Remember when we first met Kelly Clarkson, in 2002, and her teary rendition of “A Moment Like This”? The winner of American Idol has since turned into, well, Kelly Clarkson. But just because she’s at the top of the Billboard charts doesn’t mean that Clarkson has stopped personally responding to fans’ questions posted on her Web site or eating at Chili’s and bowling with friends. Here, Skip Hollandsworth delves into the reasons why Clarkson’s fifteen minutes are turning into years. Before this interview, did you know a lot about Kelly Clarkson or follow her career?

Skip Hollandsworth: I was aware, of course, of Kelly Clarkson. I knew about American Idol. I knew she had a big single—“A Moment Like This”—that came out of that show. But I also knew about From Justin to Kelly, a horrible movie that she made right after the show, and I thought, “Oh, well, her fifteen minutes of fame is gone.” It never occurred to me to think much about her again. If you thought her fifteen minutes of fame were over, why a story on Clarkson now?

SH: My eight-year-old daughter was listening to this song, “Since U Been Gone,” on Radio Disney, singing it at the top of her lungs, and I thought, “Great song.” But I didn’t think to ask who it was. Then, back in February, I was watching Saturday Night Live and out comes Kelly Clarkson to sing, of course, “Since U Been Gone.” It was a completely rocked-out performance. I thought, “What is going on?” The Kelly Clarkson I remembered from American Idol—the melodramatic, powerful ballad-singing Clarkson—had completely changed. How did you prepare for the interview? What did you expect to find out?

SH: I did what a reporter always does in such situations: I read several stories that had already been written about her. In the articles, she seemed to be chatty, outgoing, earnest. But a Texas Monthly intern who helped compile all the past articles and who read them too made an interesting observation. She said, “I don’t have an idea what Clarkson is like.” I said, “Well, you might not get to know her any better with my article, because a lot of times a reporter only gets a short interview with a celebrity and doesn’t really get a chance to talk in depth.” The publicity people told me I was going to get to talk to Clarkson at a photo shoot. I thought, “Oh, great. People will be standing all around. It will be uncomfortable. There won’t be a chance for any lengthy give-and-take. The story will be terrible.” What was your first impression of Clarkson? Were you right?

SH: Clarkson arrived after her brother, Jason, and her best friend, Ashley. While she was busy preparing for the photo shoot, I began to talk to them. And they were simply refreshing and often hilarious about the real way Clarkson led her life. Meanwhile, Clarkson would be walking back and forth, listening to what they were saying, and she began to join in as well, throwing in funny anecdotes about herself. Suddenly, I realized I had a heck of a story. Here was a young woman who was ascending into that rarefied universe of pop stardom, and she was giving me this inside look about what her life is really like despite all the fame, the attention, the handlers, the photo shoots. And I wouldn’t even have known any of this if it hadn’t been for Ashley and Jason talking first. Do you feel that Texas has had an influence on Clarkson’s personality or music?

SH: What came out of many of those anecdotes, as you’ll see in the article, is that Clarkson is most happy whenever she gets the chance to recreate her former life that she once had in the small town of Burleson. She doesn’t hang out with stars. She doesn’t go to industry parties. She’s not obsessed with being seen in all the right places. I think it’s interesting how her non-Hollywood lifestyle affects her career. She is not obsessed, for instance, with looking as sexy as possible or doing provocative dance moves while she sings. She does not go to personal trainers every day so that she can look good in a midriff-baring shirt. She loves to hang out in this bad apartment with a bunch of non-industry buddies, and she loves to do things like eat at Chili’s and go bowling. In essence, she likes to act her age. You mention in the article that Clarkson “didn’t look particularly sexy in a midriff-baring shirt” and that when she auditioned, producers told her to lose weight. Did she take their advice? Or has talent gotten her where she is today?

SH: She is not oblivious to her looks—not hardly. Her once-famous streaked hair from American Idol is long gone, and she does seem to have lost some weight since the American Idol days. But her focus is on singing and coming up with songs that resonate with a big audience. Why didn’t Clarkson want to do the movie From Justin to Kelly?

SH: I think you can understand how significant her desire just to sing is by the desire she had to get out of that movie, From Justin to Kelly. She told me she didn’t want to be another Sissy Spacek: Texas girl turned movie star. She had a lawyer try to get her out of the contract. But no go. She had to do it. Do you think Clarkson has staying power? Why or why not?

SH: The fact that she was able to come back so quickly from such a disaster is indicative of what kind of staying power she has. And this is something else to remember: Although I heard “Since U Been Gone” on Radio Disney with my eight-year-old, she is appealing across the board. Her singles are getting constant mainstream radio play, her albums are selling well everywhere, and she was on Saturday Night Live, for heaven’s sake. She also told me that on her laptop are dozens of songs she has written that she thinks people will want to hear. Of course, Clarkson being the free-spirited young woman that she is, hasn’t backed up any of those songs on a disc. As long as she doesn’t lose her laptop, we’re going to be hearing from her for many years to come.