Kelly Clarkson will always love Dolly Parton. The American Idol winner turned talk show host paid tribute to the country icon at the Academy of Country Music Awards on March 7, performing a cover of Parton’s iconic “I Will Always Love You” and paying homage to both Parton’s version and the 1992 rendition made famous by the late Whitney Houston. Clarkson’s stirring rendition got the crowd on their feet, but it was Parton’s reaction to her tribute that may make you shed a few tears.
After the performance, Parton came on stage and was greeted with a warm hug from Clarkson before acknowledging Houston. “I know that Whitney is smiling down on us tonight,” she told Clarkson. “Thank you very much. She’d be proud of that. I was backstage trying not to cry my false eyelashes and slinging snot every direction and tears. I have had just a wonderful time being here tonight, I just want you to know that, and that just topped it off for me.”
Before the tribute, Parton told Entertainment Tonight how honored she was by Clarkson paying homage to her. “It makes me feel great that she is going to be doing it, because Kelly is one of the greatest singers in the world,” she said on March 3. “With her, you know it’s going to be real good. I do love her to death. I love her personality. I just love the way she is. I have known her for a long time … so that is going to be special to me, of course.”
While Clarkson may not be the first person you think of when it comes to the ACM Awards, her ties to the country music community run deep. The singer co-headlined one of her first tours with Reba McEntire, who later became her stepmom-in-law when she married her then-stepson Brandon Blackstock (Clarkson has since filed for divorce from Blackstock, while McEntire split from his father Narvel in 2015). Plus, she’s worked alongside country sensation Blake Shelton as coaches on The Voice for the past nine seasons.
One of Clarkson’s most underrated hits is her 2010 collaboration with Jason Aldean, “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” which received multiple Grammy and Country Music Award nominations. Clarkson also took her own stab at country with the 2013 single “Tie It Up,” which she’ll probably never acknowledge again considering it was written about her then-fiancé and now ex-husband. While Clarkson’s last album Meaning of Life saw her take on R&B and soul music, it’s clear that Clarkson is always welcome back in the country world.