As a wise woman once said, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. But, oh man, 2020 hasn't been kind to Kelly Clarkson.
To be fair, it hasn't been kind to anyone. But add in a divorce from Brandon Blackstock, her husband of seven years and son of her former manager Narvel Blackstock—who just so happens to have filed a lawsuit claiming Clarkson owes more than $1.4 million in unpaid commissions—and, well, color us impressed that The Kelly Clarkson Show host still has it in her to treat us to a round of Kellyoke each show.
"Yes, I'm willing to share my experience and yes, it is the worst," Clarkson put it bluntly to Entertainment Tonight in October. "I mean, the past few months have been horribly sad." But, short of admitting the obvious, she'd rather not dig too deep into the details knowing that Savannah, 18, and Seth, 13, Blackstock's oldest kids from his first marriage, are more than capable of scanning the Internet and their little ones—River, 6, and Remington, 4—aren't too far behind.
"Having kids that run the gamut of 4 to 19 is a really tough thing," she continued. "And, you know, I've had conversations with one of our eldest about how difficult it is in the public eye when your parents are so...you know, one of them is so prominent and having to navigate that for them is hard on their hearts. I'm just careful also while being real."
Bottom line, she summed up, the split was just one of those things. "Nothing's wrong with anybody," she said. "It happens, and that's why there's nothing to hide about it in that sense. You know, it's just, divorce is a really s--tty thing."
Like, really s--tty.
Because just when we thought Clarkson, 38, and Blackstock, 43, would have one of those Hollywood breakups where all the particulars are worked out quietly behind the scenes, leaving us only to witness the shared vacations and friendly Instagram activity, a few legal bombshells have made it clear they're miles away from conscious uncoupling territory.
Tucked into the Nov. 30 court documents awarding the three-time Grammy winner temporary primary physical custody, between holiday schedules and FaceTime agreements, was a line that said much more than the ruling itself, which noted that remaining with Clarkson in L.A. made the most sense for the kids' stability. "The level of conflict between the parents has increased," read the papers. "The parties have a difficult time co-parenting due to issues of trust between them."
Add in music manager Blackstock's seemingly exorbitant request for $436,000 a month in child and spousal support (a total that tops more than $5 million a year), and you can see why one source tells E! News the once cordial exes aren't exactly seeing eye-to-eye.
"It's horrible," Clarkson acknowledged of the divorce process while chatting with guests Glennon Doyle and Alicia Keys on her Nov. 30 show. "There are so many hard parts and the hardest for me is the kids. That's the hardest part for me. You know, I always think as women especially we're trained—Alicia and I were talking earlier—to take it all on and you can deal with it and you're fine. But it's your babies that you worry about."
And with River and Remy's well-being front of mind, she's charged into battle with Blackstock.
The music manager decided he'd like to remain in the spacious Montana ranch they purchased as a getaway in late 2018 ("It's something Brandon and I dreamed about since we were both kids," Clarkson shared in a video clip) and used for quarantining. And though the kids have long been based in Los Angeles, where Clarkson films her eponymous show, Blackstock pushed for them to make the roughly 1,200-mile trip north for frequent visits, a plan both Clarkson and the courts shot down, stating that in the "interest in providing stability and continuity for the minor children," Clarkson should have primary physical custody.
The ruling "made the most sense for both sides because the kids are in school in Los Angeles and this order was designed to not disrupt the kids' routine and to keep them in school," a source told E! News, noting that Blackstock will return to L.A. for visits.
But if he'd had his way, Blackstock wouldn't have been the one logging the extra miles. "He had originally wanted the kids to fly back and forth, which was never going to work," another insider explained to E! News. "That's what they were fighting about."
As for the money stuff, Clarkson is now waging that war on two fronts, having filed a labor petition in October claiming her father-in-law and his company violated California labor code for "procuring, offering, promising, or attempting to procure employment or engagements" for her without first obtaining a talent agency license. So there's a reason the musician used 2020's most popular metaphor to describe her current state.
"I mean, it's no secret. My life has been a little bit of a dumpster," Clarkson admitted in a candid September interview with Sunday Today host Willie Geist.
And Blackstock is adding fuel to that particular fire by driving a hard bargain in court. "Brandon's been equally unreasonable in his requests for child and spousal support, as well as attorney fees," a source told People, noting he'd requested $2 million to cover the cost of his legal team. "Kelly's offered to pay for all the kids' expenses, but Brandon seems to think he is entitled to and needs $301K in spousal support and $135K in child support per month."
But no matter how heated things become, there's no doubt our breakup anthem queen will rise from the ashes. And she'll come bearing gifts.
Back in the studio three years after releasing her eighth studio album, the OG American Idol has been channeling her emotions into her music. "My mom told me to start writing and that's actually how I get my feelings out," Clarkson shared on her show's second season premiere in September. "So I probably won't speak about it too much, but you definitely will hear it musically probably, that's how I became a songwriter. Music has always been my outlet to help me get through difficult times and this year, I've been listening to a lot of music and I've also been writing a lot of music as well."
In other words, her next release is a must-buy.
"My whole next record is obviously just kind of about a relationship in the sense of how beautiful and how puppy-love it can be and intimate and all you hope for," she detailed on Late Night With Seth Meyers that same month. "And then the reality of it sometimes, and it just kind of goes on this whole ride and it's just very honest."
The breakup disc is likely the closest we'll get to dissecting the why of it all, save for Clarkson's commentary on how people "could be bad for you in a certain time" and her renewed intention to surround herself with "people that also want to be the best versions of themselves."
Used to being such an open book that she's spoken on everything from her fears she might be asexual ("I never felt like, honesty, sexually attracted to anybody before him," she once said of Blackstock) to the time frozen pipes at their Montana digs saw her using her son's toddler potty, this split has seen her fighting every last natural inclination.
"I come from a small town, I'm used to everybody knowing everything anyway," the native of Burleson, Tex., explained to ET of her penchant for unflinching honesty. "And, I don't know, I feel like if you're hiding something, there must be something wrong with it."
If it were just Clarkson that was so movin' onnnnnnnn (yeah, yeah), she'd be more frank. But with a whole brood at home to concern herself with, she's determined to remain discreet no matter how confrontational the situation becomes.
"There's a lot of hearts involved here," she continued. "And you know, that's the thing that's been kind of hard to navigate is I am an open book, but at some point I'm a mama bear more than I am a person in the public eye. So, I care one hundred percent more about my children than I do anything else on this planet."
And should anyone try to mess with her cubs, well, they should know this mama is strong AF.