When Kelly Clarkson broke down while singing "Piece by Piece" in her emotional American Idol return on Thursday, those tears were coming from a very real place.
The song, which explores the themes of fatherhood and abandonment, was written about Kelly's own experience with her father, Stephen, whom she says left her at a young age.
In the lyrics, Kelly juxtaposes that misfortune to her husband Brandon Blackstock's strong relationship with the couple's 1-year-old daughter, River Rose, singing, "Piece by piece, he restored my faith, that a man could be kind, and a father can stay."
"My husband came into my life and he's the complete opposite of how my father was," Kelly told CBS this Morning in November. "He was present, he wins for being around."
Kelly and Brandon were married in 2013 and are expecting their second child together, after welcoming River Rose in 2014. It was her daughter's birth, the 33-year-old singer has said, when she started to gain a deeper understanding of what she went through when she was younger.
"When you hold this little human you’ve created, now I think I understand the depth of the loss I had not having a father figure growing up," Kelly told the Associated Press last March. "I didn’t really get that or grasp what that was until falling in love with my husband and seeing him be a father and what that actually is when it’s done well."
That same month, Kelly elaborated on the topic, telling Glamour, "I don’t know what my father went through as a child, and I don’t know why he left and made the decisions he made, but everyone’s human."
Kelly's father has been an influence in her music before. If "Piece by Piece" represents a remarkably mature perspective from Kelly as a new mother, 2004's "Because of You," reportedly written when she was just 16 years old and struggling to cope with her parents’ divorce years before, reflects all the heartache that comes with that experience.
"Divorce isn't fun," Clarkson told Britain's Daily Mirror in 2012. "It affects relationships you get into when you are older. I think you have to work a little harder because you're constantly thinking it's probably not going to work out in the end."
Interestingly, in the same interview, Kelly revealed that she was not looking to have children at the moment, saying, "I'm surrounded by friends who are married and have children and maybe some day that will be me. But I'm not wanting to do anything like that right now."
Obviously, by the time she recorded "Piece by Piece," Kelly's outlook had changed considerably. However, the emotional impact of her past experiences -- that have influenced the singer throughout her career -- were felt deeply when Kelly returned to the American Idol stage on Thursday night. They may even have been stronger than ever.
Watch the video below for more of Kelly Clarkson's moving American Idol return.