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Justin Guarini says Kelly Clarkson crushed him playing cards backstage on ‘American Idol’

Clarkson topped Guarini on "American Idol" and in a game they played to pass the time.
/ Source: TODAY

Becoming a huge star may have been in the cards for Kelly Clarkson.

Justin Guarini, who finished as the runner-up to Clarkson on the inaugural season of “American Idol” in 2002, says he vividly remembers getting schooled by her during downtime on the show.

“We got to hang out so much, and I can tell you this. If you ever have the chance to see Kelly, and she ever says, ‘Hey, do you want to play a card game?’ Don’t,” Guarini said while appearing on “The Kelly Clarkson Show” on Jan. 4.

“I’ve always been competitive,” Clarkson said.

“She’s a killer,” Guarini said when he mentioned they played the card game speed.

“We would hang out, and we would play speed because there were these huge swaths of time. And we would play speed, and I think I may have won twice in the hundred times that we played together,” Guarini said.

Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson
Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson during their run to the finals on "American Idol" on August 28, 2002.Kevin Winter / Getty Images

“American Idol” became a bona fide pop culture phenomenon, and Guarini said competing on the show was a unique experience.

“It’s wild because we got shot out of a cannon,” he said. “But I loved just being around and the fact that we were at the beginning of things, so nobody knew what was up. The stakes weren’t super high for us.”

“Our season was the first season,” Clarkson told Andy Cohen in 2021. “There was so much that was so pure and raw because nobody knew, not even the people doing the show knew if it would work or not in America.”

Justin Guarini, Kelly Clarkson.
Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson take a walk down memory lane.Trae Patton / NBC

Guarini and Clarkson have remained linked over the years. After appearing on “American Idol,” they starred in “From Justin to Kelly,” even though Clarkson, who was contractually obligated to make the film, had no interest in a film career.

“I cried so hard to get out of that. And here’s the thing — I never wanted to be an actress,” she told Cohen.

“Justin wanted to do it, and I didn’t want to do it. And sometimes I think I have no business doing it,” she added.