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Clarkson took to the podium on the national mall first, looking out at the hundreds of thousands of people who had just heard President Obama's moving inaugural address, and withstood the pressure of her opening act with an incredibly powerful rendition of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."
Displaying the pipes that not only won her the first 'American Idol' but have kept her famous for the dozen years since, Clarkson belted out the unofficial national anthem accompanied by the United States Marine Band.
And maybe it was just us, but considering this monumental event fell on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, that last stanza -- "Long may our land be bright / with freedom's holy light / Protect us Thy might / Great God, our King' -- felt particularly apt.
Senator Chuck Schumer, who had introduced her, echoed the audience's sentiments with a simple: "Wow!"
Later, a serious looking Beyonce took to the stage to sing the national anthem. Though less iconic a moment than her performance of Etta James' "At Last" during the 2009 inaugural ball, it proved to be similarly stirring.
Beyonce's voice sounded as strong as it ever has, and she added subtle flourishes that supplied her vocal signature without ever overpowering the song itself. The anthem tends to inspire singers to show off, but Beyonce was confident enough to know better.
Her smile finally broke as she reached the bombastic close of "The Star Spangled Banner," absolutely nailing that last line and, amidst the images of unfurled flags and madding crowds, providing this epic moment with a deservedly epic soundtrack.
Earlier, before Obama took the oath of office, legendary singer-songwriter and rock 'n' roll hall of famer James Taylor delivered an appropriately lovely version of "America the Beautiful."
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