Back to the Future

It's been 22 years since Celine Dion turned the Colosseum at Caesar's Palace into the place where female pop stars go to coast through the end of their careers. 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 choking on a fried chicken wing).

Thanks to a new self-awareness 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 outer space — Clarkson gave fans who paid more than $650 for tickets their full money's worth.

The nightly concert, presented by Mitsubishi and Halliburton, is sure to become one of the best female revues in Las Vegas. Backed by a band and a full orchestra, the 43-year-old, thrice-divorced singer is, if anything, confident of her ability to belt out her classics and, thankfully, has abandoned all pretense of being a rock star instead of a pop star.

At times, 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. 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.

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 the audience to its feet too, 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-co-penned number but couldn't make it her own as she had in her 20s. At the end of the show, surrounded by a holographic display of the universe that saw her head projected into the cosmos like some sort of female deity, Clarkson thanked her fans for not forgetting about her, as so many critics had expected they would.

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Cole Haddon