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A confident Clarkson hits her stride

Reprinted from late editionsof yesterday's Globe.

MANSFIELD -- If you crave mystery and artifice in your pop stars, take a pass on Kelly Clarkson. With Clarkson, what you see is what you get: a cheerful, chatty young woman, one who's comfortable enough in her own skin that she hasn't dieted down to nothing, and who's confident enough in her own talent that she's made a beeline away from the dreaded ``American Idol" repertoire that catapulted her to stardom.

Sunday night at the Tweeter Center, Clarkson didn't sing ``A Moment Like This," the power ballad that will forever be associated with her first-season ``Idol" victory. She did showcase a handful of new songs from her forthcoming third album, and the new material suggests that Clarkson is exploring a rougher section of the pop-anthem 'hood.

Even the stark, one-word titles evoke a new edge. ``Maybe" began as a calm, dark , acoustic number, then split open to let the emo-influenced guts tumble out. ``Anymore" was more Aerosmith than ``American Idol," all nasty licks and stiff beats. The funk-soul sing-along ``Yeah" is a radio hit-in-waiting, and if the Ford Corporation can translate the urge to jump up and down into the urge to buy cars, ``Go" -- already the theme for a Ford ad campaign -- will have earned it s corporate sponsorship.

The bulk of Clarkson's 70-minute set drew from her 2004 album ``Breakaway," a collection of hook-drenched rockers and sturdy ballads elevated by the singer's natural soulfulness. The sugar rush of ``Since U Been Gone" would be unbearably sweet, or a silly punk-pop tune, in a lesser singer's hands. Clarkson sang the first half of it traipsing through the aisles on the heels of ``Breakaway," which she performed at the back of the shed in the middle of the crowd. Her connection with the fans is real; Clarkson rarely turned away from a girl with a pen and a souvenir to be signed, and there were hordes of them.

Clarkson gave props to two of her favorite singer-songwriters with covers of Ray LaMontagne's ``Shelter" and Marc Broussard's ``Home." She performed both on a colossal and frankly cheesy swamp set, complete with moss-covered trees and a wooden dock that dropped from the rafters. It was replaced, happily, with chrome risers and a million blue lights just in time for ``Miss Independent," which found our heroine surfing the high notes and rooting out the low ones, barefoot and sweating, as she accomplished a novel and gratifying task: doing her job very, very well.

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