Remember the excitement when the first season of “American Idol” winnowed down to the top 10? Admit it: Most of you were on pins and needles as you waited to see who won. That may have been almost two years ago, but that doesn’t mean friends aren’t friends forever. And when CCM discovered that our own R.J. Helton, whose "Real Life" (B-Rite) CD released March 23, still stays in contact with first season winner Kelly Clarkson, we knew we had the perfect fit for a great conversation.

R.J.:  What “Idols” do you keep in touch with?

Kelly:  I keep in touch with you and EJay [Day]. I don’t get to talk to Jim [Verraros]; but I talk to him through everybody because he always sends messages, and I send them back. And Tamyra [Gray], actually, is the one I keep in contact with the most.

R.J.:  Of course. I think I keep in touch with Tamyra the most as well.

Kelly:  She’s just one of those people; she’s nice to talk to all the time. She’s just such a cool girl.

R.J.:  Well, what about Clay [Aiken]? Have you gotten to know him very well?

Kelly:  I never really got to talk to Clay until I really met him when we decided to tour together. I just called him up and said, “Why don’t we just tour together since we’re touring at the same time?” He’s such a cool guy. He’s very, very Southern, so I get along with him.

R.J.:  That’s always a plus. I enjoy my Southern people as well.

Kelly:  And actually, a lot of people that do well on “Idol” are Southern.

R.J.:  OK, here’s a more personal question:  How has dating changed for you since you were crowned?

Kelly:  Wow, it’s so hard.

R.J.:  Do you even have time for that?

Kelly:  No, to be honest with you. Like the other day, I met this really cool guy at Sea World, who trains killer whales; and he was so cool. I was like, “Wow, I could so date you. But I can’t because, wow, I’m never going to see you.” I don’t have the time. And it’s kind of a selfish point in both of our lives just because we’re so busy.

R.J.:  On another note, how would you describe yourself spiritually?

Kelly:  I always grew up in church. I was the leader of our youth group. I’ve always grown up pretty close to church and with God. But I think I’ve just gotten a lot closer just because He’s the only One I can lean on.

R.J.:  Do your spiritual beliefs influence your decisions on how you present yourself as an artist or onstage? You’ve stayed extremely humble, which is an amazing characteristic of Christianity. You’re still the same person from what I can tell.

Kelly:  Right. I think that’s why I’ve stayed humble. Because, to be honest with you, R.J., you and I both know tons of people who can sing far better than both of us. And it’s a blessing that I’m even here.  I think it’s just cool because we both want to be positive role models for kids, and I think the best way I’ve done that is not trying to be “little Miss Perfect” – just being myself. And just letting God speak through me and do His work.

R.J.:  Being a role model is very scary because everyone watches you 10 times more, and me being in the Christian or gospel market is even worse. I can’t go anywhere; I can’t do anything without people holding me under a microscope. How do you feel about being a role model?