby.

“I felt bad for holding her up,” Stefani admits. “I hated bothering her like that.”

But she couldn’t help it. Stefani Kauppila has an obsessive personality.

In the summer of 2005 – when the KEL was 38 items and $1,270 old – Stefani called her mom to tell her she’d be skipping the family’s annual rafting trip in Montana…for a Kelly concert.

“We were miffed,” Julia Kauppila, Stefani’s mom recalls. “This obsession, this phase, had her picking a Kelly Clarkson concert over time on the river with her family.”

It wasn’t the first time she had heard she was ‘obsessive’.

“I have an obsessive personality with a lot of things. I’m one of those people who just gets really excited about things,” Stefani says.

Photo by ymlivesets via flickr.com.

Stefani isn’t alone on this particular ‘thing’; Kelly Clarkson is an international phenomenon.

After her 2002 breakthrough on the debut season of American Idol, Kelly released her first CD, Thankful, in 2003. The album would eventually go double-platinum and launch her into superstardom.

A year later, the Texan distanced herself from the Idol image with her second album, Breakaway (and KEL item numbers twenty-three and twenty-four). This work would score Kelly two Grammy Awards, four U.S. top-ten singles and a five-time platinum certification.

Plus, a few million obsessive fans.Stefani has been a fan from the start: since that fateful spring night in 2002. But, she contests, there’s worse.

“One girl had a tattoo of Kelly’s eyes below her neckline. That’s creepy,” Stefani says. “I would never knock on [Kelly’s] front door. Being invasive is not my style. I actually get mad at people [like that].”

Practicality is one thing Stefani has hung on to. The Spokane native is a senior Liberal Arts major, set to graduate this June. She will return to Seattle University this fall as a graduate student to pursue her Masters in Teaching en route to being an elementary teacher.

“I love working with kids,” she smiles.

Stefani carries a poppy, tomboy image that screams more Alanis Morissette than Kelly Clarkson. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, she was a letter-winner at Lewis & Clark High School on their powerhouse girl’s basketball team before coming to Seattle for college.

Stefani has a story for everything – Kelly and beyond – and has a knack for dates and places, a particular help when coming up with the KEL.

Morissette was actually Stefani’s first concert, over a decade ago. The eleven-year-old went with two friends and her older sister as a birthday celebration at the Gorge.“I kind of obsessed over Alanis for awhile,” Stefani remembers. “When you found the hidden track on her album – that was huge!”

Yet Alanis doesn’t have a 66-item KEL, and Stefani has no plans of slowing down.

“Unless Kelly starts sucking, I don’t think this is a phase.”

The KEL itself, with my research notes on it and, at the bottom, the grand total.

Stefani is quick to point out that for the last five years – since the KEL began – she has been a full-time student with limited income. She predicts, actually guarantees, her spending will only increase once she has a career. So will the KEL.

Two years ago, Stefani flew herself and a friend (she paid for the plane and concert tickets) to Reno for a Kelly concert.

While pre-funking at a bar near the concert venue, a cocktail waitress overheard the girls talking of Kelly and informed them that the concert was cancelled last minute.

Stefani, being the true Kelly fan she is, wanted to verify such tragic news for herself. She marched her way to the arena, bumped into Graham Colton, Kelly’s opener and then-boyfriend, and had herself a little chat with Graham.

Sure enough, concert cancelled.

Void KEL items 43 and 44. No refunds on the plane tickets, however. Those cost $250, each.

That was concert number 11 of 13. Numbers 14, 15 and – hopefully – 16, are this summer, following the release of Kelly’s third album, My December late this month.

Stefani has been to Michigan, Idaho, Spokane, Portland, Vancouver and Los Angeles, all in the name of Kelly Clarkson; all items on the KEL.

“Shit,” Stefani blurts out as she reviews the KEL. “I shouldn’t have spent all that money.”

Then comes the justification.

“I’m a person who needs a vacation. I like to decompress.”

The McGraw-Hill Health Psychology publication describes obsession as “recurrent and persistent thought, impulse, or image experienced as intrusive and distressing.” The authors go on to say that such a condition is “recognized as being excessive and unreasonable even though it is the product of one’s mind. This impulse, or image cannot be expunged by logic or reasoning.”

This ties closely to the definition of addiction, “the state of physical or psychological dependence on a substance that develops when that substance is used over a period of time.”

Addicted happens to be the title of Stefani’s favorite song from Kelly’s last album, Breakaway.“

It's like I can't see anything / Nothing but you / I'm addicted to you / It's like I can't think / Without you interrupting me,” Kelly sings. While Stefani steers clear of the ‘A’ word, she certainly hasn’t shied away from using her Kelly fixation to her benefit in the past.

Last summer, with Kelly performing in Auburn as her last show on her Addicted Tour, KIIS 106.1, a local radio station, joined forces with Kelly and Ford Motors to give away a free Ford Mustang.

The contest asked listeners to write in explaining why they deserved to win the car to get the opportunity to be one of five finalists.

Stefani wrote a 412 word e-mail. It included details of her run-down car and challenged the station to find a bigger Kelly fan than Stefani. “There's nothing that would please me more than to win a car from Kelly, the girl who is currently the bane of my family's existence,” she wrote.

The radio station couldn’t find a bigger Kelly fan. Stefani was named a finalist out of thousands of entrants.

Her trip on stage to win the car was a bitter one. Stefani and her friends had agreed she would pick box number five to find the car keys. Yet when it came to her, she instead picked four, which revealed nothing.

The keys laid under box number five. And to think, the car could’ve put the KEL in the black, instead, it remains in the red, $3,576 in the red.

“I hate the number four,” Stefani says, still grimacing in disbelief of her on-stage miscue. “The guy who won wasn’t even a Kelly fan.”

Yet Stefani’s bitter experience hasn’t deterred her, or the KEL, one bit.

Two concerts are already on the docket for the summer, a third is a possibility. While Stefani is frustrated with developments in the fan club, she continues to be a member, a $35-a-year commitment and three slots on the KEL.

Stefani smiles coyly in her Capitol Hill apartment, handing over the KEL with a mixture of pride and disbelief.

“I’ve actually been wanting to do this for awhile,” she says about the list. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”

At the bottom of the paper, below carefully constructed concert, merchandise and miscellaneous sections, blue scribbles make a minor adjustment to the total amount.

“Minus a hundred,” Stefani gestures. “From my aunt.”

Five years ago, following Kelly’s win on American Idol and instantaneous notoriety, Stefani made KEL purchase number one, the aforementioned US Weekly magazine, with Kelly on the cover.

While at a relative’s house, Stefani’s aunt bet her that in one year, when everything was said and done, Kelly Clarkson would be an unrecognizable nobody.

Stefani took the bet for a hundred bucks. She kept the date in her head, and a year later approached her aunt, in search of her rightfully-earned money.

It was the fall of 2003 and Kelly had churned out a successful album in Thankful, while touring nationwide. Stefani was well into the KEL by then, it was 20 items and $845 old.

Her aunt disagreed however, saying that she didn’t believe Kelly had maintained her celebrity status. So the two took to the streets, each with a headshot of Kelly, each agreeing to ask 10 strangers if they recognized the girl in the photo.

15 of 20 did. Stefani got her $100; the KEL got its first – and only – addition.

Three years later, at the Puyallup Fair, Stefani bought a cardboard cutout of Kelly for $100.

Minus those 64 other items, Stefani Kauppila has broken even.

2 comments:

zachary said...

nick, this was simply amazing. why didn't i get to read this sooner?!

Nick McCarvel said...

I'm glad you liked it Zach. I meant to send it out to a few people during finals week, but just never got around to it. Stefani is fascinating (and completely hilarious).

I'd be interested to see how she's taken the album flop/tour cancellation.