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‘American Idol’ rivals Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken share a meal in Alabama, ahead of dual tour




‘American Idol’ rivals Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken share a meal in Alabama, ahead of dual tour

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken

Ruben Studdard, left, and Clay Aiken acknowledge fans during a curtain call for "Ruben & Clay's First Annual Christmas Show" on December 11, 2018, at the Imperial Theatre in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/Getty Images)


Two “American Idol” veterans, Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, were spotted in Alabama this week, dining at Joe’s Italian in Alabaster.


The restaurant — which specializes in pizza, pasta and other hearty Italian fare — posted a photo of the two singers Thursday night on its Facebook page, saying, “Looky Looky, Looky who joined us for dinner tonight .... @Ruben studdard and Clay Aiken @american.idol.winners.”


Studdard and Aiken became inextricably linked in the public’s consciousness in 2003, when they took first and second place on “American Idol” during one of the reality show’s most popular seasons. Studdard, an R&B crooner from Alabama, and Aiken, a pop singer from North Carolina, vied for the “Idol” title with good humor and easy camaraderie, drawing fans to the series in droves.


When Studdard took the crown that year and performed his emotional coronation ballad, “Flying Without Wings,” Aiken was right beside him, cheering him on.


It’s unclear why Studdard and Aiken are spending time together in Alabama, but the two singers, now 44, have stayed in touch over the years and maintain a cordial friendship. They’ve performed together on occasion and starred in a Christmas show on Broadway in 2018.


Also, Studdard and Aiken are planning to tour together this spring, marking 20 years since their time together on “Idol.” The tour starts on April 12 in Troy, New York, and ends May 16 in Wausau, Wisconsin. The agenda includes a half-dozen dates in the South, including a May 7 show at the Oxford Performing Arts Center in Alabama. (Tickets are $29-$55 via the venue’s website.)




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Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard discuss reunion tour, Troy concert




Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard discuss reunion tour, Troy concert

by: Cassie Hudson




TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – After two decades of friendship, Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken are going on tour this spring. The two American Idol stars are kicking off their 20th anniversary reunion concert tour in Troy at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on April 12.

During the tour, they’ll be singing all the songs you know them best for, as well as new collaborations. They also plan to share a lot of behind-the-scenes stories from their time on American Idol.

“Ruben and I were both 24 when we were on the show, so in some ways – maybe you feel differently – it’s kind of almost hard to know what life was like pre-Idol,” said Aiken.

Tickets are still available for the show. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (518) 273-0038.



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'American Idol' contestants to celebrate 20 years together at The Zeiterion on April 14




'American Idol' contestants to celebrate 20 years together at The Zeiterion on April 14

7da6e438-a909-4aea-9661-6e6d34439f45-ScrSeth Chitwood

Additionally, he performed in several stage productions, including “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Ain't Misbehavin'.” His latest single "Change Me" was released in 2019. He also teaches master classes and course at institutions such as at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

'American Idol's' Ruben Studdard, left, Clay Aiken, right, to perform at the Zeiterion on April 14

In 2009, Studdard visited New Bedford to meet contestants of New Bedford Idol at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center.

“American Idol was one of the most fond memories of my life,” he said. “Why it's good to have both of us (Aiken) in the room together, is because we can bring up and recall things that the other one doesn't remember.”

He also has his own foundation, The National Inclusion Project, which works to help disadvantaged and disabled children.

Clay Aiken, left, and Ruben Studdard, right, during the finale of 'American Idol' in 2003.

“I think that we're in a moment right now where people love the “Night Court” reunion reboot, they love the “Will and Grace” reboot. I think we are looking for, as people, as a society, things that are comfortable and safe,” Aiken said.

“What both Ruben and I want the most to do with the show is sort of bring back that fun, safe, warm feeling, we want people to feel that nostalgia when they come to the show.”

Remembering their time on ‘American Idol’

Season 2 of “American Idol” continues to be the most watched season to date for the series. The 2003 finale had a record-breaking 40 million views on Fox.

Neither of them watched the show until recently when preparing to do the show. “We didn't really even watch it then because we were on it. It was live,” Aiken said.

“It's just been really kind of magical to relive what we experienced 20 years ago,” Studdard quickly added.

Aiken recalled being scared to death during his first live episode. “I remember being behind the big screen as we're walking around and thinking, oh my god, I'm so nervous,” he said.

“I was thinking my stomach was going to like fall out of my rectum.”

Suddard said he didn’t start to feel the nerves until he was recognized by fans while in a bar in Atlanta with his brother.

“It just blew me away. It just didn't click to me that this show is everywhere,” he said.

What to expect on April 14

Aiken and Studdard will be performing several songs during their performance such as “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” while also telling stories about their “American Idol” experience.

Working this week on the second act, Aiken said they have so many songs and stories they’ve been struggling to cut it down for time. 

“I think people are coming because they want to get that behind the scenes information that they wouldn't have gotten just from watching us 20 years ago,” Aiken said.

“Listen, we're gonna be doing some amazing music, have a good time, tell some great stories and who doesn't like a good time? Who doesn't like a party?

“It's a celebration. It's the 20th anniversary of me beating Clay!” Studdard said with a big laugh.


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American Idols Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken discuss concert coming to Newberry



American Idols Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken discuss concert coming to Newberry

American Idols Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken are coming to the Midlands as for their 20th Anniversary Reunion concert tour. 

14 hours ago 

 Miya Payton

NEWBERRY, S.C. (WOLO) – American Idols Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken are coming to the Midlands as for their 20th Anniversary Reunion concert tour. 

20 years after American Idol Season 2, Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard are heading to Newberry. The two artists say their lives changed overnight after the show and often look back on their journey in disbelief .

“I have those moments often and it usually comes in the form of being on stage with someone I used to idolize – like when I got to go to Japan and sing on stage with Natalie Cole or when I got the chance to tour with Boys II Men,” says Studdard. 

“We both were not the type of folks that you would expect to be the biggest pop stars. I was a hot mess from Raleigh, N.C. and Ruben was this sort of quiet, big guy from Alabama,” says Clay.  

American Idol season two finale continues to be the most watched episode. “We remind people all the time. I tell them I’m the reason and the prep-work,” says Clay.  

Ruben and Clay will be appearing as mentors for this season of idol competitors.

“You tell them the things that could have derailed you in your success, you can see some of the mistakes that you’ve made that could have kept you from but the grace of God kept you from being in the position you’re in,’ says Studdard.  

While Clay plans to bring some of Simon’s attitude to this season. “Simon prepared us for a real world in the music industry that’s not always going to tell you you’re wonderful.” 

The duo is inviting you to join them at Newberry Opera House.



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Ruben Studdard & Clay Aiken hitting Xcite Center next month




Ruben Studdard & Clay Aiken hitting Xcite Center next month


The ‘American Idol’ season 2 stars talk 20 years of friendship and more in this exclusive interview

Two decades of friendship: American Idol season 2 alums Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken are hitting Parx Casino’s Xcite Center on April 28. Source: Submitted Photo

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken stood side-by-side on the American Idol stage, anxiously waiting for Ryan Seacrest to crown the winner of the competition’s second season.

Two decades later, Studdard and Aiken are a little older and a little wiser, yet ultimately, not much has changed. These unlikely buddies have not only maintained the friendship formed during the grueling Hollywood Week, but they’re still sharing the stage together.

On Friday, April 28, at 8 p.m., they’re bringing “Twenty | The Tour” to Parx Casino’s Xcite Center for an evening of nostalgia and celebration of their American Idol season’s 20th anniversary. Ahead of the show, The Times caught up with Studdard and Aiken, who are thrilled to reunite for this momentous occasion.

“I feel absolutely and extremely blessed to have reached this milestone,” said Studdard. “To have the opportunity to celebrate one another, to celebrate with the fans that gave us the opportunity to do this, it’s just great.”

“It’s surreal to realize that it’s been 20 years,” said Aiken. “There are not many people, period, that get to keep performing and having people buy tickets 10 years after their first album or hit. To be able to continue to do it 20 years later, it’s surreal.”

After coming out victorious on American Idol, Studdard has been on the road consistently, including on the “Ruben Sings Luther Tour.” Aiken, on the other hand, isn’t a big fan of tour life … unless he’s able to do it with his friend. The two embarked on the “Timeless Tour” to celebrate their Idol season’s 10th anniversary, and also had their own Broadway show in December 2018. Once COVID calmed down, Studdard knew they had to partner up again.

“Maybe it’s just God’s will that every 10 years, we say, ‘Hey, here we are.’ So be on the lookout for the 30th anniversary,” said Studdard.

“If I’m still around,” joked Aiken. “There’s only one person who’s been able to get me on a stage in the past decade, and it’s been Ruben both times. It’s very easy to work on stage with Rube. We’ve known each other for 20 years. We do finish each other’s sentences sometimes. Performing together, you have to trust somebody because when you’re up on stage, if I drop a line — which I never do *laughs* — but if I were to, Ruben would pick it up and vice versa. There’s something nice about going out and performing with a friend, so this was an easy thing, to celebrate 20 years and do it with my brother Ruben.”

So how did this pair — an R&B singer from Birmingham, Alabama and a nerdy vocal powerhouse from Raleigh, North Carolina — become so close? According to Aiken, they remember the story a little differently.

“We met in Hollywood Week during the first round where everyone came after they got their Golden Ticket. We stayed at the Glendale Hilton and on our evenings off, sometimes the contestants would socialize and get to know each other. And being the ‘ladies man’ that I am, I had a whole bunch of girls hanging out with me at the bar. And Ruben being the real ladies man that he is, noticed that I had all these ladies hanging out around me and he was impressed by my skills,” said Aiken, unable to keep a straight face. “OK, fix it, Ruben.”

“I was intrigued by the young person that had so many young women around him at the bar and I decided to go speak to them, to the table,” said Studdard.

While it’s unknown if any numbers were exchanged with the female contestants, Aiken and Studdard found in each other a friend for life. There was no cutthroat-ness regarding American Idol, but they did — and still do — often battle about who hails from the better state.

“We became strangely competitive over that, not over singing,” said Aiken. “I don’t wanna make Ruben feel bad, but Alabama’s got two American Idol winners, and North Carolina has three American Idol winners. But it’s OK, Rube, you’ll get there eventually.”

This sort of banter — along with some memorable songs from their Idol days and respective careers — is exactly what people can look forward to at the upcoming Xcite Center show.

“Just come expecting to have a good time,” said Studdard.

“We built this show in so many ways to recapture that 2003 energy and excitement. It was not just instrumental and a turning point in both of our lives, but I think in a lot of viewers’ lives,” said Aiken. “It was so exciting for people to gather around the TV with their family on Tuesday and Wednesday and see who was gonna sing what and who was going home. We want to return to those simpler times. It’s the kind of show that you can and should bring your grandparents to, your mothers, fathers and children. It’s going to be full of nostalgia and stories, and hopefully a lot of magic that people loved back then.”

While both Studdard and Aiken admitted to not being regular viewers of American Idol (it’s far too stressful to watch the show since they know the inner workings of it), they provided some advice for the next generation. Above all, they highlighted the importance of staying true to oneself.

“Just be authentic. I think the one thing that’s really cool about Clay and I is that we were able to be our absolute selves on American Idol,” said Studdard. “Just be you. It’s good enough.”

“We all came in exactly as we were,” agreed Aiken. “I walked into my audition with my puka shell necklace and Ruben walked in with his jersey T-shirt. People, I think, were attracted to the authenticity of Idol and especially the authenticity of our season. Neither one of us were the types of people who were being put on TV as singers prior to that show. I like to believe that people could see themselves in this guy from Birmingham and this kid from North Carolina. I think that’s why it was a hit. Our friendship developed because of that, too. We were both excited to be there, a little bit dumbstruck and pleasantly surprised that we were able to be accessible and stick around as long as we did.”

“First of all, my shirts were cool, just to be clear…,” responded Studdard.

If you go: Catch Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken’s “Twenty | The Tour” on Friday, April 28, at 8 p.m. at Parx Casino’s Xcite Center, 2999 Street Road, Bensalem. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are still available at parxcasino.com/bensalem/xcitecenter.



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Why Clay Aiken is done with politics but can’t quit touring with ‘Idol’ pal Ruben Studdard


MARCH 15, 2023 10:51 AM 

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, who were 24 years old when they became two of “American Idol’s” biggest stars, are starting to sound an awful lot like a couple of old men. 

Or, at least, like a couple of middle-age men. 

It escalated quickly: As they settle onto a Zoom call — for an interview to promote their 20th-anniversary reunion concert tour, which stops in Cary on April 29 and Charlotte on May 4 — Aiken mentions that Studdard is squeezing this in between music courses he teaches at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where the former “Idol” champ is a full-time faculty member. 

So, one naturally has to ask Studdard if his students are aware that he won the show back in 2003, when it was the most-watched show on television in Amer —

“They have absolutely no idea who I was. No,” says the now-44-year-old Studdard, cutting off the questioner. 

They weren’t born, were they?” chimes Aiken, also 44, who was Season 2’s runner-up. “Maybe.” 

“They were not born,” Studdard continues, shaking his head and closing his eyes. “I have one student who is an older gentleman in my class, and he’s the only person that knows about ‘American Idol.’ He’s a veteran, so he started school late. But the rest of them have absolutely no idea. They couldn’t care less.” 

Then, he adds, as a smile blooms on his face: “I actually did a lesson one day on the show, so that they could understand who I was.”

“It’s a little bit depressing,” Aiken concludes, though he’s now smiling, too. “We actually realized a week or so ago that we were now, currently, older than Simon and Paula were when we were on the show, when they were critiquing us,” referring to former “Idol” judges Cowell and Abdul, then 43 and 40, respectively. 

In case you’re wondering, Studdard has put out seven albums since “American Idol,” but none since 2018. Aiken recorded six albums in the nine years after the show, but zero since “Steadfast” was released 11 years ago. 

They’ve evolved in ways fans might not have expected. Studdard has shifted much of his focus to higher education. Aiken, a UNC Charlotte alum and Raleigh resident, mostly retired from the entertainment biz and unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Congress seats representing N.C. districts in 2014 and 2022. 

One thing that hasn’t wavered, however, is their going-on-two-decades-old friendship.

And in fact, the “Twenty Years | One Night” tour represents their third major collaboration as pals who like to perform together, having also done a loosely similar road show in 2010 and a Christmas show on Broadway in December 2018. Studdard and Aiken spoke with The Charlotte Observer recently about their close relationship and how it (and Aiken getting fed up with politics) birthed this new tour, while also reflecting on “Idol’s” good-old days. 

The conversation has been lightly edited.

 Q. So I was in my late 20s when you guys were on it, and “American Idol” was obviously a huge deal back then. I stopped watching probably after Season 11. Its power and influence over pop culture seemed to be changing. I mean, that show just felt different in those earlier seasons. You guys obviously still have a connection to the show. I saw that you’re both gonna be on this season’s finale. Does the show feel different now? 

Studdard: When I go back there — and I’ve been back a lot — I feel like an elder statesperson. And that’s not a bad thing. But it is interesting, because I remember when we would go back early on, and you kind of still felt like a contestant. Then as I got older, it starts to feel like you’re everybody’s uncle. I mean, these people, their parents are our fans. ... Their parents were the ones that voted for us. Not the contestants.

But we still have a lot of information to give (as guest mentors). The show, still, is pretty similar. It’s run kind of the same way. So, I think that Clay and I are an invaluable resource to Fox. 

Aiken: It’s on ABC now, Ruben.

Studdard: Oh, ABC — sorry. Not Fox. ABC. 

Aiken: See, that’s how much it’s changed over the years! But you know what? The fact that it has changed networks speaks to its permanence in American media. I mean, I’ve compared it — maybe wrongly — but I’ve compared it to Miss America in the past. Miss America used to be the thing you expected every year. Still is going on, obviously. “Idol” is sort of that. I mean, Kelly Clarkson was Miss “American Idol” 2002, Ruben Studdard “American Idol” 2003. And so on. I’ve always said they should do it (by number) — “American Idol 21,” or whatever. 

I went back this year, myself, to mentor, and had almost exactly the same experience as Ruben. In fact, one of the girls who I was mentoring, her mother had waited in line to audition with me in Atlanta. She didn’t make it through. She went and had a wonderful life, and children, and one of those children, who she had well after she stood in line with me, is now on “Idol” this season. It was hilarious. Kind of depressing.

I mean, he’s right: We are elder statesmen when we go back, in a way. But it’s amazing how much the industry has changed. Back when we were on, (the format was) text message or call in to vote. Now it’s on the computer. The contestants audition on Instagram, they audition via Zoom, like this. So it’s a different show. 

But what it continues to do is what it did for Ruben and I. It allows young people to change their life, it allows them to dream. I don’t know if I’ve told you this story, Ruben, but when I went back to the Hollywood Week this year, as I was waiting to be checked in to the hotel, there was a young contestant who was showing up for Hollywood Week at the desk next to me. He had a guitar on his back and he was talking to the lady at the counter, so excited — “Oh, yeah, I’m here, today’s such and such, and then tomorrow we’re gonna sing, and then if you make it through you get to” — he was telling her about how it goes, and I had this crazy flashback to when we checked in for Hollywood Week ourselves. I checked in, and I’m sure I did the same conversation with the lady at the Glendale Hilton. I checked myself into the Glendale Hilton, and that was probably the last time I checked myself into a hotel for a decade. 

And I thought, as he was standing there, this could be the last time he has to check himself into a hotel. His life could change after this week, in the same way ours did. At that Glendale Hilton. I got chills thinking about it, how much potential “Idol” has to do that for kids, to let ’em hope and dream that they can be the next Kelly Clarkson, or Ruben or Clay.

Q. Speaking of the show changing people’s lives: When you think back to your experience in 2003, can you pinpoint a moment when you actually had a feeling that your life was going to change?

Studdard: I knew it was about to be different when I was in the room with Clive Davis (then chair and CEO of RCA Records). I knew the music business. I knew about Clive. A lot of people go to “American Idol” not really knowing the behind-the-scenes people. But I remember, very vividly, seeing Clive Davis on “Entertainment Tonight” maybe a couple of months before I auditioned. He was introducing Alicia Keys on “Entertainment Tonight,” and I said to my roommates: “I’m gonna meet him one day.” And I remembered that moment as soon as I walked in that hotel when we all were on camera meeting Clive Davis. I was like, Man! I told these people last year I was gonna do this, and I’m actually doing it. 

So that show, man, the amount of access that we had to people like Lamont Dozier, Gladys Knight, Verdine White — those are people with huge careers that we were able to get to glean little bits of knowledge from, and that is invaluable. 

Aiken: But did you know it when it was happening? Did you realize it while it was going on? 

Studdard: I understood the gravity of the meetings. 

Aiken: I don’t think I did. When it’s happening, everything around you is moving. We worked so hard. We were on that show every day. Our day off was the day we shot the Ford commercial. That was the only day we didn’t have to worry about the show. It wasn’t until probably several years later when I looked back and realized, Holy crap. I am in Sweden right now. I mean, things moved so quickly that it took awhile after the first album cycle — maybe into the Christmas album for me (November 2004’s “Merry Christmas With Love”) — that I finally was able to see this was not a flash in the pan. This was not just a summer camp experience — something we do, and then we go home and it’ll go back to our normal lives. We never went back to “the normal life.”

Q. Can you talk about expectation versus reality, as it relates to what you thought the future held at the time? I mean, I imagine a 24-year-old who wins a show like “Idol” envisions the albums and the tours, some fame and some fortune, like you guys have had. But Ruben, right now you’re also teaching college music courses. Clay, you tried to enter politics on a large scale. Do you think, if not for the show, that you guys would have gone in these sorts of directions?

Studdard: Well, I was gonna be a teacher anyway. When I left Alabama A&M (in 2000), slightly prior to finishing my degree in music education, I promised my mom if I didn’t make it in five years, I would go back to school. Literally three years to the day I told my mama that, I won that show. And I was sweating bullets, ’cause I was like, Man, I’m gonna have to go teach. 

And now look at me. I’m teaching! My mom thinks that is the most hilarious thing. Even now, she’s like, “Before you and Clay go on the road, I’m coming to UTC. I gotta come sit in your class and watch you, ’cause you said you were never gonna be in nobody’s classroom.” (Editor’s note: Studdard did go back to school, eventually earning a master of arts degree from Alabama A&M University.) 

Aiken: I wonder if that means that we always are destined for what we’re destined for, regardless. Because if we could find my mom’s old IBM PS/1 from 1992, you would find posters that I made on Print Shop of me running for Congress. Of what my sign would be. I was fascinated by it. My eighth-grade class project was to interview and write an article about somebody who you admire. And I hunted down Terry Sanford, who had just lost his Senate race, and I interviewed him, and wrote my story about him. So it’s interesting that we both, in a way, ended up in similar places to where the “middle-school us” thought we might be.

I would say this: I may have tried to run for Congress had it not been for “Idol.” But I never would have been able to. I mean, granted, I wasn’t successful. But I never would have been as successful as I was — or had the ability to even do it — had it not been for “Idol.” Ruben, I don’t know; maybe you would have been teaching, but maybe not at a great college like you are. 

Studdard: I was just enamored with my arts teachers. Everybody that taught me something in the arts, they were all my favorite teachers. Even to this day, they are still some of my favorite people in the world. And I wanted to be that version of that for some child. That was my dream — to be that, for somebody else. 

Q. But you both still have some sort of itch that needs to be scratched when it comes to being on a stage, right?

Aiken: Ruben’s itch for performing has never gone away, and may never go away. Mine definitely went away, but strangely has returned, and I’m kind of pumped for it now. 

Q. So whose idea was this tour?

Studdard: I think that we both discussed the possibility of it for years. 

Aiken: Yeah, we toured together in 2010 and really enjoyed it, and realized we’d like to do something together again. I’m the one who said “no” for a while, because I took the detours that I took. We went back and did a show on Broadway in 2018 together, largely because I went out and saw Ruben’s “Ruben Sings Luther” show and caught the bug again — told my manager, “OK, I really want to perform with him again. Let’s figure something out.” So we did a Christmas show on Broadway that year. 

But Ruben was very helpful to me in both my campaigns. He’s the only person in the entertainment world who came out and supported me in both of them. He came out to this one in Durham last year, and this one did not go the way I wanted it to. So when the campaign ended, I just decided, F--- politics. They’re not helping anybody. Neither side. And I just had this realization that I felt great about myself when I went and saw Ruben sing, and people enjoyed our Christmas shows, maybe if I actually want to help people, maybe the better thing to do is shut up about politics — because they’re all full of s--- — and instead just go and sing, and do something happy. I mean, Ruben had always been saying, “We should do something.” And after the campaign was over, one of the first calls I made was to say, “OK, let’s do it. I’m done with this crap forever! Let’s go sing.”


Q. What’s are the differences between this tour and the one you guys did together in 2010?

Studdard: Honestly, the tour is probably gonna look a little similar. Probably in some ways much better, because we have more technology, more things that we can do now that we couldn’t do 10 years ago. We have less people. I know that for sure, because technology has given us the opportunity to travel with less people. Also, the setlist is fire, fire, fire. If you like old-school music, you gonna have a good time at our show. We leanin’ into our childhood to play the ’80s and ’90s. We’re giving ’em the best of ourselves in those eras right there. 

Aiken: There is old-school music. We’ll still do some stuff that we both recorded also. But our “Timeless” tour was a little more regimented. We started in the ’60s and we worked our way through decades of music. I think this show is a much more authentic and real look at both of us — as people, and as fans of music. Because it was created based off of really just a natural jam-session-type conversation. We sat down in Birmingham with our music director, and Ruben and I just talked about our memories of 2003, and “Idol,” and the things that he loved about it. From each of those stories that we were sharing with each other came musical moments that were very natural. I just love the way this show was put together, because it was so organic in its development. People are going to have this opportunity to really reminisce and have the nostalgia of 2003, and re-live that magic. They’re gonna get to know us in ways that maybe they haven’t in the past. 

And I think why we perform very well together is that we trust each other on stage. If one person goes left, the other goes left, too. We trust each other, and that makes performing so much easier with each other. I’ve been backstage at “Idol” in years after ours where I could literally hear people trying to trip the other one up. That never happened with our season. We’ve never really been competitive with each other. In the entertainment world, a lot of times people need to be number one, or number two. We joke about that all the time. But neither one of us necessarily feels the need to have more solo lines than the other, or sing more songs than the other. We enjoy performing together. We put on whatever we think is the best show. 

Now Ruben’s gonna remind you that he won and I lost. 

Studdard and Aiken both laugh. 


When and where: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 29, at Koka Booth Amphitheatre (8003 Regency Pkwy.) in Cary and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at Knight Theater (430 S. Tryon St.) in Charlotte. 

Tickets: Starting at $35.50 for the Cary show, and $24.50 and up in Charlotte. 

More details: www.rubenandclay.com.



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Seven ‘American Idol’ Finalists to Return As Mentors During Season 21’s Hollywood Week: Exclusive




Seven ‘American Idol’ Finalists to Return As Mentors During Season 21’s Hollywood Week: Exclusive

"Having a mentor in Hollywood Week is something we've always wanted to explore," executive producer and showrunner Megan Michaels Wolflick says.

American Idol will continue to honor the series’ long history by inviting seven past finalists to mentor season 21’s contestants during Hollywood Week, which begins airing on ABC on Sunday, April 2. The returning Idols are Justin Guarini (season 1), Clay Aiken (season 2), Jordin Sparks (season 6), David Archuleta (season 7), Phillip Phillips (season 11), Catie Turner (season 16) and Noah Thompson (season 20).

“Having a mentor in Hollywood Week is something we’ve always wanted to explore,” executive producer and showrunner Megan Michaels Wolflick tells Billboard. “We usually have over 150 people come to Hollywood Week, so it’s hard to have one mentor talk to everyone individually. I thought, ‘Who better to mentor on the Hollywood experience than people who have actually been through it.’ Jordin Sparks always speaks so well about this. She feels that Hollywood Week really was a perfect training ground for the music industry, all baked into that week. There’s no one better to mentor this week than people who have been there, and now that we can pull from 20 years of Idols, it was incredible. The people who came back this year were so excited to do it.”

Explaining how this year’s Hollywood Week will be revamped, Michaels Wolflick says, “In the past two years in the ABC era, we’ve done this genre challenge. We would say, ‘Okay, you’re rock. You’re pop. You’re soul/R&B,’ and it was becoming less relevant, because a lot of the finalists were telling us, ‘I’m pop-soul.’ ‘I’m country-rock.’ There was a blurred genre thing going on. So I thought we should explore something else.

“This year we gave all the contestants one of three areas that they wanted to work on: confidence, songwriting or stage presence. It was my challenge to pick two people who would be applicable for confidence. Clay Aiken and David Archuleta were total confidence. Both of them came in second place, and it was funny because when we were first talking to them about it, they said, ‘I still don’t have all the confidence.’ I told them, ‘Yes, but you have more than you came with.’ For the songwriting category, we had Catie Turner and Phillip Phillips, who are both songwriters in their own right. Both of them in their respective seasons brought an artistry to the show that maybe we hadn’t seen. And for stage presence, we have Jordin Sparks and Justin Guarini, two people who commanded the stage in their own way and still do.”

The seventh mentor is last season’s winner, Noah Thompson. “He gave some motivational speeches and was able to talk about his experience from last year. I can’t tell you how many people auditioned this year inspired by him. His friend Arthur signed Noah up [to audition], so we had a lot of people secretly signing people up, which was really cool.”

Addressing the legacy of 21 seasons of Idol, Michaels Wolflick says, “I think American Idol is now like the NFL, where people train their [whole] lives to come on the show. It’s now bigger than a TV show. It’s something you can aspire to be a part of — young singers are born every day.” As proof, the 15-year-old contestants on the current season were born during Idol’s seventh season, when Archuleta was competing on the show.

Michaels Wolflick, who joined the Idol production staff in season 2, says, “If you come on the show, you’re part of the American Idol alumni. You are part of our history. This show has changed lives in so many different ways. When David Archuleta makes news, it’s picked up everywhere. Even though he was on the show in 2008, people still have a passion for him. The investment is real. Carrie Underwood knows to this day when she’s playing to full arenas, there might be a good portion of these people who voted for her. There’s a special connection that all of the alum have to the show. They like to give back to these people who are coming in and the people who are coming in love to talk to them.”

Michaels Wolflick revealed to Billboard that more Idol alums will be returning during this 21st season, including the winner of season 2. “Clay and Ruben [Studdard]’s finale was on May 21, 2003. They’re going to come back and perform on this year’s finale, 20 years to the day.”



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Jordin Sparks, Clay Aiken, Phillip Phillips and more return to 'Idol' as mentors for Hollywood Week




Jordin Sparks, Clay Aiken, Phillip Phillips and more return to 'Idol' as mentors for Hollywood Week

'Idol' brings back its best to mentor contestants during Hollywood Week.

By Evan Wyno and William Escobar OTRC logo
Friday, March 24, 2023 6:12PM
Familiar faces from previous seasons talk with On The Red Carpet about making their return as mentors for aspiring singers during Hollywood Week.
LOS ANGELES -- "American Idol" continues it's 21-year celebration of amazing talent and remarkable entertainment. Familiar faces from previous seasons talk with On the Red Carpet about making their return as mentors for aspiring singers during Hollywood Week.

Season 5 winner and returning mentor, Jordin Sparks is thrilled to be back as a coach for an all-new group of passionate and talented singers. "I can help with certain things, I can assess certain things and also just encourage them to be who they are so, I'm very excited to be back here."

David Archuleta recalls his experience 15 years ago as a contestant. "You feel the pressure, there's like a lot of just this thickness in the air. People are excited but mostly nervous and it's just kind of an awkward place to be," the Season 7 runner-up explains. "So that's why it's like nice to be like, hey it's OK you can get through this and be a little bit of a relief to everybody." Like Archuleta, former Season 16 Idol contestant, Catie Turner shares her feelings about the stress of Hollywood Week. "Suddenly you get to Hollywood Week and your whole view of what your world is, is just crumbled 'cos you have a ton of people. Everyone is insane and you somehow have to deal with stress, self-doubt while still sounding good an um making friends," Turner said. "It's a lot at once and you and you're sleep deprived. It is insane. It is like singing bootcamp."

In addition to the stress of Hollywood week, Season 1 runner-up, Justin Guarini talks about his ability to channel nervous energy into something positive. "There's just a couple of little tweaks that can take them from being good to great. What I love to do in my job is to say, hey, take that pressure take those nerves - either let's get rid of them, leave them aside or let's use them," Guarini said. "So, I just love to take the energy and shift it and take their attention off the "I'm not good enough" and focus it more on being present and connecting."

For Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken, returning to the show that launched his career is an unforgettable experience. "When we checked in last night to the hotel, here right next to us there was a kid who is checking in, who is a contestant and it reminded me that yeah, I had to get here and check myself in, by myself that day," Aiken said. "It's almost in a way sort of the last moment of innocence really was that the beginning of Hollywood Week because after that it all took off and it's been like that for 20 years."


Phillp Phillips is grateful for being an "Idol" mentor. "This is my first time ever coming back as a mentor," the Season 11 winner said. "I feel like it's going really well, just talking, just communicating with these contestants. It's been fun and it was really cool honor for them to ask me. So yeah, hopefully we all get to learn a little bit of something this week."

Watch "American Idol" Sundays on ABC at 8/7c. Hollywood Week starts Sunday, April 2.



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Seven Returning ‘Idol’ Stars Talk Mentoring Season 21’s Contestants




Seven Returning ‘Idol’ Stars Talk Mentoring Season 21’s Contestants

Justin Guarini, Clay Aiken, Jordin Sparks, David Archuleta, Phillip Phillips, Catie Turner and Noah Thompson tell Billboard about coming home to the show that made them famous.

American Idol
Season Five of ABC's "American Idol"Eric McCandless/ABC/GI

Hollywood Week takes a new twist this Sunday (April 2) when seven American Idol finalists from past seasons return to mentor the season 21 contestants during what is famously a grueling and challenging period. Executive producer and showrunner Megan Michaels Wolflick invited Justin Guarini (season 1), Clay Aiken (season 2), Jordin Sparks (season 6), David Archuleta (season 7), Phillip Phillips (season 11), Catie Turner (season 16) and Noah Thompson (season 20) to return to Idol to lend their expertise in three different areas: confidence, songwriting and stage presence.

Justin Guarini was the very first runner-up, coming in second to Kelly Clarkson in season 1. He is just starting work on his seventh Broadway show and is the author of the book Audition Secrets. He teaches actors and performers about confidence and how to successfully audition. Clay Aiken has run for Congress twice and will be touring the U.S. with Ruben Studdard, commemorating the 20th anniversary of their season 2 finale. Jordin Sparks, the winner of season 6, has graced the Broadway stage in Into The Heights and is working on a new album. David Archuleta has consistently recorded and toured since he was the runner-up on season 7, and made national headlines in 2021 when he came out as gay. Phillip Phillips’s season 11 coronation song “Home” is considered to be the best of all the winners’ initial singles; his new album will be released this summer. Catie Turner has gone from season 16’s quirky songwriter to pop song perfectionist and has a new single out now. Noah Thompson won last season’s competition and has been touring and recording new material since then. He will open for Luke Combs on the country star’s upcoming tour.

Billboard spoke to the returning seven to find out about their latest experience of coming home to Idol.


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Clay Aiken on His Return to the Stage, Bird Flu in Budapest, and Ear Plugs for All




Clay Aiken on his return to the stage, bird flu in Budapest, and earplugs for all

We caught up with the performer (and politician), who is coming to Nashua and New Bedford with ‘Idol’ winner and pal Ruben Studdard, to talk about all things travel.

By Juliet Pennington

Updated March 30, 2023, 10:00 a.m.

Clay Aiken in Hargeisa, Somalia.Clay Aiken in Hargeisa, Somalia.HANDOUT

It’s been 20 years since “American Idol” fans were glued to their TV screens to see who would win the show’s popular season II competition, a matchup between fan favorites Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard. The latter prevailed, with Aiken coming in second place, but they became — and have remained — the best of friends. So much so that they have toured together and even did a holiday-themed limited engagement on Broadway in 2018. Now the duo has joined forces for a tour across the US and Canada with stops at the new Nashua Center for the Arts in New Hampshire on April 13 and at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford on April 14. “He and I are so different that working together is just kind of easy. We know each other’s strengths and trust each other on stage,” said Aiken, 44, of Studdard in a recent phone call from his home in Raleigh, N.C., where he lives with his 14-year-old son, Parker. “All of the songs we’re going to do come from some sort of recollection of being on ‘Idol’ — including a medley of songs from the different guest judges who were on the show when we were on [in 2003].” Aiken, who stepped largely out of the limelight more than a decade ago to get involved in politics in his home state, said he is excited to be turning his attention back to music and embarking on the “Twenty Years/One Night” tour. “I’m pumped because it’s such a fun opportunity for he and I to reminisce and to share that with audiences,” Aiken said. “Honestly, coming out of 10 years away from performing and starting again by reminiscing with what started this all in the first place is sort of perfect kismet.” We caught up with the Raleigh native to talk about all things travel.

If you could travel anywhere right now, and money was no object, where would you go? Beyond just money being no object, if security were also no object, I’d love to go to Iran, Turkmenistan, and the rest of the Stans of Central Asia. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of the Silk Road. The unique culture and art of Persia is amazing. And I’d love to experience the way of life in some of those beautiful but forgotten parts of the world.

Where was the first place you traveled to after COVID restrictions were lifted? My first time out of Raleigh after COVID was to beautiful Pittsburgh. It’s a city I’ve been fortunate to get to perform in several times and I’m always so impressed by the changes every time I’m back. Surrounded completely by the mountains and the rivers, it’s really got a special magic to it that no other city in the US has.

Do you prefer booking trips through a travel agent or on your own? I’m far too Type A to rely on anyone else to book my travel.

Thoughts on an “unplugged” vacation? Tried it once. Made my anxiety so bad that I needed another vacation.

Do you use all of your vacation time or leave some on the table? What’s “vacation time”?

What has been your worst vacation experience? I caught the bird flu in Budapest in 2006 and ended up being medevacked to London for a four-day hospital stay.

Do you vacation to relax, to learn, or for the adventure of it all? I love going places that no one usually goes. Ljubljana [capital of Slovenia] was a favorite, so I’d say adventure is probably higher on the priority list.

What book do you plan on bringing with you to read on your next vacation? It wouldn’t be a book. I’m a big Economist person, so it would be a magazine. I pick up the Economist only when I’m flying, so I read that on the plane.

If you could travel with one famous person/celebrity, who would it be? I think Seth MacFarlane. ... He’d be really entertaining on his own, and I imagine he’d have enough characters to always have fresh material. Plus, he’s kinda cute.

What is the best gift to give a traveler? EarPlanes earplugs. Every flyer should have them in their carry-on just in case.

What is your go-to snack for a flight or a road trip? Anything Reese’s ... but as a child of the ‘80s, I’m still partial to the Pieces.

What is the coolest souvenir you’ve picked up on a vacation? I was walking in a bazaar in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2007 and came across the stand of a local jewelry maker who was selling pendants and trinkets he had made by smelting random scraps of metal around gems of lapis lazuli — a national treasure of Afghanistan. I was sifting through some of the pendants he had made using Afghani coins when I came across one that looked like it was lapis smelted to a US quarter. On closer look, I realize it’s not just any US quarter; it’s a North Carolina quarter! It was so amazing to me that this US coin had somehow made its way to the streets of Kabul and wound up right on that table at that moment. I have worn it every day for the past 16 years. It’s a reminder to me that even the smallest things can end up having an impact halfway across the world to a person we’ll never meet.

What is your favorite app/website for travel? I like to stick with one airline, American, so I don’t use an app or website for booking travel. I did have Concierge Key [status], but I don’t now – and wish I still did. American Airlines, are you listening?

What has travel taught you? That we, as Americans, take far too much for granted, and if we don’t become a bit more forward-thinking and proactive, there are a lot of quickly developing nations in the world with incredibly hard-working and resourceful citizens who are poised to outpace our ingenuity.

What is your best travel tip? Get your friend/family to pick you up from the departures level.



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Clay Aiken: Still Soaring




Clay Aiken: Still Soaring

 Suzi Nash

I don’t know what I was expecting when I got on the call with Clay Aiken, but I was surprised to find him such a warm, affable person. He laughed at almost everything we spoke about with a true belly laugh that was infectious. If you remember, Clay first gained popularity on the second season of “American Idol” where he wowed the judges and the rest of us with his soulful vocals. But I found there’s more to Aiken than that booming voice. He’s also a former special ed teacher, actor, politician, activist, and father. On April 28, which also happens to be my birthday, he and fellow “American Idol” veteran Ruben Studdard, aka the “Velvet Teddy Bear”, will be performing their “Twenty Tour” at Parx Casino. He took time out from the tour to have a word with me. You’ll have to imagine his charming, southern drawl. 

I know that you’re from Raleigh, North Carolina. Describe your neighborhood. 

It was a pretty typical Southern subdivision. It was a very quiet neighborhood, half acre lots where everybody’s house looked about the same. I know my friend Carrie and I had the exact same house, just different colors on the outside. I don’t think kids really know their families financial status growing up, but I think we lived a little bit higher class than we probably were. My mom and step-dad were scrimpers and savers, so we lived in a neighborhood that was a little bit better than we could actually afford. But as a trade-off, I ended up having Payless shoes instead of the name brands that everyone else had.

Tell me a little about your parents, were either of them creative?

I think there was some musical talent in the Aiken family somewhere along the way. I know my maternal great-grandfather is in the Library of Congress for playing fiddle and banjo and folk songs. My mom says that she’s not very good at singing but when I was younger I used to get her to sing for me, or with me at church, so I know the ear is there.

Aiken is your mom’s maiden name, what prompted you to use that and do you know the origin?

I didn’t know my birth father much growing up. He and my mom got divorced when I was one. I knew him but didn’t have a relationship with him. But I was very close to my maternal grandparents so I decided to take my mom’s maiden name when I turned 18. It’s a Scottish name, I know that much. We traced Aiken and Clayton, which was my maternal grandmother, Catherine Clayton Aiken. That’s where I got my name from; I’m her without the Catherine part! So anyway, we traced the names back. I’m an 11th generation North Carolinian. They moved from Scotland to about 20 minutes from where I am now in 1768 and that’s about as much as we know. I need to go on one of those shows, “Who do you think you are?” or “Finding Your Roots” to find out beyond that. I did do one of those “23 & Me” things and found out that I’m about as boring as they come. The DNA test came out 98% Scottish and Irish. 

Well, at least you have permission to wear a kilt now. 

[Laughing] Yes! I wish we wore those more often, it would be so much more comfortable in the summer, wouldn’t it? 

Okay, I read that you and I have two things in common. The first is GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network. I used to be on the board in Philadelphia and I understand that you’ve worked with them and testified with them in Washington about anti-gay bullying, and the second thing is a love for Jimmy Carter. 

[Gasps] Oh, don’t get me started on Jimmy right now. I’m so nervous, so nervous. I’m afraid to watch TV because I don’t want to hear anything. I’m so proud to be born a Carter presidency baby. Since he was a one termer, there are fewer of us but I love it. I mean, wouldn’t it be wonderful if all politicians had that same heart to serve. Has there been anyone like him since or will there ever be again? It really worries me and it breaks my heart that he’s, well… I worry for Rosalynn too. They’ve been married for over 75 years, she’s 95 and I fear that as soon as he goes, she’ll go. Ugh, [laughing] now I’m depressed!

I’ll try to brighten it: my mother was his assistant press secretary for PA and one of her assignments was to escort his mother, Miss Lillian, around. This was right after the news outlets had made a big fuss over her new hairdo so someone asked her about it and she said, with her heavy southern drawl, “Well, I have a new hairdresser and he’s wonderful. He’s a homosexual but you can’t print that because his mama don’t know yet.” 

[Laughing] His mama knew! Oh my gosh, that so amazing! What a story! I got to meet him in 2004. I did something for Rosalynn’s Caregivers organization and he was there. I got to meet him and I can still play the entire experience in my head. It’s one of the most vibrant memories I have. He’s the example that I wish more people would try to live up to. Even do half of what Jimmy did and we’d be in much better shape

I’m glad that he did later get recognition as a statesman and humanitarian. 

Yeah, in some weird ways I wonder if sometimes the folks who are the best people are the worst politicians, and I say that having spent more time in the political world that I care to admit. Because to be successful in that world you have to be ruthless and heartless at times, even the nice ones that we like.

Speaking of that, when you won the [2014 congressional] primary, did you have that Sally Fields moment, “They like me! They really like me!” 

No, I didn’t. When I started the race, the polling was incredibly in my favor but I was running against someone who spent a LOT of money trashing me. And doing everything they could to make me out to be a bad person. I won, but by way less than I hoped. I was ahead by 80 points in the beginning, and by the end I squeaked ahead by 1 or 2 points at the end. I was so stressed out. Ironically, the race against the republican opponent was less nerve-wracking even though I lost because I knew how to debate what we disagreed on. Primaries get personal, and I don’t like that. [Laughing] I don’t want to swim in that pond again! 

I didn’t realize how many different causes you were involved with, including the one you founded, the National Inclusion Project. What’s that about? 

After I graduated high school, my expectation was to be a Special Ed teacher. During the school year, I was in a classroom with special needs kids with autism, and after school I worked one on one with one student. During the summer I worked at the YMCA summer camp, and one summer on the first day of camp I was walking around and came across the sister of one of the kids I taught during the school year. She told me that her sister was in a group with some older kids, and let me tell you that scared the living crap out of me because I knew she was very low functioning and not equipped to be at that camp. I ran so fast I think my feet only touched the ground twice as I flew to the other side of camp. I found her and she was exhibiting some of the behaviors that were unsettling for some of the other campers, making strange noises, etc. The other counselors didn’t know what to do, so I took her with me. We went to the office where my boss told me to call her parents to have them pick her up and I said, “Hold on now, her parents should have let someone know their child has autism, but they’re relying on this camp to take care of their child while they work. We’re not going to punish them, we’re going to figure it out. And it became a big battle, but in the end, she was allowed to stay but she had to stay in my part of the camp and we adapted some things so that she could participate. 

But it always ticked me off that the YMCA didn’t have the capability or capacity to include kids with disabilities. Not just the YMCA but other summer and after school programs too. So after Idol happened, I decided to go ahead and, along with the mother of one of my other students, came up with a way to train programs to be inclusive to make sure that kids aren’t left out. The National Inclusion Project. 

You’re a fighter, Clay Aiken! I also read that you challenged camp faculty by insisting that singing “overtly Christian songs” was inappropriate, as some of the kids were Jewish. 

Oh gosh, where did you read that? That’s an old story! I don’t know that I’m a fighter, but I like to think that I’m principled and stand up for things I believe in. I might also just be a stubborn person. Ha! 

Tell me your coming out story, it must have been scary in the public eye.

It’s different for everyone. Don’t you feel like you came out more than once? I think my coming out was similar to a lot of other people except that once I had come out to everyone I knew, and was living my life relatively openly, I had to do it one more time to everyone I didn’t know. [Laughs] I didn’t come out to myself until I was on Idol. I met someone while I was out in LA. and that started me on my journey. Later when I became a father I came out quietly, on the cover of People magazine! 

Wow, subtle! So on to the music, how did a little Scottish/Irish boy end up choosing a soulful R&B song like, “Always and Forever” for your Idol audition?

[Lets out a laugh] I didn’t! This is a crazy story. I went to my 9th grade choir teacher before I went to audition and said, “Let’s come up with several songs I can have in my head so I’m prepared.” One of them was “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” ha ha! That’s a little obvious. One was “Arthur’s Theme,” [sings “If you get caught between the moon and New York city…”], then another Christopher Cross song, “Sailing,” and the last one was, “Always and Forever.” So I got to the audition and it’s like a cattle call. They bring 5 people in and you step forward, say your name, sing your song and step back. I was so nervous. I’d gotten cut in Charlotte and even though at first I didn’t even want to audition, when I got cut I was like, “Oh hell no! You’re not going to cut me the FIRST day!” As I said before, I’m very stubborn, so I went to Atlanta the next week and auditioned a 2nd time. Atlanta was packed, there were thousands of people there and I got super nervous.

When I stepped forward, I completely blanked and I could not think of ANY of the 5 songs. Not one. But I opened my mouth and, I bet you don’t even know what this is, out came, [singing] “Standing tall on the wings of my dream. Rise and fall, on the wings of my dream.” Do you know what this is Suzi? “The rain and thunder, The wind and haze” Do you recognize it yet? No? Okay, I opened my mouth and I shit you not, I sang the theme song to “Perfect Strangers”, you know the TV show with Balki and his cousin. That was the ONLY thing I could pull out of my head! I can still see the look on the producer’s face as I stepped back to my place and thought, ‘Oh my God, what did I just do?’ I just camped on the street for two nights, and I just ruined it.’ Thank God, the producer dismissed everyone else and said, “What was that?” and I stammered out the answer. He said, “do you have anything else you can sing?” Fortunately, at that moment, all 5 songs came back to me. So for the initial audition, this Scottish/Irish boy did not come up with “Always and Forever,” he came up with the whitest TV theme song in history! 

That is hysterical! 

Yeah, when I mentioned “Always and Forever,” he was like, “Uh yeah, do that one. Don’t ever do that other one again. He’s still there and still laughs about it. 

I love it. You should add the theme song to the act! And since we’re on it, tell me about the tour with Ruben Studdard. It’s called The Twenty? 

Yes, it’s been 20 years since we were both on American Idol, so we’re celebrating. We like performing together and we trust each other. We are really different so I think we compliment each other well. When I first ran for office, I stopped performing and hadn’t had much intention of going back, but when Rubin came and said, “Hey look, it’s our 20th anniversary, we have to do something.” We started talking and reminiscing about our individual and shared memories because we both went through it all, side by side. It was interesting to hear things that I’d totally forgotten about, and there was a magic about sharing the experience. And that’s part of the show, us sharing our stories. 

Neither of us had seen [our season of “American Idol”], because it was live and we were there! But we were able to get a copy of it and we watched it simultaneously, which was wild. Because when we were on the show, we had no idea that it had blown up in the 2nd season. I had no idea that there were 40 million people tuned in. It felt like the 300 people in the audience was it. I kept calling my mother every week saying, “Mom, why aren’t you here, I’m going to get kicked off any minute!” She didn’t come until the top 6. So even though we knew the outcome, it was fun to relive it with Ruben in the way a viewer might and feel the excitement build each episode! 

And what can people expect at the concert?

You know, we thought it might be fun to go back and relive 2003 again. We will be doing some of the songs that both of us have recorded since then but the bulk of the show is talking about Idol and giving some backstage stories and secrets, talking about what it was like for us and performing some of the songs we sang on the show. On the show they had a Motown week, so we’ll be singing some Motown, obviously I’ll do “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Ruben will do “Fly Without Wings.” We try to recapture some of that magic from those early days. Granted I’m quite a few pounds heavier and quite a few wrinkles older, but I don’t think either of us really had a chance to appreciate it the first time around, so this time we can really enjoy it with everyone! Hey, they’re reviving everything else, “The Connors” is a reboot of “Roseanne,” the “Will and Grace” reboot got great ratings, even “Night Court,” so why not us? I think people are extra stressed out from the past several years and we’re all looking for something just fun and comforting. In 2003, we went to war in Iraq, and Idol gave people a distraction. I think we could use that again right about now. 

We sure could. 



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Raleigh native, singer Clay Aiken returns to American Idol as mentor Sunday




Raleigh native, singer Clay Aiken returns to American Idol as mentor Sunday

WTVD logo
Sunday, April 2, 2023 2:11PM

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Raleigh native and singer Clay Aiken is returning to American Idol as a mentor on Sunday along with Jordin Sparks, Phillip Phillips and more.

For Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken, returning to the show that launched his career is an unforgettable experience.

"When we checked in last night to the hotel, here right next to us there was a kid who is checking in, who is a contestant and it reminded me that yeah, I had to get here and check myself in, by myself that day," Aiken said. "It's almost in a way sort of the last moment of innocence really was that the beginning of Hollywood Week because after that it all took off and it's been like that for 20 years."

Durham native Ashley Tankard auditioned for the 15th time and, she finally got a yes. Kate Perry, Lionel Ritchie decided she was good enough to get a golden ticket to Hollywood. Tankard said she's been auditioning since 2015.

After getting her ticket to Hollywood, Ashley's message to fans is to 'never give up.'

"This is proof to anybody who wants to give up, do not give up," she said. "If it takes you two times if it takes you fifteen if it takes you one hundred. It will happen. It happened for me."

Elijah McCormick,of Raeford, NC brought Lionel Ritchie to tears on Sunday, March 9. McCormick nearly lost his life in a head-on collision on June 8, 2019, only 3 hours after his high school graduation. The car he was in caught on fire after the crash.

He spent 79 days in the hospital enduring multiple surgeries, dialysis, a feeding tube, and relearning how to walk and talk. When he finally did speak, his mom said one of the first things he asked was--"mom can I still sing."

On Sunday, March 19-- Nailyah Serenity of Charlotte, NC brought the judges to their feet with her rendition of Barbara Streisand's song 'My Man.' Serenity was pitch-perfect in her delivery.

Perry, Ritchie and Bryan were blown away.

Watch "American Idol" Sundays on ABC at 8/7c. Hollywood Week starts Sunday, April 2.



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Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard are on the road sharing 'American Idol' stories and matching wits




Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard are on the road sharing 'American Idol' stories and matching wits

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Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken mark 20 years since their “American Idol” stint with a tour that includes a stop at the Nashua Center for the Arts this week.

It’s been a couple of decades since Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard took the spotlight on the second season of “American Idol,” but they consider themselves family.

Ask them a question and it’s like watching siblings take turns both praising and pestering one another.

Right now, they’re talking about a press release for their tour for “Ruben and Clay: Twenty Years/One Night.” In it, the two singers are referred to as “America’s favorite Odd Couple.”

“There’s this big, Black guy and a skinny White guy. Ok, there we go. We’re automatically different, right? But when you peel back the layers, we are very similar in a lot of ways. I don’t know what’s odd about that,” Studdard says in an interview that’s at turns playful and contemplative.

It’s all part of a camaraderie that extends back to 2003, when Studdard, who was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and raised in Alabama, won the “Idol” title and Aiken, a North Carolina native, was a runner-up in one of the closest finales in the long-running competition.

Since then, the artists have recorded a combined 12 albums, sold more than eight million albums worldwide, toured the country 14 times, starred together on Broadway and won four Billboard Music Awards and an American Music Award.

At the start of April, Aiken earlier returned as a guest mentor for Hollywood Week of “Idol,” which for the past six years has run on ABC. He got a kick out of talking to one of this season’s contestants who didn’t recognize him. She mentioned that her mother had auditioned for “Idol” back in the day in “whatever season Clay Aiken auditioned.” Without missing a beat, Aiken grinned, leaned back and quipped, “This is going to be fun.”

Meanwhile, Aiken and Studdard, who visit the Nashua Center for the Arts this week, are sharing “Idol” stories on the road. Back in the early days of “Idol,” the show didn’t track the singers’ lives off stage and don’t house them in the same place to give the contest a more competitive edge.

“Our house was like a big college dormitory — all in one house (with) the girls on one side and the guys on the other,” Studdard says. “We were all practicing together and giving each other tips. There was a veil between what the fans were able to see, even though it was a reality show.”

Aiken says they were lucky to make it to the show when they did. “Had we done it later we might not have gone into it with the same sense of innocence and naivety. I think that helped make the experience so much better for us.”

Studdard wishes he had realized that way back when.

“Listen, life is intense. I wish that the 24-year-old me could have understood how light (the competition) was in comparison to the way that the music industry really is. I remember Randy (Jackson, a record producer who was a judge for a dozen years) saying this to us all the time: ‘The pressure starts when the show is over.’ The business after (‘Idol’) was 10 times harder.”

Both Aiken and Studdard say the biggest takeaway has been the lasting friendships. They’re still on a group text with contestants from the second season, and reach out on birthdays and special occasions.

Studdard gets choked up remembering Rickey Smith, a suite mate back then, who died in a car crash in 2016 at age 36. “I think about him often, as much as I think about my own brother. Kevin was 44 when he died in 2018.

Studdard has said he and Kristin Moore Studdard named their son Olivier — Kevin’s middle name — to keep that family connection alive.

Good timing Studdard and Aiken may have gotten their golden tickets to the live shows on “Idol,” though it wasn’t quite the promised land they were expecting.

“We were at the Hilton Hotel in Glendale. Most of the people who made it to the show were not Californians, so everybody thought we were in Hollywood at first.”

Aiken laughs when asked if he recalls when he and Studdard first met. “Yes, but we tell it differently.”

Studdard says he walked into the hotel bar and spied Aiken surrounded by women. Aiken pipes in to sarcastically add, “Yeah, like fruit flies.”

Studdard contends his first thought was, “Man, who is this boy sitting at the bar by himself with all these girls? He clearly needs some help talking to all these people (so) I gave him a little assistance.”

Aiken jokingly gives a different account. “I like to tell it as if he saw me with all these ladies and he came over because he needed some pointers, but he never lets me get away with saying that.”

One thing they agree on is spirituality and a sense that their paths have crossed paths for a reason, and that “Idol” helped build opportunities and platforms.

Aiken wanted to be a special education teacher. It was the mother of one of his students with disabilities who convinced him to give singing a shot.

Aiken, who is active in political and social activism, also ran twice for Congress in North Carolina, though the bids didn’t pan out.

“I don’t make plans, because it seems like it always works out the way God wants it to – to let ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’ in the words of another ‘American Idol alumni’ (Carrie Underwood, 2005 Idol champ.)

For his part, Studdard, whose gospel roots reflect his own faith, never planned on becoming a teacher but today he’s guiding students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and trying to give would be musicians and musicians a leg up into the entertainment industry.



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Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken begin 20th anniversary tour in Troy




Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken begin 20th anniversary tour in Troy

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken smile on stage at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on the first night of their 20th anniversary tour. (Lauren Halligan – Medianews Group)
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken smile on stage at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on the first night of their 20th anniversary tour. (Lauren Halligan – Medianews Group)
By LAUREN HALLIGAN | lhalligan@troyrecord.com | Troy Record

TROY, N.Y. — Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken came to the Collar City this week, celebrating 20 years since their debut on “American Idol.”

As the kickoff to the 20th anniversary tour, Aiken and Studdard performed at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Wednesday to a crowd of Capital Region fans.

The duo is thrilled to reunite two decades after captivating audiences during their historic run on the second season of Fox’s American Idol in 2003 – and their enthusiasm is evident in the live show.

Both plucked from the relative obscurity of their hometowns in the South, the unlikely pair quickly became viewer favorites instrumental in helping propel Idol to the top of the Nielsen ratings, nearly tripling the viewership of the previous season, and securing its place as one of the most consequential TV series in American history. More than 38 million viewers tuned in to hear the results of more than 124 million votes cast during their finale, making it the most-watched Idol episode in history and the highest rated regularly scheduled, live, non-sporting television episode of the 21st century.

Today, Aiken and Studdard remain thankful for those fans who voted for them on American Idol 20 years ago – giving them both the opportunity to live their dreams – and they are extra appreciative of the ones still cheering them on now.

Though Studdard officially won the game show and Aiken was the runner-up, they have both earned success, fame and fiercely passionate fanbases over the years. Combined they have recorded 12 albums, sold more than eight million albums worldwide, toured the nation 14 times, starred together on Broadway, won four Billboard Music Awards, an American Music Award, and have been nominated for two Grammys.

Twenty | The Tour highlights the music that made Studdard and Aiken American Idol favorites and household names. From Aiken’s iconic rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to Studdard’s soulful “Flying Without Wings,” audiences around the country are joining America’s favorite odd couple for an unforgettable evening of music and memories, spanning two decades, delivered as only these two can.

In between songs, the stars spend a good portion of their stage time reminiscing and sharing stories about their experience on American Idol – the weekly themes, their competitors and the industry giants they got to work with – while keeping attendees smiling and laughing with their banter.

As Studdard and Aiken head out on this tour together, concertgoers can expect a nostalgic evening of entertainment, along with the opportunity to witness the undeniable talent that makes them true American Idols.

Troy Savings Bank Music Hall’s spring concert schedule continues with Little Feat on April 18, The SteelDrivers on April 27 and Martin Sexton & KT Tunstall on April 29, followed by Morgan Wade, Béla Fleck, and The Platters in May.

More information about these events can be found online at www.troymusichall.org.

Ruben Studdard sings for fans on Wednesday at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. (Lauren Halligan - Medianews Group)
Ruben Studdard sings for fans on Wednesday at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. (Lauren Halligan – Medianews Group)
Clay Aiken sings for fans on Wednesday at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. (Lauren Halligan - Medianews Group)
Clay Aiken sings for fans on Wednesday at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. (Lauren Halligan – Medianews Group)
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken smile on stage at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on the first night of their 20th anniversary tour. (Lauren Halligan - Medianews Group)
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken smile on stage at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on the first night of their 20th anniversary tour. (Lauren Halligan – Medianews Group)
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken reminisce about American Idol on stage at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on the first night of their 20th anniversary tour. (Lauren Halligan - Medianews Group)
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken reminisce about American Idol on stage at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on the first night of their 20th anniversary tour. (Lauren Halligan – Medianews Group)
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken sing for fans on stage at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on the first night of their 20th anniversary tour. (Lauren Halligan - Medianews Group)
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken sing for fans on stage at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on the first night of their 20th anniversary tour. (Lauren Halligan – Medianews Group)
Clay Aiken performs for fans on Wednesday at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. (Lauren Halligan - Medianews Group)
Clay Aiken performs for fans on Wednesday at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. (Lauren Halligan – Medianews Group)
Ruben Studdard performs for fans on Wednesday at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. (Lauren Halligan - Medianews Group)
Ruben Studdard performs for fans on Wednesday at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. (Lauren Halligan – Medianews Group)


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20th anniversary ‘American Idol’ reunion tour




20th anniversary ‘American Idol’ reunion tour

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken to visit the Patchogue Theatre

Shana Braff

With the early 2000s trending again, it’s an apt time for “American Idol” stars, Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard, to kick off their 20th anniversary tour this month. The de facto duo will be performing “Twenty | The Tour,” at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, on April 20.

“It feels amazing. I really can’t believe that it doesn’t really feel like 20 years until we start talking about it, and you start reminiscing about the things that we were experiencing together, and we’re in rehearsal and going over stories that we probably want to tell the fans about our experience, but that’s what really puts it into perspective that, man, this actually has been 20 years,” said Studdard, who is affectionately referred to as the “Velvet Teddy Bear” by fans of the soulful singer.

Aiken and Studdard most recently starred on Broadway in “Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show,” at the Imperial Theater. The New York Times deemed the production “a Christmas miracle.” This came a decade after Aiken’s critically acclaimed Broadway debut in Monty Python’s “Spamalot.”  Rising to fame on the sophomore season of the pop-culture phenomenon “American Idol,” along with Studdard (who won in the close race, while Aiken came in second), he became the first “Idol” alum in history to have his first single debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and to have a single certified triple platinum.

As a concert artist, Aiken has played at some of the most iconic venues in North America, including on the 2003 Independent Tour, which the “Idol” runner-up co-headlined with Season 1 “American Idol” winner, Kelly Clarkson. Aiken’s album, “Measure of a Man,” also debuted at No. 1, with the highest first week sales by a debut artist. Among other accomplishments, He served nine years as a UNICEF ambassador, and in 2003, he co-founded a national inclusion project to advocate and increase opportunities for children with disabilities.

Studdard rose to fame as the winner of the second season of “American Idol” and went on to receive a Grammy Award nomination, in December 2003, for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Superstar.” He most recently went back to his TV roots and appeared on the 15th season of “The Biggest Loser.” The album “Ruben Sings Luther” (a tribute to Luther Vandross) was re-released on Oct. 23, 2019, and included a new song.

“We’re all family on the show. God really blessed us both to have the opportunity to do a job that we both love that, thankfully, we’ve been given another opportunity to do that, with the show we’ve toured together in the past, and that was 10, 11 years ago, and now it’s the perfect time for us to get back together and tell the stories about the show, tell the stories about the experience singing the songs, and touch our fans again,” Studdard said.

“Twenty | The Tour” will highlight the music that made the unlikely pair “American Idol” favorites and household names. From Aiken’s heartfelt rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to Ruben’s smooth single “Sorry,” audiences will be treated to an unforgettable evening of music and behind-the-scenes anecdotal treasures from “Idol.”

“It wouldn’t be a 20th anniversary, or reunion, whatever we want to call it, without giving people little gems and nuggets of things that were going on behind the scenes,” assured Studdard.

The two formed a lifelong, brotherly bond through the unique shared experience of being contestants on one of the most significant and pioneering TV series in American history. More than 38 million viewers tuned in to hear the results of more than 124 million votes cast during their finale, making it the most-watched “Idol” episode in history and the highest-rated regularly scheduled, live, non-sporting television episode of the 21st century.

“We both also went on our own career path obviously, so we recognize the wisdom behind it. There has never been a season, I don’t think, where the two finalists were joined together because of the show because it was so, so big at the time. It was a close race the entire time, for folks, I think,” recalled Aiken.

“It’s great that we have an opportunity to do something that will make people happy as a country, as a world, that’s been through so much in the past couple of years—for us to have the opportunity to just make people smile and give them a trip down memory lane to when times were simpler,” remarked Studdard

Aiken and Studdard are both now fathers to a son each. Aiken’s son is 14, and his touring partner’s son is 2 years old.

“The whole show was kind of put together and plotted out with Ruben and I sitting down and talking about our memories from ‘Idol,’ and he would have a story that I had totally forgotten, or I would have a story that he had totally forgotten about, and as we talked about it, we’d say, we should tell that story, and then we should sing the song that goes with that,” Aiken explained adding, “It came together in this very organic way, and it was just a chance for people to look back, to take a trip back to a time that’s simpler. There’s nothing about this show that is heavy. There’s nothing about this show that is stressful. We don’t compete with each other. It’s just about remembering something that was pivotal in our lives.”

Studdard has a new album coming out after the tour, in the fall, and he is also hopeful that he and Aiken will continue to work on more projects together.

“This tour, we’ve had so much demand for the ‘20 Tour’ that we plan on continuing this through May, and then we’re picking it up again in October and November, and possibly even into the first month or so of 2024,” Aiken said. “So many people are thirsty for this reminiscing and this nostalgia, so we’re excited about that, and then once that’s done, it’s very easy and comfortable to work together, so I’m down for continuing Ruben and Clay stuff, too. It is brotherly. At the end of the day, I’m going to be next to this guy until the day I die, and we both know that about each other. It’s lightning in a bottle.” 



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Clay Aiken Makes Surprise Confession to Ruben Studdard About 'American Idol' Journey (Exclusive)




Clay Aiken Makes Surprise Confession to Ruben Studdard About 'American Idol' Journey (Exclusive)

By Mekishana Pierre 

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken are taking a sweet stroll down memory lane. Amid their nostalgic joint tour across the U.S. and Canada, the American Idol alums stopped by for a round of ET's "Spilling the E-Tea," reminiscing about their time on the show's second season ahead of the 20th anniversary of their appearance. 

The duo announced their current Twenty tour in December, with the journey taking them through stops in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta and more. The long-time friends will end their tour on May 16, right before their appearance on the American Idol season finale on May 21; marking the 20th anniversary since they stunned the country with their dynamic voices.

Studdard tells Aiken that his excitement for the tour "can't be put into words," sharing that he's excited about the opportunity to get back on the road with his former reality TV competitior. "You're my brother. I wouldn't want to be on tour with anybody else. Other than probably Janet Jackson," he adds.

Aiken reveals that his tourmate has been teaching him to dance, although how well the lessons are going is up to interpretation. "Maybe by the end of the tour, you will have taught me how to dance," he tells Studdard. "I'll have the moves but will I be counting. And on the right beat. That's the challenge." 

"Ima get you there, I promise," the American Idol winner responds. "I think that if we have one more rehearsal, one more, I think you'll have it. The point of it is is just to be free because it's just dancing!"

Studdard goes on to deftly wade through the minefield of declaring his tourmate the bigger diva, conceding that while Aiken can be a "Divo" when it comes to certain aspects of production, when it comes down to rider requests for the dressing room, Studdard takes the title. 

"We are Divos in different ways," Studdard diplomatically concludes.

As the two dive deeply into their time on American Idol together, they reflect on their first impressions of one another. Aiken admits to being "a little intimidated" by Studdard, saying, "When we had gotten through the auditions and we were in our Hollywood Week in Glendale... you just always had this very confident air about you. You still do."

"I think everyone sort of looked at you as one of the folks who we needed to be friends with, we needed to get close with because we all realized you were going to last to the end -- even in Hollywood Week," Aikens recalls. "I think everyone knew that, yeah, 'cause I talk to other people who were in the show with us at that time. We all saw... when you sang 'Superstar.'"

Studdard shares that his first impression of Aiken was a little skewed, admitting that he saw the other singer as a "Mack" because of the young women that surrounded him that Aiken says were called "fruit flies."

"I met Clay at the Glendale Hilton and he [was] in the company of several very attractive young ladies and by several, I mean like 10 or 12," Studdard recalls. "And so I said, 'Oh man, he's the only guy, he must be 'Mackadocious.' I learned very quickly that, you know, that's not quite what it is, but still."  

"Glad you came over and said hey," Aiken sweetly responds.

The former politician goes on to share that a secret he never revealed from his time on Idol was that he came out "to myself" during the show. "I had never really realized that I was gay until I met someone who worked on the show and who, you know, [kind of told me] in one way or another," he says, laughing.

The pair break down their favorite moments with the original judging panel, reflecting on Simon Cowell's harsh, yet honest feedback and Paula Abdul's gentler approach. "I think Paula and Simon were sort of Mom and Dad [of the panel]," Aiken notes, adding that Cowell gave contestants "the tough love," Abdul was "making sure you feel good," and Randy Jackson was the kind "uncle" figure.

And when it comes to the current judging panel, Aiken and Studdard throw out their pitch for their inclusion in a future season of the show. Aiken admits that if he stepped into the role, he would "maybe [be] more Simon-ish than they have right now," but as someone who benefited from Cowell's blunt honesty, he sees the appeal of the approach.

"I've benefited from when people have told me the truth more than anything else," he adds. "I got to be a mentor this year, as you've done in the past. And I really almost prefer that simply because I like [that] you can still be incredibly honest to someone but you don't have to be judgmental. I mean, the whole idea of being a judge is, 'I'm going to tell you whether you're good or not, and people should vote this way.' But I liked the idea of being able to be constructive, give people advice, sometimes tough advice, but always with the purpose of trying to help them be better."

Studdard adds that he finds it surprising that the series "doesn't make you and I permanent Idol mentors."

He adds, "I would think it would do them well, to bring us on the show as permanent Idol mentors, but hey, you know, what do we know? We were just there in the beginning. We've just seen every variation of American Idol there is."

Your move, American Idol.



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HOMETOWN ENTERTAINMENT: Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard to bring their “Ruben and Clay Twenty/The Tour” to Roanoke




HOMETOWN ENTERTAINMENT: Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard to bring their “Ruben and Clay Twenty/The Tour” to Roanoke

Fans can catch the duo at the Jefferson Center Friday, May 5 at 8 pm.
Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 4:55 AM CDT|Updated: 7 hours ago
ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - It’s been 20 years since we first met singer Clay Aiken, a young contestant from North Carolina on the second season of “American Idol.”

Aiken finished in second place in 2003 behind winner Ruben Studdard.

Now the two are on tour together, with a stop in Roanoke next month.

“What this 20 tour is really about looking back at 2003, and sort of reminiscing,” says Aiken.

Aiken has good reason to feel nostalgic; 2003 was a HUGE year for him. He says he and the other “American Idol” contestants that year had no idea how high the stakes were.

“None of us knew it was the behemoth hit that it was, until after it was over. We were cloistered, and we didn’t see how big it had become,” says Aiken.

During that season, Aiken became fast friends with fellow contestant and eventual winner Ruben Studdard.

“I think because we were so different, we got along very well. And it’s really, truly authentically friends. I mean, we’re brothers. We call each other brother now,” says Aiken.

After the show, Aiken’s career skyrocketed. His first single, “This is the Night” debuted at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

He quickly had to learn how to navigate the ups and downs of fame.

“In some weird, interesting sort of way, everything since then has been downhill--(laughter) I don’t mean it in a bad way. But you know when the very first thing you ever do is watched by 40 million people on live TV and your first single goes to number one and your first album goes too, it’s hard to top that,” he says.

But Aiken says he never tried-- he just kept going.

Over the past two decades, Aiken spent years on tour, appeared on Broadway in “Spamalot” and even ran for Congress twice in North Carolina.

Through it all, he and Ruben stayed close.

“The only times I’ve been willing to get back onstage is when Ruben said he wanted to do something,” says Aiken.

Now’s your chance to see the dynamic duo.

“Ruben and Clay Twenty/The Tour” is coming to the Jefferson Center next month.

The North Carolina native says he’s a big fan of the Roanoke Valley.

“I would be remiss if I did not mention that Roanoke may be one of the most beautiful cities in America. But I think everybody who lives there already knows that,” says Aiken.

Aiken says the tour will feature him and Ruben singing songs and sharing stories from the show that forever shaped his life.

“It was an experience that I just absolutely loved and enjoyed,” says Aiken.

For a link to buy tickets, click here.

Copyright 2023 WDBJ. All rights reserved.


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Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken talk 'American Idol' memories and music ahead of Newark show

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken talk 'American Idol' memories and music ahead of Newark show




Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken talk 'American Idol' memories and music ahead of Newark show

1086c129-6c17-4d26-8431-ff6627f0e530-EriErica Thompson
The Columbus Dispatch
Ruben Studdard, left, and Clay Aiken

Season two of “American Idol” had a bevy of celebrity guests, including Gladys Knight, Lionel Richie and Olivia Newton-John.

Contestant Ruben Studdard played it cool each week — until Oprah showed up.

“Oprah came and did her show from our set that season,” said Clay Aiken, runner-up to Studdard, who won the season in 2003. “(Studdard) was running around (saying), ‘Oprah's here! Oprah's here!’ You would've thought Jesus himself had come back.”

Aiken was impressed with an iconic songwriter.

Those are the types of stories audiences can expect from the singers during “Twenty: The Tour,” which stops at Newark’s Midland Theatre at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

The two singers and best friends will perform songs from their stint on the reality show, as well as other numbers.

“We're getting the opportunity to give people that personal touch that they wouldn't normally get from just a regular show,” Studdard said.

“We’re going to sing, talk, sit down and have moments where people can really get that behind-the-scenes aspect of what we went through 20 years ago. It was something that we'll never forget. ‘American Idol’ is like pledging a fraternity for a year. You have to sacrifice a lot, especially early on, because you don't get a dime.”

Clay Aiken, left, and Ruben Studdard during the finale of 'American Idol' in 2003.

Studdard and Aiken said the show may mirror the structure of their “American Idol” season, which was organized into themed weeks, such as “movie soundtracks,” “disco” and “Billboard number ones.”

And compiling the list of songs was easy, Aiken added.

“We got in the room and we just started talking about 20 years ago and what (Studdard) remembered of Motown week and meeting (songwriter) Lamont Dozier,” he said. “And that conversation led us into certain songs.”

“That was a big part of the conversation,” Aiken said. “The whole show was built incredibly organically because we just let the conversation and the memories of being on the show become the path that leads us through the whole evening.”

"American Idol" alums Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken will perform at Midland Theatre in Newark on May 2.

Ruben and Clay have remained best friends since ‘American Idol’

Following “American Idol,” both singers went on to release No. 1, platinum-selling albums and achieve success on TV and in stage productions.

They consider each other close friends, even to the point of behaving like an “old married couple,” according to Aiken.

That was evident when the two men engaged in playful sparring when asked to name their favorite songs to hear each other sing.

“You have two minutes to look up some of my songs while I answer this one,” Aiken told Studdard.

“And Ruben will say ‘Invisible,’” Aiken said, referencing his well-known Top 40 hit. “But I also will say ‘Flying Without Wings’ (the hit song Ruben sang on the 'American Idol' finale) always hits me — mostly because it reminds me of losing.”

Beneath all the bickering, Aiken and Studdard have a strong bond.

“My daddy used to always say this to me when I was a kid: ‘Stop calling everybody your friend,’” Studdard said.

“It took me years to really understand what he meant by that. … You call people 'friend' by their actions, by the way that they treat you and the way that they go to bat for you and the way that they care. And as long as Clay and I have known each other, we have treated each other with respect. We fought like brothers and came back together the very same day. And we have always wanted the best for one another.”

Aiken said Studdard's support was helpful when he ran for Congress in North Carolina in 2014 and 2022.

“When I was stupid enough to get into the whole political arena, it's very difficult to get (entertainers) to support you and help you because they don't want to alienate part of their demographic,” Aiken said. “He's the one person who was right there supporting me throughout. He's always been there."

And the trust between the two men is what allows them to perform so well together onstage, Aiken said.

“I say that we're like family all the time and I absolutely feel that way,” he added. "You don't get to choose your family. … We didn't get to choose each other, God did.”

Ruben Studdard, left, and Clay Aiken

What is next for Ruben and Clay?

Studdard said he is working on a new album and finishing up his last semester teaching students about the music industry at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

But the Birmingham, Alabama, resident said his "big dream" is to have his own TV show.

"I mean a scripted, slapstick comedy kind of show," he said. "Maybe Tyler Perry can see me and (say), 'Let's give Ruben his "Uncle Ruben's House,"' so I can have a house full of delinquent kids."

Aiken, of Raleigh, North Carolina, said the tour is keeping him pretty busy.

"I tell you what I'm not gonna do is more politics," he added.

But he said he would like to extend the 'Ruben and Clay' show to Vegas.

"You can't do it, Ruben, because you'll be too busy doing your TV show," Aiken said.

"If Steve Harvey can do five television shows a day, I can do (both)," Studdard said.

At a glance

Ruben and Clay's “Twenty: The Tour” will stop at Newark’s Midland Theatre, 36 N. Park Place, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Tickets range from $49-$89. For more information, visit midlandtheatre.org or call 740-345-5483.





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Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken bring pitch-perfect voices, boy band moves to Newark, Ohio




Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken bring pitch-perfect voices, boy band moves to Newark, Ohio

1086c129-6c17-4d26-8431-ff6627f0e530-EriErica Thompson
The Columbus Dispatch
Clay Aiken (left) and Ruben Studdard perform at the Midland Theatre on May 2, 2023.

Timeless songs. Big personalities. Show-stopping performances.

Those were some of the elements that made “American Idol” must-see TV in its heyday 20 years ago. You really had to be there to truly understand, but Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken’s concert Tuesday night in Newark captured some of that magic.

Season-two winner Studdard and runner-up Aiken brought “Twenty: The Tour” to the Midland Theatre, where they told stories, delivered comedy bits and performed numbers that made them household names during their “Idol” era. The reception from the packed venue was warm; most of the audience appeared to be people who contributed to the pool of about 124 millionvotes cast for the men in 2003—though the family-friendly show would be appealing to anyone who appreciates powerful singers and classic R&B and pop.

Backed by a solid live band, Studdard appeared onstage first, singing his signature cover of “Superstar,” made popular by Luther Vandross. Then, the literal spotlight was on Aiken, who sang Journey’s “Open Arms.”

Then, both performers—wearing matching shiny jackets resembling a grandmother’s couch, Aiken joked—joined together for a cover of Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” (Do yourself a favor and Google Aiken’s rendition with an impersonator on the season-five finale of “American Idol.”)

After some funny banter, Studdard and Aiken launched into their own version of “Motown Week” on “American Idol,” singing classics by the Temptations, the Four Tops, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and others. When one sang lead, the other sang backup, along with another backing vocalist, while performing some famous Motown dance moves.

During one standout segment of the show, Studdard and Aiken used quick costume changes to launch into different songs. Studdard donned a curly wig to perform Rick James' “Give it to Me Baby,” and Aiken pulled on a glittery purple jacket to sing Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”

When the guys changed into jean jackets, they tore through songs by New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. Aiken actually did the signature dances during “You Got It (The Right Stuff)" and “Bye Bye Bye.”

Ruben Studdard (left) dons a curly wig while performing with Clay Aiken at the Midland Theatre on May 2, 2023.
Ruben Studdard (left) and Clay Aiken dance while performing "You Got It (The Right Stuff)" on May 2, 2023 at the Midland Theatre.

Following a 15-minute intermission, Aiken appeared onstage by himself and offered the first line of a classic Lionel Richie song: “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?”

The audiences shouted a resounding “Yes!”

Studdard appeared and playfully scolded Aiken for trying to steal the show.

Aiken arguably has the stronger fan base; after all, they gave themselves the name “Claymates” two decades ago. It’s easy to see why: he is a powerhouse singer, and his voice is still clear as a bell. While he offered stunning renditions of the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody" and Simon & Garfunkel's “Bridge over Troubled Water”—which earned him a standing ovation—it was his cover of “Unchained Melody,” made popular by the Righteous Brothers, that especially demonstrated his vocal control, range and knack for knowing how to let a song simmer and build to a climax.

But Studdard is no slouch. For the first half of the concert, he showed off the buttery tone that earned him the “velvet teddy bear” nickname from Gladys Knight. During the second half, he really came alive, presenting a dynamic belting voice on “Too Much Heaven” by the Bee Gees, "Kiss and Say Goodbye” by the Manhattans and his own hit song, “Flying Without Wings.” He also impressed during a Luther Vandross set and a beautiful, haunting cover of the Broadway classic “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)" with Aiken.

Ruben Studdard performs at the Midland Theatre on May 2, 2023.

Though a part of me secretly hoped to hear a bit of Studdard’s “Sorry 2004”—simply for the sake of nostalgia—the two performers put on a flawless show, which could work extremely well as a Vegas residency in the future. Aiken admitted that the opportunity to perform again with Studdard—the two did a Broadway show in 2018—brought him out of a break from performing. Aiken not sharing his gift is criminal, so I’m imploring the powers that be to keep creating opportunities for the duo to perform.

I and the millions of other “American Idol” voters can’t be wrong, and we will show up, which Aiken and Studdard acknowledged from the stage on Tuesday night.

“You put us here,” Aiken said. “You picked up the phone.”





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Center Presents: Ruben Studdard & Clay Aiken: Twenty | The Tour




Center Presents: Ruben Studdard & Clay Aiken: Twenty | The Tour

The Palladium // Thursday, May 11, 7:30pm ET

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken first gained fame in 2003 as they battled for the top spot in the second season of “American Idol.” Since then, both have built successful careers as singers, recording artists and stage and television actors. More recently, they appeared together on Broadway in “Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show.” Their 2023 tour together celebrates the 20-year anniversary of their sensational run on Idol.

Don’t miss this incredible trip down “memory lane”! Purchase your tickets at thecenterpresents.org.


April/May 2023

Having watched “American Idol” Season 2 and its finale, I was especially thrilled to speak with Clay and Ruben as they reflected back on the last two decades as performers and as friends who became each other’s family.

Janelle Morrison: To say that we’re excited that you’re both coming to Carmel, Indiana, is an understatement. Those of us that watched “American Idol” Season 2, 20 years ago, are struggling with the fact that much time has passed. As you’ve been reflecting on the past two decades, what are some of the thoughts you’re having about your experiences on “Idol” and your current tour?

Center Presents Ruben & Clay

Ruben Studdard: I think about that every year once the show comes back on. Clay and I watch another crop of young people reach for their dreams in the same way that we did. I’m cognizant of how old I am every time that show comes back on. [Laughter] You don’t meet many people that you consider friends and are friends as long as Clay and I have been. I consider him more like family now. My experiences on this show were based around the relationships that I built, whether it be with the producers, executives, and, of course, Clay as a co-contestant — now my brother. I’m thankful that we get to go on the road, sing for people, do what we love and have these nostalgic moments.

Clay Aiken: Don’t you feel like there’s this real interest in nostalgia nowadays for whatever reason?

RS: Absolutely. Everything old is now new again.

CA: Thank God! [Laughing] Ruben’s favorite show when we were on “Idol”was “That 70s Show” — he loved that show! I showed him the link for “That 90s Show,” and now some of the kids that were on that show at the same time we were on “Idol” have their own kids, and Ruben and I both have kids. You asked about our friendship growing, and we’ve been able to bond over that [kids]. I keep telling him to freeze his son at the age he’s at now and don’t let him become a teenager, if possible. [Laughter]

Center Presents Ruben & Clay

Aside from graduating from high school, “Idol” may be the biggest milestone of our lives at this point. We’ve been able to watch each other and be present for each of our own milestones. Ruben came and helped me when I ran for Congress — both times — and when I debuted on Broadway. And I’ve been to his shows and was there for his debut on Broadway … in a different way. We’ve been a big part of each other’s lives.

JM: Both of you have gone back to the show as mentors as well as “Idol” alumni. What has that been like for each of you?

CA: Ruben’s been back many times, and I just recently went back as a mentor on the show. We both went back for the Fox finale, and it was really weird. There were the three of us: Ruben, me, Kim [Locke] from Season 2 and the number 1 and number 2 [finalists] from every other season. Most of them had not seen each other since their finales. I remember Ruben and I looking at each other like, how do you go through something like “Idol”…

RS: I don’t know if collegiate is the right word, but we treated it more like we were having a dormitory experience as opposed to the seasons after us having their own spaces. We were like in the “American Idol Dorm.”

CA: Also, nobody knew what the stakes were when we were on. I think that’s unique to season 1 and 2. Neither of us, nor anybody else, realized the show was going to be that huge and how life-changing it was going to be.

JM: You spoke about how the culture of “Idol” changed in the following seasons and how it became more competitive and “cutthroat.” I think that Seasons 1 and 2 will be remembered for the way the contestants obviously competed but lifted each other up throughout the process.

CA: I guess I lifted too damn hard because Ruben won! [Laughter]

RS: Let’s be clear, before you even stepped on stage, it [the outcome] was ordained by God. [Laughter] Nothing you could’ve done would’ve changed that outcome.

CA: I think one of the things that we have found funny over the years is that people have always wanted to put us in competition with one another. We honestly never felt that way. We both wanted to go through and didn’t want the other to go home. Luckily, neither of us were sent home. And that first year, Ruben’s album would’ve come out first, but I was done [with my album], and he loves to be in the studio. So, he wasn’t finished yet, and he specifically told our label to go ahead and let my album come out first. And he bought mine the first week, and I bought his [album] that first week.

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever told you [Ruben] this. I did vote for you one week.

RS: I ain’t gonna lie … I never voted for you. [Laughing]

CA: There was one week that I was actually nervous.

RS: That you were gonna go home?

CA: Not me! [Laughing]

RS: Me? [Laughing]

CA: You know … Oprah talked about this. There was a week that I was a little nervous, so I voted for myself, of course, but I also voted for you.

[All laughing]

JM: Wow … what a revelation!  What advice were you given from the Season 2 judges that resonates with you to this day?

CA: I’ll give you the answer that both of us have given in the past. “Idol” was, in so many respects, a boot camp for us as entertainers. And Simon [Cowell], Paula [Abdul] and Randy [Jackson] as judges provided exposure to criticism that we would later experience as performers. Being on a live TV show in front of 40 million people essentially made everything else we did after that … impossible to be nervous about because we had survived that!

RS: They should rename it “American Idol University.”

JM: What can your fans expect the night of the show at the Palladium?

RS: A wonderful time. It’s a trip down memory lane, and for us, going back and reminiscing on some of the stories from the show.

CA: Ruben reminds me of stuff, and I remind him of stuff and that’s just kind of how the show was built. It was built on us reminiscing and enjoying the memories of what happened 20 years ago. We plan to make sure that people have that same opportunity to reminisce with us, and that’s what the music and the stories are all about.



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‘American Idol’ stars Studdard, Aiken reunite on ’Twenty’ tour.




‘American Idol’ stars Studdard, Aiken reunite on ’Twenty’ tour.


To “American Idol” fans, Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken were rivals during the second season.

But they became brothers.

Studdard and Aiken will celebrate the 20th anniversary of their “American Idol” showing and their friendship on the “Twenty” tour, which stops May 11 at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. with 2003 “American Idol” winner Studdard and runner-up Aiken. The duo will perform songs from that year from the TV show.


Ruben Studdard, left, and Clay Aiken will perform May 11 at the Palladium. (Photo courtesy of Amplified Entertainment)

“We do stuff we did on the show. Everything during this show we are doing the type of thing that was or could have been performed on ‘Idol’ in 2003. It’s about nostalgia,” Aiken said. “We hope to transport people back to that time.”

Studdard and Aiken toured together on the 10th anniversary of “American Idol.” They then appeared together in a three-week holiday engagement on Broadway in 2018.

“I stopped touring so we compromised, and I did Broadway where I could sleep in the same bed every night,” Aiken said. “When the 20th anniversary came around, Ruben talked me into getting back on the bus. It’s been worth it so far. We’ve had fun. I’m a little more sore than I would have been 20 years ago, but we’ve had fun with it.”

Aiken said when his son was born 14 years ago, he began to step away from doing anything musically.

“I wanted to spend more time with him and I had some interests I wanted to work on, public service stuff,” Aiken said. “I stopped focusing on music, and Ruben kept on the road.”

Studdard said it wasn’t too hard to convince Aiken.

“I think there is always a burning desire for a performer to perform,” Studdard said. “I definitely had to have a conversation or two with him, but at the end of the day, everyone wants to get on stage and sing, and I don’t think my brother (Aiken) is any different.”

Aiken said Studdard is being nice.

“He twisted my arm,” Aiken said. “I would not have done it on my own and wouldn’t have done it with anyone else, and that’s the truth. He didn’t have to put me in a headlock or anything. We have fun on stage. We don’t get along all the time because we’re like brothers. When we get on stage, there is a chemistry that I don’t think either of us even realized. We constantly get told this by people we work with or (who) come to the shows. It’s natural and easy to be on stage together.”

Aiken said except for a period between 2004 and 2005, when they might have gone a few months without being in touch, they talk or text at least once a month and usually more often.

“No one else has been through the same thing he and I have when it comes to that experience,” Aiken said. “We bonded from that. We’re very different people. Ruben grew up playing sports a lot. I grew up with people who didn’t have the same passion for performing as I did. It wasn’t until I met Ruben and others on ‘Idol’ (that I found that) there were people that enjoyed it as much as I did.”

Studdard said they share their experiences with the audience.

“Not many people have had the opportunity to meet the caliber of record producers, writers and singers that we did,” Studdard said. “Just alone talking about our experience with (record producer) Clive Davis is enough to put in a bottle and send to other people in the industry. We had the opportunity to sit in the room with one of the greatest executive producers in the music business ever.”

Aiken said the four months that he and Studdard appeared on “American Idol” created a wealth of stories.

“We packed in enough experiences, memories and moments that could have filled most entertainers’ entire careers,” he said. “He talks about Clive Davis and Lionel Ritchie. We met Neil Sedaka. We worked with Burt Bacharach. We worked with Diane Warren – huge industry giants we got to work with. The stories change every night.”

For more, visit thecenterpresents.org.



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Review: 2023 Triangle Rising Star Awards




Review: 2023 Triangle Rising Star Awards

Hosted by Clay Aiken with a special appearance from Beth Leavel.


The Triangle Rising Star Awards is a regional competition that brings together high school musical theater students from Central and Eastern North Carolina to perform and compete for the chance to represent the Triangle in The National High School Musical Theater (otherwise known as The Jimmy) Awards in New York City on June 26th. The national competition celebrates outstanding student performances in high school musical productions from all over the United States. This year, students from 34 local high schools submitted applications in the hopes of being selected as a Triangle Rising Stars' Top 20 finalist.

The show began with a rousing medley of songs that called just for the occasion. Among them are 'One Night Only' from Dreamgirls, 'Tonight (Quintet)' from West Side Story, 'Oh, What a Night' from Jersey Boys, and 'Comedy Tonight' from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Through the latter number, all 20 finalists are introduced. Afterwards, Megan Rindoks, who is DPAC's director of community engagement, came out to thank all of the event's sponsors. Finally, she welcomed to the stage the host with the most, Raleigh native, musical theatre performer, and American Idol alum, Clay Aiken. He did a wonderful job as emcee.

When it came to the performances from the finalists, quick introduction videos of each of them played where they talked about what they love about musical theatre and/or the characters they're in contention for. I must say that this year's finalists might just be the most impressive slate I've seen yet. Everyone really brought their A-game to the table. There's hardly a weak link among them. There were some humorous performances such as Heritage High School's Sarah Praught as Janis Ian in Mean Girls; Longleaf School of the Arts' Juliana Robertson as The Baker's Wife in Into the Woods; and Fuquay Varina High School's Dominic Sicola as Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. There were some energetic performances such as Weaver Academy's Aidan Armstrong as the title character in The SpongeBob Musical; Weaver Academy's Laylah Cooper-Holman as Sandy Cheeks in The SpongeBob Musical; Weaver Academy's Richmond Parris as Plankton in The SpongeBob Musical; Green Hope High School's Shreya Ravi as Wednesday in The Addams Family; Heritage High School's Braden Shepstead as Damian Leigh in Mean Girls; and Broughton High School's Max Templeton as Damian Leigh in Mean Girls. There were some heartfelt performances such as Longleaf School's Kaleb Bell as The Baker in Into the Woods (who ended up winning the award for Best Dancer); Enloe High School's Ryan Gregory as Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid; and Athens Drive High School's Timire Leak as Horton in Seussical the Musical. Although there were several performances who literally blew the roof off such as Southern School of Energy and Sustainability's Serenity Burr as Celie in The Color Purple; Broughton High School's Sheba Gage as Regina George in Mean Girls; Southern School of Energy and Sustainability's Christian Holloway as Mister in The Color Purple; Enloe High School's Ella Ludwig as Ursula in The Little Mermaid; Durham School of the Arts' Zari Alexandria McIntosh as Matron Mama Morton in Chicago; and CE Jordan High School's Ellie O'Connell as Regina George in Mean Girls.

After everyone performed individually, they all came back as a group to give their rendition of 'A Little More Homework' from 13 the Musical, which finished off Act I. Following an intermission, Clay Aiken introduced a special guest by acknowledging how she is currently the only North Carolianian to have ever won a Tony Award for performing, Beth Leavel. She sang a killer rendition of Stephen Sondheim's classic song from Follies, 'Broadway Baby.' Then, she joined Clay to present a handful of awards. Best Student Orchestra went to Athens High School's production of Seussical. Best Set Design went to Longleaf High School's production of Into the Woods. Best Costume Design went to Enloe High School's production of The Little Mermaid. Best Lighting Design went to Knightdale High School's production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Best Choreography went to Durham School of the Arts' production of Chicago. Best Ensemble went to Wakefield High School's production of Sleeping Beauty. Best Musical went to Heritage High School's production of Mean Girls.

Returning from last year's competition were winners Symoné Spencer and Joshua Thompson, where they both performed 'What You Mean to Me' from Finding Neverland. The 20 finalists were introduced one more time, and the two winners were revealed to be Enloe High School's Noah Colvin and Heritage High School's Lilly Pritchard. Colvin, who played Sebastian in his school's production of The Little Mermaid, performed a fun rendition of the Oscar-winning hit, 'Under the Sea.' Pritchard, who played Cady Heron in her school's production of Mean Girls, was very charismatic during her rendition of 'It Roars.' The night ended with everyone performing the title song from Footloose.

It almost feels like fate for Noah and Lilly to win. The former is an alumni of the same alma mater Laurel Harris went to before she went on to Broadway. The latter played the same role that 2014 Triangle Rising Stars Best Actress winner English Bernhardt recently wrapped up playing in the national tour. To Noah Colvin and Lilly Pritchard, I hope the two of you have a great time at next month's Jimmy Awards. Be sure to go into that competition, give it your all, and make the Triangle area proud.



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'American Idol' Alums Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken Talk Returning to the Show 20 Years Later (Exclusive)




'American Idol' Alums Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken Talk Returning to the Show 20 Years Later (Exclusive)

By Rachel McRady 
It was an impressive homecoming for American Idol alums Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken on Sunday night. The season 2 winner and runner-up, respectively, returned to the Idol stage 20 years later for the season 21 finale, performing a duet to "The Impossible Dream," with the help of season 21 winner and runner-up Iam Tongi and Megan Danielle.
"It was really good, man. You know, I just definitely enjoyed myself," Studdard told ET's Denny Directo after the performance. "It's like going to a high school reunion. Seeing all the people that you used to work with. It's been great."

Aiken, who has appeared this season as a mentor, remarked on how Idol has changed since they were on it.

"It is a very different show. It feels like the American Music Awards now," Aiken commented. "It's a concert. It's a real production, the way this show is done now. We didn't have a band." 

"We did not have a band. It was all tracks," Studdard recalled.

Despite the changes in the show since their season, the Idol alums still had some sage wisdom to impart on this season's finalists.

"Stay focused. It's a lot of work," Studdard shared. "You know, I just told a young man backstage it starts today. All this, all of this seems like a lot, but it's nothing compared to what he has in front of him. So just stay focused and get the job done."

Aiken mirrored the sentiment, sharing, "We always talk to each other about how Idol for us was more of a, like, it was really the most brilliant educational experience. And as I said to one of them today, you know, when you go to college you get a great education, but you don't automatically get a job afterwards. You have to do the work to make sure that you get the job. So Ruben's right, the work starts tomorrow. They can have tonight. They should enjoy, savor it, but the work starts tomorrow."

Iam Tongi was crowned the season 21 winner of American Idol on Sunday.



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American Idol alums Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard share the finale stage once again, 20 years later

American Idol alums Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard share the finale stage once again, 20 years later



"The Impossible Dream" has come true — Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard are together again on the American Idol stage.
May 22, 2023 at 10:28 PM EDT
20 years after sharing the American Idol finale stage as opponents, season 2 winner Ruben Studdard and runner-up Clay Aiken have reunited once again. 

Along with the expected performances from the season 21 finalists — Megan Danielle, Colin Stough, and eventual winner, Iam Tongi — the Sunday night finale also included a throwback surprise. The season 2 finalists teamed up for a duet of "The Impossible Dream," just in time to celebrate their 20 years of friendship. The grand finale performance pulls out all the stops, with sparklers, a mini light show and backing vocals from Tongi and Danielle.

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken on American Idol

The duo have reunited many times over the years for Broadway showcases, one-off performances and most notably the twenty-year anniversary tour currently taking them across the country. 

Last year, the longtime friends announced plans to bring their friendship on the road and perform in cities all throughout America. "We don't get to choose our family," Aiken wrote in an Instagram post last December. "Most family is predetermined by blood; some are predestined by God to come into our lives. I've got one brother who was born into my family and one brother who the good Lord introduced me to in 2003."

The Idol alum added, "A lot gets written and said about 'how sweet it is' that Ruben and I have 'kept in touch' over the years. If you have the blessing of knowing Ruben Studdard, you understand: There aren't many humans more selfless or gracious or loyal than he."

The post commemorated the day the duo first met, a memory that Studdard recalled to EW in 2016. "I met him in our Hollywood audition," Studdard said, explaining that he attended Hollywood Week with a fraternity brother who was cut on the first day. With his only friend gone, Studdard had to make new plans: "So I go to the bar, like, man, I need to go get me a beer and just chill out. And I see this little skinny white dude at the table with six of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life. So I'm like, 'Who in the hell is this dude by himself with all these girls?!' And so I went over and introduced myself, like, 'Yo, what's up, man, you need some help at the table?' And he's like, 'Hi, I'm Clay Aiken.' We've been really cool ever since."

Watch the performance below. 


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