How Kelly Clarkson Mentored the 'American Idol' Contestants

"It's nice to just be able to kind of mentor a kid that is me thirteen years ago," Clarkson tells PEOPLE

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Thirteen years after being crowned the first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson is returning to where it all began.

The “Heartbeat Song” singer will serve as the guest mentor on Wednesday night’s American Idol, and Clarkson recognizes that she is uniquely qualified to advise the season 14 contestants.

“It’s cool be able to kind of mentor a kid that basically is me 13 years ago,” Clarkson tells PEOPLE. “And it’s nice for them to see that you can have longevity and a career from a show like this. I know a lot of people get flack for coming from shows like this. I know I did. It’s a talent show, but at the end of the day, it’s not how you get into the industry, it’s what you do once you’re there.”

Adding to the surreal nature of returning to the show that introduced her to the world, all of the contestants will be singing songs from Clarkson’s own catalog Wednesday.

“That was weird. I kind of felt, like, ‘Sorry if you didn’t want to sing one of my songs,’ ” she says of her mentoring sessions held Tuesday. “But I will say, it’s funny. You can see how eclectic I am because there is everything from R&B to pop-rock to singer-songwriter songs so they are picking all different kinds of songs. It’s nice to see that my catalog isn’t boring and I don’t do the same song twice.”

But more than song choice, Clarkson says she urged the contestants to focus on having fun rather than performing a perfect vocal.

“When I was Idol, I was 19- and 20-years-old and I would put so much pressure on myself. I would get so wrapped up in trying to be perfect and it is so much better to have an emotional performance than it is to have one that is so perfect and vanilla,” says the new mom, who spent Wednesday morning performing a surprise concert for iHeartRadio as part of Chevrolet s Best Day Ever at The Grove Los Angeles. “I think it’s that vulnerability that people vote for and they love. It’s captivating.”

Not that she has always followed her own advice.

“I used to be so uptight and if I had a sucky performance, I used to be, like, ‘Nobody come into the room. I just want to be by myself.’ And I’d be so down on myself but my manager came in one night and said ‘You’re crazy. This is supposed to be fun.’ ” says Clarkson. “So it is nice to tell other kids that are me to do that because life is so short. You want to make sure you’re loving every minute of it.”

American Idol airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Fox.

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