Jump to content

July through December 2023

Recommended Posts


American Idol Icons Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken Take Center Stage as Arcadia's Performing Arts Center Makes Pandemic Come Back






In a triumphant return to the stage, the Arcadia Performing Arts Foundation (APAF) proudly announces its first live performance since the pandemic’s onset. On September 23, the illustrious Performing Arts Center will host none other than American Idol luminaries Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken.

Throughout the challenging hiatus imposed by the pandemic, the APAF remained steadfast in its unwavering commitment to bolstering the arts in Arcadia. Scholarships for budding talents, grants to empower educators, and diligent support for the upkeep of the Arcadia Performing Arts Center have been their hallmarks.

Jim Romo, the Chairman of the Arcadia Performing Arts Foundation Board, expressed his boundless enthusiasm, remarking, “It’s beyond exciting to be back with our live shows, offering world-class entertainment to our community.”

Ruben and Clay’s performance promises to be a triumphant celebration of the music that catapulted them to American Idol stardom and into the hearts of millions. Their combined musical legacy boasts twelve albums, sales exceeding eight million worldwide, a staggering fourteen nationwide tours, a memorable joint Broadway appearance, and a mantelpiece adorned with four Billboard Music Awards, an American Music Award, and two Grammy nominations.

However, this evening isn’t just about sensational entertainment; it’s also about nurturing the arts and sustaining the cultural heart of Arcadia. By attending this event, you become an integral part of the cause—inspiring young artists, fueling creativity, and contributing to the enduring vibrancy of Arcadia’s artistic landscape.

Secure your tickets today at www.arcadiapaf.org and mark your calendars for September 23 at 8 p.m. For more, call (626) 695-2008.



Link to comment
Share on other sites


Team Ruben versus Team Clay? Nah, American Idol stars Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken say their show just a celebration of a 20-year friendship




Team Ruben versus Team Clay? Nah, American Idol stars Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken say their show just a celebration of a 20-year friendship

Author of the article:
Eric Volmers
Published Sep 22, 2023  •  4 minute read

American Idol American Idol alumni Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. Courtesy, Arts Commons. jpg

It would be understandable if fans assumed that Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard’s relationship was based on friendly but fierce competition.

The two reality-TV stars famously went head-to-head in the second season of American Idol 20 years ago. In a finish that some found controversial, Studdard narrowly beat Aiken for the top spot by 140,000 votes out of a total 24 million. There were tales about an overwhelmed phone system that may have impacted the voting process and some of Aiken’s fans were not shy about voicing their annoyance. 

When promoting the Calgary stop of the Ruben & Clay: Twenty tour at the Jack Singer Concert Hall on its website, Arts Commons even asks “Whose team were you on, Team Ruben or Team Clay?”

It makes for a good story. But in an interview with Postmedia, Aiken says he didn’t really see Studdard, or anyone else, as the competition back in 2003. While that second season was obviously a personal milestone in the lives both singers, it was also a turning point for the series. The first season did well enough to be renewed and would eventually help turn winner Kelly Clarkson into a superstar. But Clarkson’s debut album wasn’t released until the second season was nearing its end. No one who auditioned and then competed in Season 2 had any inkling that the show would have the power to launch a music career, much less a wildly successful one. Season 1 had nine million viewers, which paled in comparison to Season 2’s 40 million. Yes, in retrospect, the stakes were high, it’s just that the competitors didn’t necessarily realize it at the time.

Ruben Studdard Ruben Studdard will perform with fellow American Idol alumnus Clay Aiken at Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall. Courtesy, Arts Commons. jpg


“All of us went into it with a very different mindset than I think the people who did it after us did,” says Aiken, in an interview alongside Studdard with Postmedia. “If you’re in Season 3 — Fantasia (Barrino) and Diane DeGarmo — you’ve seen Kelly have millions of album sales. You’ve seen Season 2 have 40 million viewers,” he says, noting those contestants had seen that the show could make your career.

“We didn’t realize that, I don’t think. We all went on thinking we’re going to get some connections, we’re going to meet some people, we’re going to have some fun; maybe we’ll get an album we can make. They just weren’t the stakes to set us up to be competitors and we just became good friends. We all wanted to win, but we became good friends with the people who were on the show with us because we didn’t realize that it could change our entire lives.”

Studdard adds, “Having been involved in so many competitions, on a smaller scale for sure, over my whole life, I really didn’t expect it to be the juggernaut that it was. For me, I really just wanted a record produced. I got much more than I bargained for.”

It was a juggernaut, of course, and it forever changed the trajectory of their lives. Both went on to have successful music careers and Aiken even briefly dabbled in politics. It also turned them into life-long friends. In 2010, the pair teamed up for a tour that found them trading songs, stories and jokes on stage. They are not reinventing the wheel for the 2023 version, but Aiken says it is a show specifically designed to stir nostalgia in fans and bring them back to those heady days in 2003 when Aiken and Studdard both became unlikely pop stars. Judging from reviews of previous shows on the tour, the setlist is a crowd-pleasing mix of everything from American Idol-era staples — such as Studdard’s take on Luther Vandross’ Superstar and Aiken’s show-stopping version of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water — to Bee Gees covers, Motown hits and a segment dedicated to a medley of boy-band hits.

Clay Aiken
Clay Aiken will perform with fellow American Idol alumnus Ruben Studdard at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. Courtesy, Arts Commons. jpg


“It’s really like looking back at your high-school reunion,” Studdard says. “It’s the same fond memories, I feel, that you would have if you were talking about high school or college.”

Aiken adds, with a laugh, “My Idol memories are far fonder than my high-school memories.”

It all suggests that both see their American Idol experiences as positive. But they also both admit that having fame arrive so quickly and forcefully was often bewildering.

“It definitely takes some getting used to,” Studdard says. “It was not very comfortable in the beginning and sometimes it’s not comfortable now. It’s what comes with being a part of something so monumental.”

Aiken says, “I don’t think either one of us handled it poorly. We were both, in a way, fortunate enough to not become a household name until we were in our mid-20s. We were old by the standard of American Idol nowadays. We were 24 when we did it. Folks after us were 16. We had a little bit more life experience. But it ain’t always easy and I’d say for the first several years, for me, I wouldn’t leave the house. It happens so quickly and so overnight. When we both went home — for the few minutes we were able to go home after Idol was over — we couldn’t go anywhere without people knowing who you were. I know Ruben had the same thing, people would pull up a seat at your dinner table at a restaurant and just sit down and talk. Not only were we household names, we were household names that people put in that position. They picked up the phone and they voted and they gave us these opportunities. So there was a lot of ownership that people had in us. That became difficult to process. Twenty years later, I think we have a better grasp and better handle on it but, he’s right, sometimes I still can’t get used to it.”

Arts Commons presents Ruben & Clay: Twenty at the Jack Singer Hall on Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m.



Link to comment
Share on other sites


American Idol’s Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken are combining forces for a new 20th anniversary tour



American Idol’s Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken are combining forces for a new 20th anniversary tour

Screenshot 2023 10 04 At 30207pm

Photo by Lindsey McCutchan

Want to feel old? This year marks the 20th anniversary of the singing showdown between Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard on the second season of American Idol.

Back in 2003, the show was a ratings—and cultural—behemoth. Throngs of viewers dutifully tuned in to vote for their favorite singers. While Studdard ended up besting Aiken in the finale, that season is also revered for having several other powerhouse competitors, including Kimberly Locke and Joshua Gracin, to name a few. 

During the show, Studdard and Aiken struck up an enduring friendship, one that has lasted for the past two decades. After a successful stint on Broadway last year, the two crooners have decided to take their act—and signature singing styles—back on tour. 

“Ruben & Clay: 20 Years – One Night” gives the talented duo a chance to showcase their skills and camaraderie. They’ll be performing at the Uptown Theatre on October 23rd

The Pitch had a lengthy discussion with the two about being back on the road, their affinity for each other, and—oddly—whether Alabama or North Carolina has the best barbecue. (You can bet we mentioned KC’s was far, far superior and demanded they try our fare while they’re in town. Studdard was quick to mention he’s a fan of Gates.)

Screenshot 2023 10 04 At 30155pm

Photo by Lindsey McCutchan

The Pitch: When did you guys know you were going to be besties? And then how do you cultivate a 20-year friendship?

Clay Aiken: “I don’t know that it was a moment necessarily. Obviously, we can pinpoint when we first met. We certainly can remember moments within the friendship but, I mean, it grew in the same way our journey on that show grew, you know? Had I gotten cut in 10th place, we might not have been as close—but because we spent that entire time together and we endured that 16 weeks together, we grew closer. And, at the time we did it, there was really no one else in the world who had ever done or experienced what we had. There was Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini and then us—it’s a very small club, and so it’s easy to bond over that.

Ruben Studdard: I just think it’s something that happened organically. I have no idea why Clay and I ended up being the people on our season that were the closest to each other. Clay and I couldn’t be any different, but for some reason, the friendship that we built on the show has endured. 

Aiken: And Ruben, you have to admit, we did bond over our mutual love for our own hometowns—and the great rivalries between who had the better hometown and whose hometown had a better barbecue. 

Studdard: That’s still in the air, you know. [laughs]

Aiken: Believe me, it’s an ongoing 20-year rivalry, and neither one’s ever gonna win.

That’s hilarious. But you know you’re coming to Kansas City, which is called Cow Town for a reason. 

Aiken: Right there is where we diverge—because we don’t barbecue cow. It’s pig.

Studdard: Isn’t Gates Barbecue in Kansas City? Yeah, man!

Yes! Okay, moving on. What’s your favorite thing about the other person? And, yes, you only get one thing. 

Studdard: My favorite thing about Clay is his memory. He never forgets important dates, right? Honestly, I have to ask Clay every year when his birthday is. Like, if I didn’t write my mom and dad’s birthday down, I would forget it—every single year. But when September 12 shows up—no matter where I am, I’m going to get a card, a gift, a text, or something from Clay. Meanwhile, I’m aloof—I’m like, “Yo, is your birthday next week?”

Aiken: That’s tough. It honestly will depend on the day. I will say that this week—and many, many, many, many, many weeks—I appreciate Ruben’s steadiness in almost any situation. He doesn’t get overly excited; he doesn’t get overly upset. He’s very steady and calm—and I’m high-strung. So, it can be very helpful to have someone who can tell me to calm the eff down every once in a while.

Is there a duet you both have yet to do that you think you’d absolutely crush?

Aiken: [laughs] We would crush them all. But we recently talked about other things that we could add in or do at different times. What’s that Philip Bailey and Phil Collins song?

Studdard: [sings] “Easy Lover.”

Aiken: I don’t know if that’s Ruben’s favorite, but it’s stuck in my head though. 

Studdard: That’s a good tune, for sure. 

Okay, I fully expect y’all to sing that in KC. I’m going into the Wayback Machine. What’s your best memory or biggest takeaway from season two of American Idol?

Studdard: Honestly, people ask this question all the time. And I can only say this from my perspective. The best memory I have is what you guys were not able to see. The best memory I have is the time when we were at the Idol house enjoying each other’s company—because you have to understand, every week somebody went home. Especially when we got to—maybe, like, the eight of us, we kind of understood we should probably really enjoy each other’s company because tomorrow somebody won’t be here. All of us—we really made an effort to kind of hang out, go to the mall, or do whatever because we rarely had any time to go anywhere except the show.

Aiken: Just to elaborate on that, we’re also the only season, I think—actually, I’m pretty confident—we’re the only season that still stays in touch as a group. We don’t see each other very often, but we do keep in touch, and we’re friends. Ruben, Kim, and I went back to the FOX finale when the show left FOX—whatever year that was. And I think we were sort of shocked to learn that other finalists from other seasons who were also back were saying, “Oh, I don’t know about so-and-so… I haven’t heard from or spoken to them in 10 years.” And we looked at each other—like it was just strange. I don’t know why our season bonded in the way that we did, and others did not, but it’s a fact. It’s true.

Screenshot 2023 10 04 At 30145pm

Photo by Lindsey McCutchan

I know you guys have done a Broadway Christmas show together—was that sort of the genesis for this tour?

Studdard: I think the genesis was really just we wanted to get out and celebrate the fact that we did something monumental together 20 years ago—and how to bring those memories back to people. For me, some of the most fun times I had in my life were on that American Idol tour.

Aiken: I had still kind of stepped away from performing—and touring, especially. And he’s right—twenty years is a huge milestone. And so, this tour came together, in large part, because he reminded me that it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal to be lucky enough to be able to do this at twenty years. I mean, I don’t know how many people from 1983 were touring in 2003. We’re both just blessed and fortunate to be able to keep doing this—so why not celebrate it and do it together?

They say you never really truly know someone until you travel with them. What’s your biggest travel or road warrior idiosyncrasy?

Aiken: Do we have those? [laughs] Listen, I have plenty of idiosyncrasies—and so does he—but I don’t think we have travel ones. I mean, Ruben has been touring nonstop for 20 years. I did take about 10 years off. But we’ve both been on the road a lot, and I think you really fall into a rhythm. Interestingly, there will be days on tour where we won’t really see each other until about 10 minutes before the show starts. 

Studdard: I think that we’re both pretty particular about the airline that we like.

Aiken: Oh, yes—we are. He’s a Delta person. I’m an American person. We both have our miles racked up, and I can’t go cheating on them. But I don’t think we do anything strange, that’s for sure. Maybe—shhh, don’t tell anyone—but neither one of us is a big warmer-upper.

Do you two still get starstruck when you meet celebs? Who’s been a surprise fan?

Studdard: All the time! I think the biggest starstruck moment I’ve ever had is maybe James Brown at the BET Awards. 

Aiken: What about Oprah? Because I’ll tell you something—when he met Oprah on Idol, that’s the only time I’ve ever seen Ruben lose control a little bit.

Studdard: We’ve been blessed, man. The only person that I didn’t get a chance to meet that I wanted to meet was Prince. And I kind of stalked him a little bit, trying to meet him. I was at the studio every day like, “Is he coming today? Is he coming today?” But, yeah, I did get a little starstruck with Oprah. 

Aiken: Once again, he and I are very different. I’m high-strung and on edge a lot of other times, but around celebrities, I’m not. I think that’s because I didn’t grow up with the same sort of love for music and performing that Ruben did. The only times I remember being starstruck? I was on an elevator with Tom Brokaw one time, and that really got me excited. I was too nervous to say hello. And occasionally with politics—like, I met Nancy Pelosi this past summer, and that was a little bit of a thing. I guess I haven’t met as many people as Ruben does because I’m not sociable. I stay in my house. Maybe I will get starstruck at some point. It hadn’t happened yet. Let me know if you see it, Ruben. 

Finally, the world must know—what’s on your Spotify playlist right this very second?

Aiken: Ha! It’s all the songs we do on this tour—because I gotta remember ‘em again. 

Studdard: I got a lot of playlists, though. Actually, my number one playlist is one I made called “After the Pain,”—and it’s all old blues songs. Because that’s a song by a lady named Betty Wright. I’m from Birmingham, so, for me, when I’m on the road, what makes me feel at home is when I put this Spotify playlist on, and I’m right back at my grandmama’s house. Also, “Members Only” by Bobby “Blue” Bland. “Sweet Little Angel” by B.B. King. That’s my playlist right there!



Link to comment
Share on other sites


'Idol' rivals Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken are keeping the magic alive. See them in Phoenix




'Idol' rivals Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken are keeping the magic alive. See them in Phoenix

636402374826581689-newsroom-portraits-10Ed Masley
Arizona Republic

It’s been 20 years since Ruben Studdard squeaked by Clay Aiken to win Season 2 of “American Idol.”

That season finale remains the most-watched episode in “Idol” history and the highest-rated regularly scheduled, live, non-sporting television episode of the 21st century with 38.1 million viewers.

It was kind of a big deal.

That’s why Studdard and Aiken are headed to Phoenix with Twenty | The Tour for a show at the Orpheum Theatre to celebrate their anniversary.

Well, that and the fact that they formed more of a friendship than a rivalry on their way to the finals, where Studdard prevailed by a margin of 134,000 votes of the 24 million total.

We caught up with Aiken and Studdard to discuss the tour, the “rivalry” that never was and more.

How does it feel to be out there celebrating 20 years since the two of you did ‘’American Idol” together?


Studdard: It feels absolutely amazing to know that I’m 20 years older than I was on “American Idol” (laughs).

Aiken: We do move a little slower (laughs). It’s crazy. Ruben pointed out to me that it was coming up on 20 years about a year or so ago and I don’t think that I had even comprehended what that meant. It sort of feels like it was yesterday to some degree. And to think about just how long 20 years really is, it’s a little mind-blowing and a little bit humbling, too.

We’ve been lucky enough to keep doing this 20 years later and a lot of people have not had that luxury in their careers, so we feel really good about that.

This isn’t the first time you have worked together since the show. What do you think keeps bringing you back together?


Studdard: I honestly think it’s the response from the fans. They really enjoy the nostalgia of it all and the opportunity to see us on stage together.

Aiken: That and it’s easy. And by easy, I mean it's easy because we’ve known each other 20 years. We’ve been close friends for 20 years. We’ve done one other tour together, a Broadway show and now this second tour together. It’s very easy when you work with someone you know and can trust.

There’s certainly comfort in not having to carry the whole burden of a show on your own. But it’s even easier and more fun when you know there’s a natural chemistry.

You guys are obviously friends. When it came down to just the two of you on “Idol,” though, there had to be a sense of competition. Was there a rivalry?

Studdard: I mean, you know, I think the competitive nature of the show, I only felt during the earliest moments of the show, when we were in those large groups. Once we were in the group of people that made it to the house, so to speak, it took on a family atmosphere.

Aiken: Also, I can say emphatically that very last week of the show, when it was just the two of us, I would argue that was possibly the least competitive any of us had been. At that point, I think we both felt that we had made it to the end. We were gonna be on every episode of the season.

But there were also no stakes to Season 2 in the way I think there were for other seasons. When Fantasia showed up for her audition, she had seen Kelly sell her album very successfully. She had seen our season air to 40 million people in its finale. People who came into Season 3 and 4 and beyond, they knew what “Idol” could do for them and what was at stake if they were successful.

When Ruben and I and all of us on our season auditioned, we didn’t have the benefit of that information. We auditioned for a show that had gotten 9 million viewers the season before. And we all thought this would be a fun thing to do, that we might make some contacts and might get to make an album. And then we might go home.

Do you remember when you met? Did you immediately bond?

Aiken: (laughs uproariously) Ruben and I bonded over, I think, the fact that we were so similar. (Laughs). No, I’m kidding. We’re so different.

But we both had a strong affection for our home states. He was telling me all the people who were from Birmingham. I was telling him all the things that were great about Raleigh. And we just kind of competed back and forth with each other about that and that built a friendship.

But like Ruben’s been saying, there was something about that season. Season 2 is the only season where everybody lived in a house together. We roomed with each other, ate dinner together. Everything was done together. All subsequent seasons, they had hotel rooms or little apartments and lived their own separate lives. We shared everything.

Have you stayed in touch with other people from that season?


Studdard: We’ve stayed in touch with everybody. We have our own little Facebook chat group and text chat group for everybody from the Top 12.

Aiken: Julie DeMato, who was in our season, she’s already been to this show. Vanessa Olivarez, who was in the Top 12 with us, she’s coming to the Nashville show. They all come when they are able to. And we stay connected pretty regularly. Unfortunately we lost one of our brothers from the show a few years back to a car accident, Rickey Smith. And we all flew to Oklahoma to be together for that funeral with his family. It is a family, that group of 12.  We both know other people from other seasons, obviously, professionally or more, but we have really stayed connected to our core group.

It sounds like you have nothing but good memories of that show.

Studdard: Absolutely. It was one of the fondest times of my life. I liken it to my experience in college, playing football. It was just with music. So it was very memorable. A lot of work but well worth it.

Aiken: I tell people all the time if we could eliminate that little piece of Wednesday where we had to worry about being cut, I would’ve done everything we did on “Idol” and enjoyed it for the rest of my life. I just really had fun with it. It was exhausting, but we had a great time.

Did either of you have a week where you thought for sure you were gonna be cut?

Studdard: I was in the bottom two once, so I had a week where I definitely thought I would be cut.

Aiken: For me, it was every week (laughs). I actually didn’t end up in the bottom two, but every week, I thought I would go home. I was sure.

The show aired at 5 p.m. on the West Coast, so we’d do dress rehearsal in the early afternoon and for the very first time all week, we’d get to see the other people sing their song. And I would sit there and listen to Rickey sing his song. Or Trenyce. Or Kim Locke sing. And I’d think, “Oh my God, (I'm) going home. There’s no way.” We had so many good people on that season.

And we did not realize that people were watching this show. There were 9 million people watching it the season before. And it sort of blew up while we were sequestered in our Idol house. We had no idea that people were watching and certainly didn’t realize that people who were watching it were liking the two of us as much as they did.

I know you said that by the time you made the finals, you felt you’d already won. But Clay, what did you think when Ryan announced that Ruben had won?

Aiken: (laughs) Well, here’s the breaking news that isn’t news anymore. I actually saw the card before he said Ruben’s name. We were standing backstage. So I had seen it. By mistake. Ryan had turned it around and looked at it and I looked over his shoulder and saw.

So I expected it. I knew what was gonna happen. And if you go back and look at the show, I’m staring right at Ruben when he announces the winner because I wanted to see Ruben’s face when he won. And Ruben, I’m sure, is thinking “Why the hell won’t you back up, man?”

Tell me about this tour and what fans can expect.

Studdard: It is a wonderful night of great music. And I say that because on the show, in particular, we got an opportunity to sing songs from I think America’s greatest songwriters. So what we’re doing is trying to bring that same energy to our live show.

Aiken: Something about “Idol” for not just us but the audience that watched it 20 years ago was you could turn it on with family and sing along with the songs. I tell people at our stage show every night, I didn’t know who the Bee Gees were until “Idol,” which is a little embarrassing, even to this day. I didn’t know who they were, but I knew their music.

So the music “Idol” brought to audiences in their living rooms every week was stuff that everyone knew, the biggest hits from the biggest songwriters. And we wanted to make sure we recreated that when we did this tour. We’ve tried to make the entire evening a flashback to 2003. The music as you’re walking into the theater and playing during intermission is all the hits from 2003.  

And we tell the stories of what it was like on the show. We talk about how we chose the song, about the people we worked with, like Smokey Robinson, or how we got to record with Burt Bacharach. We tell some of those stories from behind the scenes, and we really just try to recreate as much of that magic from that year as we can.

Do each of you have a particular moment in the concert that you most look forward to?

Studdard: I can’t say that I do have a special moment. I enjoy all of it, honestly. And that’s not to say that other people don’t say that all the time, but I really do.

Aiken: When we sat down to put the show together, it was very much an organic situation. Ruben, myself and our music director, John Jackson, we all just kind of sat down and started talking. Ruben would start talking about a memory and I’d say “Oh, I remember this.” And then, we’d say “Oh we should do this song together.”

But at one point in the process, we started talking about music that inspired us growing up and somehow that detoured into boy bands. And we ended up deciding to put together this medley of boy-band songs but it's less about the songs than it is about me trying to dance. Which is never pretty.

Studdard: (Laughs)

Aiken: So I think that maybe is my favorite simply because I’ve just gotten to an age where I know I can own it, that I cannot dance at all, and we just both have a lot of fun with that part of the show.

Your fans were obviously deeply invested in seeing you win. How does that work with them coming together to cheer for both of you on this tour?

Aikens: It comes to blows every night in the audience (laughs).

Studdard: If you had asked us that question when we were on the “American Idol” tour, I would say they probably did have a couple of fights in the parking lot. Now, nobody cares. They really are just coming to have a good time.

Aiken: And they know. They know we’re friends. We play it up a lot. We joke about being competitive with each other. But we don’t feel that way. And our fans recognize that. I know my fans have grown to love Ruben and I think some of his fans like me a little bit too.

How to see Ruben & Clay in Phoenix

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19.

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams St., Phoenix.

Admission: $39-$69.

Details: 602-262-7272, etix.com.



Link to comment
Share on other sites


American Idol finalists coming to Wagner Noël




American Idol finalists coming to Wagner Noël

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken celebrate historic finale with 20th anniversary tour

 Michael Bauer

In the spring of 2003, American television audiences were captivated by the relatively new series “American Idol.”

The show was in its second season and viewership was through the roof as audiences eagerly waited to see who was going to be the next winner.

The intense season came down to two finalists — Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard.

In the end, it was Studdard who squeezed past Aiken in the voting to win Season 2 of American Idol.

That season’s finale remains the most-watched episode in the show’s history and the highest-rated regularly scheduled, live, non-sporting television episode of the 21st century with 38.1 million viewers.

Studdard won by only 134,000 votes out of the 24 million votes recorded.

To say that it was a big deal at the time would be an understatement.

Twenty years later, Studdard and Aiken remain good friends and will soon be in the Permian Basin to mark the anniversary of their unforgettable season on “American Idol.”

Both singers will be performing at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 with “Ruben and Clay-Twenty Years, One Night” at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center.

Tickets can be purchased online at tinyurl.com/ymavxp2u.

Aiken and Studdard recently sat down to do a phone interview with the Odessa American about their current tour and reflect on their time on “American Idol” back in 2003.

It’s the first time both singers will be performing at the Wagner Noël and they are excited about coming to the Permian Basin.

“I’m excited because I know West Texas has some great barbecue so I can’t wait to get there so that we can get some beef ribs and some brisket,” Studdard said.

This isn’t the first time both have toured together since 2003.

“We’ve done tours before,” Aiken said. “We toured together with the Idol tour and then we toured together in 2010 and we did a show together on Broadway in 2018. We both looked for opportunities to do something together.”

The two singers realized that they had to do something special for their 20th anniversary this year.

“We’ve sort of always wanted to do it, but we’ve always had to look for the right moment and Ruben said it’s the 20th anniversary coming up and suggested that it would be a good time to get the group back together,” Aiken said. “It’s a great thing to celebrate. It’s really exciting, but it’s really heartbreaking because we’re getting older. It’s been 20 years. As we say at the show, a lot of people who do this are lucky enough to do this for four or five years. Many people don’t have the luxury that we’ve had to do this for 20 years. It’s definitely exciting.”

As for who exactly came up with the idea, Studdard said they both did, but he gave Aiken a lot of credit for making it work.

“I would say that I suggested it, that we have something for our 20 anniversary, but as far as us getting serious about it, it was both of our ideas, because it takes a lot of planning and preparation to get ready for something like this,” Studdard said. “Clay is very detailed-oriented and I’m more of a creative side of things. It takes both of us as far as us making this work and I think he did a great job.”

As Season 2 of “Idol” began, both singers auditioned, not knowing what was going to happen.

Aiken and Studdard were just hoping to break into the music industry.

“I can’t tell you how long I’ve been trying to be a part of the music industry,” Studdard said. “As a kid, I was in groups, we had managers and demos. Even in high school, I was in solo acts. I did all the things that you were supposed to do and none of it seemed to work. ‘Idol’ was the thing that gave me the nudge that I really wanted and needed to be a part of the music industry.”

Aiken wasn’t sure what would happen with him as well when that season started.

“Ruben knew that’s what he wanted to do,” Aiken said. “I wasn’t sure for myself. We came from very different backgrounds and different motivations for auditioning. But we all were very innocent. Even at age 24 back then, we didn’t know that what we were walking into was going to be a national phenomenon.”

While there’s never going to be the same energy the two had in 2003, this current tour has been a fun trip down memory lane, not just for Aiken and Studdard but for their fans as well.

“It’s great to hear people’s stories about how their families were inspired by our music,” Studdard said. “I remember people saying they watched that season with their grandma who is no longer with them and that experience to me is great because that was the first time my granddad got to see me sing. He’s no longer with me. I understand people’s connections to that nostalgia.”

Aiken echoed those thoughts and added that he and Studdard didn’t think the 20th anniversary tour would last long at first.

“It brings back a lot of memories for people,” Aiken said. “People will tell us how much they’ve been taken back by this. That’s probably why this tour has done so well. We originally thought it would be two months, but after the first two months, people kept calling the agency and asking to book it. … The energy has been great and people have enjoyed living in that simpler, better time of 2003.”

As the season rolled on, both were just happy to have people listening to them perform.

“I just wanted the opportunity to have someone hear me that was for real,” Studdard said. “You have to understand that in the journey of this music thing, you have to know somebody who knows somebody … There was not a shadow of doubt that if I made it to a certain point in that show, someone for real would hear me. After that, we were just having fun. We were fully into it.”

As audiences held their breath during the season finale to await the winner, one of the finalists already knew who the winner was going to be before the host, Ryan Seacrest, announced it.

Aiken knew that Studdard had won, right before taking the stage.

“I saw it behind the scenes before we walked out on stage,” Aiken said. “We had been standing off stage, talking. Then Ruben had just said ‘can you believe that we, the least likely people in the world, are in the finals?’ After he said that, I turned around and Ryan was checking the card beforehand and I saw Ruben’s name on it before we walked out. Ruben had no idea, though.”

As for what was going through Studdard’s mind at the time? He was just ready to go to sleep.

“I was thinking, ‘I’m really ready to go to bed now,’” Studdard said. “That was literally the only thought in my head because people had no idea that we had been in three or four states in a short amount of time. I thought that was going to be the moment where at least we got a day off. But then we got on a plane and did more.”

There was no bitter feud between the two or anything like that.

Aiken and Studdard were just happy to not only make it that far but to also have both of their albums released that year.

“We had the luxury of them confirming to us halfway through that episode that they were going to put both of our albums out,” Aiken said. “We weren’t sure if we were going to get that. We were like ‘hell yeah! We both get an album?’ So in that final episode, it was basically a formality. But there was never this competition between both of us. We were ready to see what the next step of our careers was going to be.”



Link to comment
Share on other sites


Studdard, Aiken recall early ‘Idol’ years




Studdard, Aiken recall early ‘Idol’ years

Studdard, Aiken recall early ‘Idol’ years

“Ruben & Clay Twenty | The Tour” features “American Idol” season two contestants Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. (Lindsey McCutchan/Contributor)

The second season of “American Idol” holds a special place in many fans’ hearts because of Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. 

The two singers forged a close bond 20 years ago when they competed on the reality show. Now, they’re recreating the “American Idol” experience with “Ruben & Clay Twenty | The Tour,” which comes to the Fox Tucson Theatre on Friday, Oct. 20.  

Studdard, who hails from Alabama, and Aiken, who is from North Carolina, toured together in 2010 and starred on Broadway together.

“It would be difficult for people to understand the level of family that we have become in the past 20 years,” Studdard said.

“Not just with Clay and I, but with the vast majority of people who were on our particular season of ‘American Idol.’ Everybody on our season, we try our best, especially with the top 10, to keep up with each other and know what’s going on with one another and keep that family spirit going.”

Studdard won the season and is modest about it.

“He never rubs it in my face that I came in second,” Aiken said.

“He’s the magnanimous one. I’m the one who makes fun of the fact, because I think it’s funny. We do enjoy teasing each other. But the interesting thing is people have always assumed that there was some sort of competition between the two of us, and there never was.”

More than 38 million viewers tuned in to watch the finale of Season 2. More than 124 million votes were cast.

During their season, social media wasn’t a thing, so audiences had to tune in.

“Most of the stuff that we did on the show is lost to history,” Aiken said.

“There are a lot of performances that both he and I did that you can’t even find on YouTube anymore. When Ruben starts singing ‘Kiss and Say Goodbye,’ a lot of people in the audience go, ‘Holy crap. That’s the first time I’ve heard him sing that since 2003, and I remember how much I loved hearing it back then, and it brought back all of these memories.’”

At the show, audiences can expect to hear Aiken sing “Bridge over Troubled Water,” and Studdard performing “Flying Without Wings.” They also do a tribute to ’80s and ‘90s boy bands. 

Studdard said the songs’ meanings have changed as their careers have grown.

“I definitely think music has a different meaning for you when you get older in general,” he explained.

“There’s a connection that you make with music in general, because you have had different live experiences. Our show is littered with songs that we sang on ‘American Idol’ that have a completely different meaning or understanding now that we are older.”

Following “American Idol,” the two have had successful music careers. 

Combined, they have sold more than 8 million albums worldwide. They have toured the country 14 times and won four Billboard Music Awards and one American Music Award. 

Studdard received a Grammy nomination in 2003 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Superstar.” He has released six studio albums, including his platinum-selling debut “Soulful,” which featured hits such as “Flying Without Wings,” “Sorry 2004” and “Change Me.” 

Aiken was the first “American Idol” alum to have his first single debut as No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. His album “Measure of a Man” debuted at No. 1, with the highest first-week sales by a debut artist. His 2004 holiday album “Merry Christmas with Love” was also record-setting, tied as the high-charting holiday album debut in Billboard history. 

The tour is focused mostly around music they sang on “American Idol.” They won’t be doing songs that came after, such as “Sorry 2004” or “Invisible.” 

Studdard and Aiken perform together, too. 

“What we do is try to relive that energy and excitement that we had in 2003,” Aiken said.

“One of our favorite things to do every week when we were on the show were the group numbers. Ruben and I do a lot of stuff together. We have some really talented musicians on the stage with us who join in and sing along and play along. Ruben does his own solos, and I do my own solos, but everything is chosen to recreate that ‘Idol’ magic of 2003.”

The duo have had very different            careers, although they both did theater. Studdard was on the national tour revival of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and Aiken was in a Broadway production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” 

Studdard said during the show, they talk about their influences, such as Lionel Richie and Smokey Robinson.

Aiken ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, and served as a UNICEF ambassador for nine years. 

Studdard and Aiken find it important to give back to their communities. 

Studdard created a foundation that supports music education programs in the greater Birmingham, Alabama area. 

Aiken co-founded the National Inclusion Project, an organization that advocates for and offers extracurricular activities and summer camps for children with disabilities.

Aiken said one thing that most people wouldn’t know about Studdard is his extensive knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement.  

“He has an encyclopedic knowledge of every location, every individual, every event, every part of the Civil Rights Movement,” Aiken said. 

“I am only my grandfather’s child. My grandfather knew everything about everything,” Studdard said. 

Studdard said that Aiken is knowledgeable in different subjects. 

“I feel like at some point in his life, he’s going to be elected to some office, even if somebody has to pull him there kicking and screaming, because he’s probably tired of running for things. Every time I’m around him, I see the politician in him. He is a president, senator or governor in waiting. I cannot wait until that happens,” Studdard said. 

The two share a common love of barbecue and have a heated rivalry going on whose barbecue is the best. 

“It is the only competition between Ruben and I where I prevail, because North Carolina’s is by far superior,” Aiken said. 

“If you believe that statement from him, I can sell you anything,” Studdard countered. 

The two have developed such a close relationship that they don’t always have to be around each other on tour. 

“We know each other so well now that some days, we don’t see each other until the show starts. I say that in a good way, when you get into a relationship with someone where you know them so well, you’re so comfortable around them, there’s no effort necessary,” Aiken said. 

“There may be a little effort necessary from Ruben to put up with me sometimes. But there’s no effort necessary when we tour together, because we know each other so well. There are days when we do something together on days off. There are some days where we don’t see each other until the show starts. We walk right onstage, and it’s like putting on your favorite pair of slippers. It’s just easy like that.”  



Link to comment
Share on other sites


Flashback to 2003 with Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken at Northern Quest on Sunday




Flashback to 2003 with Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken at Northern Quest on Sunday

Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard, who once competed head to head in the finals of “American Idol,” are now on tour together. The friends will perform Sunday night at Northern Quest Resort and Casino.  (Courtesy photo)
By Ed CondranThe Spokesman-Review

Intense competition doesn’t often turn into friendship. However, Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard, who battled to win the “American Idol” competition in 2003, are so close that they refer to each other as brothers and are on tour belting out the songs they covered 20 years ago on the music reality program.

“We’re very good friends,” Aiken said while on the same line with Studdard in Kansas City. “We always have been. We enjoy each other’s company.”

It doesn’t matter that Aiken won the competition and Studdard placed second. “That’s just the way it went,” Studdard said.

The tandem are music’s odd couple. Studdard is a Black former college football player, who is straight. Aiken is a white, gay father of a young son.

“We became good friends and we’re still good friends with those who competed on ‘American Idol’ from 2003,” Aiken said. “We still have a text thread with everyone from ‘Idol’ 2003 but I was surprised that the singers from other years aren’t as close.”

Asked whether Aiken and Studdard knew of “Idol” reunions from other years, the latter laughed.

“Absolutely not,” Studdard said. “It was different for us than it was for those who competed in different years.”

Communal living was the reality for contestants during the first two seasons of “American Idol.” “We had our meals together and hung out since we lived in the same quarters,” Aiken explained. “There was simply no budget for it at the time.”

However, much changed in 2004 thanks to Season 2’s popularity. From 2004 on, “American Idol” competitors resided in apartments during their run.

Aiken, Studdard and the rest of the 2003 competitors were living all over each other. It’s surprising that cameras failed to capture their interaction under one roof a la MTV’s “Real World.”

“I think we would have been too boring for that,” Aiken said while giggling. “They worked us so hard that when we came back after a long day, we would eat and either play video games or sleep. But 2003 was a magical time for us.”

Aiken and Studdard have so much affection for what they experienced 20 years ago that they’re trying to replicate that period for their concert, which is slated for Sunday at Northern Quest Resort and Casino.

“We want people to go back in time and revel in nostalgia,” Aiken said. “We made a conscious effort to make the show as reminiscent of 2003 as possible. We chose not to sing songs we recorded after we left ‘American Idol.’ We hope to transfer fans back to those 16 weeks from 2003.”

Aiken and Studdard will share a stage and belt out duets but they will each perform songs solo which propelled them to the “American Idol” finals. Studdard will sing “Flying Without Wings” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and Aiken will deliver “To Love Somebody” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.”

The duo will render “Boy Band” medleys and “Idol Mentor” medleys. “The best part of this show is that Ruben and I will be sharing a stage together,” Aiken said. “There’s no other singers who competed in the finals of American Idol doing a tour like this.”

Aiken and Studdard toured together in 2010 and had a Broadway run in 2018. “Playing Broadway was a lifelong dream for both of us,” Aiken said. “I’m just glad we can do this again. We both jumped at the chance to tour again. I know the fans love going back and reliving the past with us.”

The same goes for Aiken and Studdard, who enjoy reminiscing about the “American Idol” experience. “People always go on about how mean Simon (Cowell) was but he wasn’t mean,” Studdard said. “Simon was just honest and he was helpful. When the cameras were off, we all know how doting Paula (Abdul) was. She was so maternal but Simon was very nice.”

And there were the performance highlights. “I love looking back at the icons we got to learn and work with such as Gladys Knight, Lionel Richie and Diane Warren,” AIken said.

Both Aiken and Studdard both watch “American Idol,” which airs on ABC. However, the latest version of the show, is different than the program which aired on Fox during the 2000s. “That’s the way it is since America is not the same place as it was in 2003,” Aikeen said. “The world is always changing and the show has changed but that’s fine. We’re just trying to allow fans to go back to 2003 and relive some of those memories.”



Link to comment
Share on other sites

wapo.com (The Freakin' Washington Post!)  Gift article

Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard still share a bond like no other




Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard still share a bond like no other

38 million watched their ‘American Idol’ showdown in 2003. Now on a nostalgic concert tour, the two men reflect on the lasting prize of friendship

November 23, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. EST
Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard pose for a photo at Phoenix's Orpheum Theater before a show on their current concert tour, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of their "American Idol" showdown in 2003. (Cassidy Araiza for The Washington Post)

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Think about the bond you share with a friend that you have known for two decades, and now imagine that you met when you were both 24, on a TV show that made each of you head-spinningly famous. There were record deals. Magazines with your faces on the cover. The tabloids tried to figure out who you were sleeping with. Ecstatic fans crashed your tables at restaurants. Through it all, a rude British man got paid to insult you.


It was 2003 — very specifically 2003, the year that Fox’s “American Idol” skyrocketed into ubiquity in its second season. Tens of millions of viewers gathered on Tuesday and Wednesday nights to watch the singing competition, vote for their favorites and gasp at stinging comments from the “mean” judge, British record executive Simon Cowell. And everyone started to realize that this new phenomenon called “reality TV” could really turn regular people into stars and would give us a whole new class of celebrities to obsessively follow.


May 21, 2003: It all came down to Ruben Studdard vs. Clay Aiken. Some 124 million votes were cast and a whopping 38 million viewers tuned in, one of the highest-rated TV broadcasts that year and the most-watched live regularly scheduled TV episode of this century so far (excluding sports). Studdard won and Aiken was named runner-up, and the two men became inextricably linked — and friends, forever.

“We like to round it up to 40 [million viewers], please,” Aiken joked, maybe only half kidding.

Aiken stopped touring a decade ago, but last spring, Studdard noted that the 20-year anniversary of their famed “Idol” season was on the horizon and hinted about a possible reunion for the milestone. “I know you’ll be in Congress next year,” Studdard told Aiken, who was in the throes of his second bid in eight years for a North Carolina congressional seat. (“He was being nice and optimistic,” Aiken said.)


Aiken lost the Democratic primary and decided he was sick of the political arena: “I’m done with all of this for the rest of my life,” he said. “I don’t like any of them, honestly, on either side.”

Studdard told him, “You’ll make more people happy singing than you will in politics, anyway.”

Aiken was sold, leading to “Twenty,” a 70-plus date concert trek across the United States and Canada that kicked off in April and continues through January and beyond. The set list is entirely cover songs, many of which they performed on “Idol,” and it makes people very, very happy as they are emotionally transported to what they remember as a simpler time, when everyone watched the same thing on TV and the internet was limited to the dial-up modem on the “family computer.”


The tour has pulled into North Little Rock on a warm October afternoon at the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College. Aiken and Studdard are dressed as casually as possible without actually wearing pajamas, several hours before they take the stage. Though they have separate busy lives — Aiken lives in Raleigh with his teen son; Studdard is based in Birmingham with his wife and preschool-age son – they have remained close friends all these years. And as other “Idol” stars fade from memory, America has never forgotten Clay and Ruben.

They refer to each other as brothers, and when they unite for these type of events, they are one entity. The merchandise involves both of them: One shirt reads “John & Paul & George & Ringo & Ruben&Clay.” The media played up their rivalry in 2003; even though it was a competition, they didn’t really feel like competitors. Their fans, especially the “Claymates,” bickered about Studdard’s small margin of victory in the finale and claimed conspiracies. The actual Ruben and Clay were never at odds.

“We occasionally will see somebody in the audience with an old Ruben shirt, like a lady last night ... and I joked with her,” Aiken said. “But I don’t even like it when we do a meet-and-greet and someone says, ‘I voted for you’ when [Ruben] is in the room. It p----- me off! And if someone says that to him, then you better be p----- too.”

“It doesn’t make me mad,” Studdard countered. “Because we wouldn’t be here if somebody hadn’t voted for him, and vice versa, so he needs to calm down.”

“Okay, I don’t get upset when they say they voted for me. But there have been, once or twice, a few who have said it in a way that was not as empathetic. And I don’t like that at all,” Aiken protested as Studdard looks amused, like he’s heard this all before. “We are in this together.”

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken during a soundcheck for their show in Phoenix in last month. Their current tour, called "Twenty," began in April and continues into 2024. (Cassidy Araiza for The Washington Post)

It's like eavesdropping on a conversation that has been going on for 20 years. As they sat down for a scheduled hour-long interview, Aiken and Studdard bounced rapid-fire from topic to topic, cackling about old “Idol” memories, the minutiae of which they fear would bore anyone else. They get wistful expressions when they talk about a recent concert at which the venue had food delivered backstage from Buca di Beppo, the Italian chain where they used to get weekly cast dinners on “Idol.” Studdard had not thought about Buca di Beppo in 20 years.

“The most fulfilling part [of this tour] is having all these nostalgic moments, like the memories. I’m not sitting at home regularly thinking about the stuff that I did when I was on ‘American Idol,’” Studdard said. “It’s like ... I’ve forgotten most things about high school, until I’m around people that went to high school with me.”

It reminds Aiken of the adage about how you can’t make old friends. “There are not many people who will always know what Ruben was like when he was 24, or what I was like when I was 24,” he said. Nearing his 45th birthday, Aiken sees real value in what he and Studdard, who turned 45 earlier this year, still have.

The back-and-forth continues until about the 58-minute mark. “I don’t think we’ve let you ask a single question, have we?” Aiken said. “That’s what I learned when I was in politics — filibuster, then they can’t ask you the tough s---. What do you think about the new speaker, Ruben? I’m kidding.”

Eight minutes later, after which they don’t discuss just-elected House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) but do mention temporary speaker Patrick T. McHenry’s (R-N.C.) bow tie and then wind up debating how to handle drunk fans who yell song requests, finally, a question: What was it like going from an everyday person to becoming a celebrity and having everyone care about everything that you do?

Studdard said the hardest part in the beginning was people interrupting meals out with his family. “Meanwhile, my grandma is loving this,” he said, because she was bursting with pride. Aiken remembered a few months after “Idol” in Los Angeles, he wound up at the same Melrose restaurant as Glenn Close. No one bothered Close, but he was bombarded by photo requests.

Ruben Studdard, seen here before a show at the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix in October, approached his good friend and fellow "American Idol" competitor Clay Aiken about doing something to celebrate the 20 years that have passed since they competed on the singing show. The result is a concert tour with more than 70 stops. (Cassidy Araiza for The Washington Post)

“They thought they could pull up a chair to our dinner table and they did pull up chairs to our dinner tables,” Aiken said. “Because they did put us there. They had a hand in it. And they felt like they knew us because we had told our stories on ‘Idol.’”

Allowing audience members to vote was one reason “Idol” caught on in the United States, adapted from the British hit “Pop Idol,” where Cowell first starred. The American version imported Cowell and added hitmaker-producer Randy Jackson and legendary singer-dancer Paula Abdul as his fellow judges. The first season was a success in the summer of 2002, and as winner Kelly Clarkson set off on soon-to-be superstardom, producers raced to find similarly captivating contestants.

Viewers tuned in for the classic terrible auditions and Cowell’s brutally honest commentary, but many fans loved front-runners Aiken and Studdard from the start. Aiken, in school studying special education, sang Heatwave’s “Always and Forever” at his first audition while wearing glasses and puka shells, and shocked the judges with his soaring vocals. “You don’t look like a pop star, but you’ve got a great voice,” Cowell said, a conundrum that Jackson pronounced “weird.”

Studdard, a former college football player who majored in music education, arrived in a yellow baseball hat and delivered a stunning rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky.” The judges loved him. Aiken and Studdard were sent through to the Hollywood round and started to bond as the field narrowed.


“That was such a great season, Season 2 — and the best part is that two completely separate and distinct artists became the most unlikely duo,” Abdul said in a recent interview. “It’s almost like ‘The Odd Couple’ in the best way possible. Just major talent.”


The growing friendship between the bookish student and the jock endeared viewers, but Aiken and Studdard also came from similar backgrounds, growing up in the South and singing in church. Their makeovers over the season — Aiken got highlights, Studdard got a new selection of suits — were a major talking point.

“They were like the Cinderella story,” said Megan Michaels Wolflick, an “Idol” associate producer on Season 2 who is now the showrunner. (The show, set to kick off its 22nd season next year, moved from Fox to ABC in 2018.) “They were both kind of these guys next door who were accessible."

The second season was an unusual time for “Idol.” No one really grasped its popularity yet, and the behind-the-scenes was more casual. The show was incredibly strict on the rules and fairness of the competition, but off set, all the finalists lived together in a mansion. Some producers stayed there as well. (“There were a few affairs between our contestants and people who worked on the show,” Aiken said, adding one staffer was his first boyfriend.) They would all have dinner at P.F. Chang’s not far from the studio in Television City. Living arrangements changed in later years and firmer boundaries were put in place, but back then, they quickly became a family.

“I think one of the reasons we became not only friends with each other, but friends with everyone in our group, is because we had no idea what we were getting into,” Aiken said. “In subsequent seasons, I happen to know for a fact ... the winner and runner-up had not spoken since their season ended. And we were both like, ‘What?’”

It’s hard for them to imagine going through such a transformative time and not relying on the only other person in the world who understands what it’s like. Wolflick said producers referred to that time on the show as “the ‘Idol’ bubble,” and contestants were often in for a shock once they stepped off the set and found there was enormous interest in their lives.

“But that’s what makes them kind of relatable to America,” said Wolflick, as viewers saw the challenges as they adapted to fame but stayed down to earth. “They knew who they were and they felt confident in it.”

"American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard shares a laugh with runner-up Clay Aiken after the show's May 2003 finale, which was watched by some 38 million viewers. (Kevork Djansezian/AP)

After the 2003 finale, they toured regularly — mostly separately, though together in 2010. They each sold millions of albums and appeared on TV shows and on Broadway. Studdard was nominated for a Grammy. Aiken ran for Congress. They returned to reality TV: Studdard was the first celebrity to appear on the weight-loss competition series “The Biggest Loser” in 2013 (he didn’t win the show, but he lost 119 pounds), and Aiken was again the runner-up on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2012, losing to Arsenio Hall.

“American Idol," meanwhile, is not the ratings powerhouse it once was — Aiken admitted he’s frustrated when viewers don’t appreciate that winning or being the runner-up used to be “a huge deal.” Its winners, who must navigate a profoundly altered music industry, find that instant fame is more elusive than it used to be. What remains strong is the show’s legacy and the memories shared by viewers.

“To this day when we’re auditioning people, every day, I’m hearing singers who are like, ‘I grew up with the show, I watched with my grandma, my mom auditioned,’” Wolflick said. “It’s a happy memory, and like this kind of simpler time. It’s like a warm blanket, Clay and Ruben — it’s cozy and it feels safe.”

Clay Aiken at the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix in October. (Cassidy Araiza for The Washington Post)

Aiken and Studdard wanted the 20-year tour to lean in heavily into that sense of time travel. The songs that play over the loudspeaker before the concert are exclusively ones released around 2003, such as Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” and John Mayer’s “Your Body is a Wonderland.” (“We did have to get rid of quite a bit of R. Kelly, because he was very big then,” Aiken said.)


The 2½-hour concert opened with the “Idol” theme music, and as Aiken and Studdard glided onstage dressed in sparkly jackets, they belted out hits they performed to become part of the Top 12: “Superstar,” “Open Arms,” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” They sang a Motown medley, a boy-band medley, and a medley of songs by “Idol” guest mentors, such as Gladys Knight, who famously nicknamed Studdard the “Velvet Teddy Bear.”

Between it all, they told “Idol” stories and poked fun at each other: Aiken noted that Studdard spent the previous day visiting the William J. Clinton Library and Museum, so that was all he was going to talk about for the next two weeks. Studdard told Aiken he was interrupting him too much. Aiken made self-deprecating digs about his second-place finish and cracked his knee into the microphone to prove how they had aged, and joked about how overworked they were on “Idol” when they spent hours filming Ford car commercials: “They exploited the crap out of us back then.”

Ashlee Wilson, 35, of Little Rock attended the VIP meet-and-greet earlier in the day, where Aiken and Studdard answered questions and posed for photos. When she was a teenager, she used to hang out in an online chatroom of Aiken fans and stayed in touch with one woman from New Zealand who recently sent her $300 to buy a VIP ticket to the Little Rock show.

Despite her fandom, Wilson had never seen Aiken in concert. “I went to college and I just kind of got on with life. It gets away from you,” she said. “But then before you know it, they’re doing a tour 20 years later.”

Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard "were like the Cinderella story,” said Megan Michaels Wolflick, who was an “American Idol” associate producer in 2003 and is now the showrunner. “They were both kind of these guys next door who were accessible." (Cassidy Araiza for The Washington Post)

The early 2000s were a weird time to become famous — before social media chaos, but back when gossip blogs didn’t think twice about shamelessly speculating about anyone’s personal life. Writers were casually cruel about Studdard’s weight. Aiken was bombarded with questions about his sexuality until he came out in 2008 on a People magazine cover, posing with his baby son, conceived by in vitro fertilization with his close friend, music producer Jaymes Foster.

Because so many people treated Aiken terribly at the time (he said he lost about half his fan base), he will always remember those who were kind  including Studdard, in whom he confided early on.

“He kept a secret better than anyone,” Aiken said. As he continued talking about the treatment he faced, he caught Studdard’s glance. “You wouldn’t know anything at all about being discriminated against,” Aiken deadpanned. “Let me enlighten you.”

“Please bring me in, what it feels like to be marginalized,” Studdard shot back, and they both laughed.

That’s just what it’s like in these kind of friendships — you just get each other. After Aiken lost his second congressional run and decided his political aspirations were over, Studdard was the only person who could have coaxed him to go on tour again so quickly.

“It’s very hard to find people onstage you have chemistry with ... it’s magic when we go out onstage,” Studdard said. Plus, he said, after he supported Aiken at his campaign events, Aiken will owe him his support when Studdard, say, runs for governor of Alabama in 20 years.

Aiken agreed. No matter what happens, and wherever the future takes them, he will be there.




Screenshot 2023-11-23 at 11.00.02 AM.png



Link to comment
Share on other sites

This topic is now closed to further replies.
  • Create New...