Laura Downey
March 26, 2004 01:00 PM

Kelly Clarkson isn’t alone much as she winds her way through a 30-city tour – “Miss Independent” has fellow American Idol alum Clay Aiken to share the bill and the fun. Clarkson, 21, the show’s original champ and a Grammy nominee, wraps up her Acuvue Advance Independent Tour on April 16 in St. Paul, Minn. But in the meantime, she’s keeping busy by playing games with Clay and keeping tabs on her – and his – eccentric fans.

PEOPLE recently caught up with the singer and learned how she’s managing to stay low-key in the spotlight.

How is it being on the road with Clay?
He’s just a laid back, simple guy – just like me. Well, simple girl like me. We get along real well. … We just started getting to know each other the past couple of weeks.

How are the fans? Any crazy experiences?
This is a question for Clay – his fans are kind of crazy. Mine are funny. I’ve had a group of girls – I call them the red-shirt girls – they sent me a big triple-Z bra and it said “We support you Kelly” across it. I know Clay got a rose bouquet, but they were panties. Like rolled up panties made to look like roses.

With two entertainers on the road, the companionship must be nice. What do you do to pass the time?
We were on the bus the other day playing Scrabble, and I’m trying to beat Clay so I can say I’m the Scrabble queen. But then the bus hit a big bump and all the Scrabble pieces hit the floor. We haven’t gotten to finish a game yet. I’m going to beat him, but he just doesn’t know yet. I remember how mad I got – I know I was winning!

Does it feel weird touring with runner-up Clay and not fellow Idol winner Ruben Studdard?
Not so much, I wasn’t really planning on touring with anyone – then … I found out that he was touring at the same time and I thought, Why don’t we just tour together? We just hooked up.

Justin Guarini recently complained about how the record label treated him. What do you think of that?
It’s good for him. He wanted to do his own music and he wanted to get away from the whole American Idol thing and he wanted to separate himself. He got what he wanted. It’s definitely a good thing. He’s so talented — he’s going to be back no doubt with a great CD and great music.

Are you finding that you and Clay have a lot in common?
The other day (we were) talking about how we can be onstage singing, and through the show you can be thinking of something totally different than the song. I could be thinking about dinner that night, or just anything.

What about any pet peeves? You’re in pretty close quarters.
Clay likes to find whatever pushes your buttons and run with it until he gets knocked down. We’ll be having a discussion and he’ll take the devil’s advocate part and it will press my buttons.

Are you getting the celebrity treatment on tour?
Well, people try and I won’t let them. They try and carry my stuff and put it in my room, but I try to keep it as low-key as possible and make everyone comfortable. I’m just not really into it.

But what about onstage? Do you go for the full star wardrobe?
I do my own style. I like to keep things simple. My ritual of getting up every day is I wake up on the bus, I’ll slip my contacts in, I’ll put the makeup and hair on with my makeup artist, then I’ll put my jeans and shirt on and go onstage.

Any other rituals?
I just pray to God that everything goes according to His plan. Other than that, I am not real superstitious or anything.

So what’s next for you?
I am already planning the second CD. I’ve already written most of it, I’m working with a couple of producers right now. I plan on having (it) out at the end of this year.

Finally, any advice for this season’s American Idol finalists?
Be yourself and have fun. Pick great songs, as song choice is everything.

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