It's been 22 years since Celine Dion turned the Colosseum at Caesars Palace into the place where female pop stars go to die as publicly as Roman gladiators once did, but, of course, for a hell of a lot more money. Last night, Kelly Clarkson joined the club that, since Dion, has included Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Beyoncé, and Britney Spears (whose stint ended with her now infamous death from choking on a fried chicken wing). Thanks to a new self-awareness that most of her career has entirely lacked — not to mention a stage show featuring 386 performers, 18 animals, and a pyrotechnics display said to be visible from space — Clarkson gave fans who paid more than $650 for tickets their money's worth.
The nightly concert, presented by Mitsubishi and Halliburton, is rumored to boast a yearly price tag larger than most African GDPs, but every cent is evident as dancers swing from invisible cables, in and out of three-dimensional holographic displays that transport audiences to every corner of the globe (except Iran and Quebec). Clarkson still seems confused or maybe even frightened by the enormity of the show, but her wonder is ours as well. Thankfully, her surprise didn't affect her pipes, which have only grown more powerful with age. Backed by a band and a full orchestra, the 43-year-old, thrice-divorced singer is, if anything, confident with her ability to belt out her classics and, thankfully, has abandoned all pretense of being a rock star instead of a pop star. Gone are the grungy guitars, replaced by strings and horns on the advice of (rumor has it) Dion herself, who is said to have also been instrumental in convincing Clarkson to get back in shape and return to the stage.
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Judging by the reaction of her fans to classics like "A Moment Like This" and "Breakaway," she's been missed, too. "Behind These Hazel Eyes," "Never," "Don't Waste Your Time," and "Since U Been Gone" got audiences to their feet, with many crying out, "We missed you, Kelly!" The only dud was "Miss Independent," which sounded comical coming out of the older singer's mouth. She swayed uncomfortably to the funky, Christina Aguilera-cowritten number but couldn't make it her own, as she had done in her 20s. At the end of the show, surrounded by a holographic display of the universe in which her head was projected into the cosmos as if she were a female deity, Clarkson thanked her fans for not forgetting about her, as so many people had expected they would.