January 16, 2012 12:00 PM

Kelly Clarkson smiles as she points to the new tattoo-her 13th-that wraps around her rib cage. “It says ‘What doesn’t kill you’ in Morse code near my heart,” she says, noting her tattoos are reminders of what she’s been through. “I thought this one would be funny and ironic, because sometimes I think this job will kill me!”

In the nearly 10 years since she became the original American Idol, Clarkson has had public battles with label execs and weight bullies, and she has even taken on rumors about her sexual orientation (for the record, she’s straight). “Awesome things have happened,” says the Grammy winner, who’s sold more than 11 million albums in the U.S. “But I’ve lived an extreme life. Becoming famous at 19 and being the boss of 50-year-olds, that’s ridiculous.” These days Clarkson-who kicks off a U.S. tour Jan. 13 for her latest album, Stronger-says she’s never been more confident. “I’m so done with my 20s,” says the singer, who turns 30 in April. “I feel like I’ve done well to survive them.”

One survival tactic? Ignore the body police. “Everyone’s like, ‘You’re a pop star, you should be smaller,’ ” says Clarkson, who’s dealt with expectations to be thinner since Idol. “But I’m the pop star. I’ll make the rules. I’m rockin’ this body right now. I love it.”

Another lesson: no New Year’s resolutions. “I never make them, because I never keep them,” says the singer, who hasn’t mastered Spanish or Italian after years of false starts. “No one does it with me, so I’m stuck talking to the frickin’ computer by myself. Now I don’t set myself up for failure.”

Despite pressure to milk her fame, she steadfastly lives under the radar near her Texas hometown. She shares her 60-acre “rescue ranch” with her mom (Clarkson’s parents divorced when she was young), brother, sister and 85 animals. Her clan drives to each other’s homes in electric cars for bonfires, game nights and football on TV. “I have no desire to be Madonna or Britney,” says Clarkson. “I don’t want to be the biggest star in the world.”

And she’s finally okay with being Miss Independent. “In my small town, you get married after high school,” she says. “I’d never have believed it if you said I’d be 29 with no significant other. I’ve thought, ‘Will I die alone?’ But I enjoy being single.” Especially since many guys she meets “are big tools.” When one cute guy said she was “like a sister,” she admits, “I wanted to crawl in a hole.” And a recent date “giggled like a schoolgirl,” Clarkson recalls, cringing. “He said, ‘I can’t believe I’m out with Kelly Clarkson!’ I said, ‘I can’t believe you used my full name!’ It was the longest dinner of my life.”

But she’s not sweating her horror stories. “I’m actually really happy,” says Clarkson. “I love music and traveling, and I have the best friends in the world. I’ll probably be married at 35 or 40-and that’s totally cool.”

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