Track

A Moment Like This

Artist

Kelly Clarkson

Album

Thankful

"A Moment Like This" was Kelly Clarkson’s first single after being coronated as the inaugural American Idol, and for better or worse it’s the sort of song that people think of instinctively when they think of the show even now, in the wake of the parade of White Guys With Guitars who have steamrolled the competition since David Cook made Simon Cowell plotz over Chris Cornell’s reworking of Michael Jackson. It’s grand and triumphant and—like Kelly’s homemade acid-washed-jean dress—a little bit of a ’90s holdover, fitting into the big-belter diva space that Mariah Carey was abdicating for Glitter and that Céline Dion was only just starting to reclaim after taking time off to pop out some bébés. It was co-written by the guy who wrote Britney Spears’ sappy “Sometimes” and you can kind of hear a couple of melodic echoes between the two when you realize that fact—the upward-trending “sometimes I run” on Britney’s chorus almost seems to be matching paces with the “a moment like this” in Kelly’s.

"Moment" was the first of the Idol coronation songs, and the “moment” Kelly sings of is, in the Idol vacuum, supposed to be the point where the confetti falls and she’s crowned the winner of the whole shebang. But what’s made it the only one of the winners’ inaugural singles to stick around on the radio is the fact that it’s actually a love song with an extremely malleable four-word hook. You see:

What if I told you
It was all meant to be
Would you believe me,
Would you agree
It’s almost that feelin’
That we’ve met before
So tell me that you don’t think I’m crazy
When I tell you love has come and now…

A moment like this
[Etc., etc.]

Sure, the world of popular song is rife with metaphor and all that. But it’s rare that the metaphor removes love from the equation of what’s actually being talked about, yet the insistence that “Moment” is actually about Kelly winning and not about her falling for someone does precisely that. This is hogwash, of course, although it worked as far as marketing the song goes. (“Moment” topped the charts for two weeks in the fall of 2002, a month after the inaugural season of Idol had wrapped up and a school year before From Justin To Kelly landed in theaters.)

The mistaken idea that “Moment” could be seen as a song about the love affair between one girl and her victory on a televised singing competition is of course quintessentially American for quite a few reasons, chief among them audiences’ inability to read pop songs in their own context and instead focus on a few words within, a chronic condition that plagues weddings and proms across America and that’s only been accelerated by the Idol machine. (Just ask Leonard Cohen.) And, of course, there was the post-millennial cultural preoccupation with winning and not being “here to make friends,” which was just beginning to become more of a thing thanks to the rise of competitive reality shows and other unpleasant geopolitical realities. (There’s also, on a micro level, Clarkson’s relative lack of a public personal life, which has resulted in rumors of lesbianism that she’s good-naturedly shot down with protestations that she just has bad taste in guys. Relatable! We’ll get to that later.)

Kelly would go on to transcend “Moment,” even though its specter still haunts her (and us) at Walgreens and other white-noise-playing emporia. She did so on a track on her first album, even, that would continue along her quintessentially American narrative of the Idol who eventually got to do things her own way. (That’s coming up next.)