They ve kind of experienced a little bit more," she says, "and at the same time we re experiencing the exact same things together"

By Alison Schwartz Michelle Ward
January 20, 2013 12:40 PM
Stephen Lovekin/Getty; Bryan Bedder/Getty; Javier Mateo/StarTraks

Boyfriends come and go, but Selena Gomez has a few very special – and very, very famous – faces to depend on.

The starlet, 20, counts Taylor Swift, 23, and Vanessa Hudgens, 24, among her inner circle, and she has plenty of compliments for their support along the way.

“It s helped having Taylor and Vanessa both be older than me,” she told PEOPLE at her New York City acoustic concert benefit for UNICEF, the children’s rights organization for which she is a goodwill ambassador. “They ve kind of experienced a little bit more, and at the same time we re experiencing the exact same things together.”

Her pals are just a call away, and “it’s nice just to be able to pick up the phone and be like, ‘Ugh, I had this person say this and it’s annoying,’ and have someone understand and really get what you’re going through,” adds Justin Bieber‘s on-again, off-again girlfriend. “I think that’s [our] main connection. I just enjoy having people in the business in my life because it helps.”

She recently worked with Hudgens on Spring Breakers, a comedy following four college gals that arrives in theaters in March. I feel like I want to be her,” Gomez says of her costar. “She s been such an incredible person, and she s fantastic in [Spring Breakers]. “She s a really good friend.

And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, her feelings on Swift – whom she called “one of the most inspirational, positive, good-hearted people that I know” – were clear by an addition to her concert set-list: a cover of the Red singer’s hit, “I Knew You Were Trouble.” (Yes, she also learned a dance to her friend’s tune, just before the two hit the Utah ski slopes in December with their boyfriends at the time.)

I met [Swift] when she was 18. This is before [Swift’s 2008 album] Fearless came out, and it was absolutely incredible to see someone so successful and so humble,” she says. “I think she has been a big part of me kind of staying the way I am too.”