American Idol's popularity apparently extends to the Vatican.
Fort Worth-born pop superstar Kelly Clarkson -- winner of the first season of the popular singing competition -- will sing for Pope Benedict XVI during his six-day visit to the United States in April.
According to Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Clarkson will perform a few of her songs at a youth rally at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers on April 19, as well as Ave Maria after the pope arrives.
Clarkson, who is touring Europe and will turn 26 on April 24, is looking forward to her date with Benedict.
"I was so excited to be asked to sing for the pope," Clarkson told the Star-Telegram via her publicist. "I grew up singing church music, and it's always been a dream of mine to perform Ave Maria. To have that dream come true on such a special occasion is truly a blessing."
She's not the only big name appearing during the pope's U.S. visit: Harry Connick Jr. will perform before Mass at Yankee Stadium on April 20. And Zwilling said all the artists chosen will bring something special to the stage.
"The performers were all people that we believed would be appealing to the individuals who would be gathered for either the youth rally or the pre-Mass concert," he said. "Knowing the kind of performers they are and who they appeal to, we believed they would be ideal additions to both events.
"We hope that they'll be entertaining, that they'll be uplifting and that they will help people prepare to greet Pope Benedict when he arrives."
Clarkson, who grew up in Burleson and attended Crestmont Baptist Church, is one of American Idol's biggest success stories. The singer-songwriter's three albums, including last year's controversial My December, have sold more than 18 million copies worldwide. She's reportedly working on a new record with a variety of songwriters (including OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder). The disc is tentatively set for release at the end of the year.
Debbie Pesnell, a Crestmont member and Clarkson's Burleson High School choir teacher, said she's "thrilled" that her former pupil will have an opportunity to perform before one of the world's most visible religious figures.
"Knowing Kelly like I know her and knowing how soft her heart is, she will be more moved than anyone there," Pesnell said. "She will be so honored and very gracious -- she will perform beautifully."
Zwilling said it's "an unanswered question" whether Clarkson will meet Benedict. She had initially been scheduled to perform the miniconcert for the rally but also "expressed interest" in singing Ave Maria for the pope.
"We think it'll be a great moment," Zwilling said.