Anyone who has access to a radio, TV, or the internet knows that Ruben Studdard was crowned 2003's American Idol. After a first season of mediocre talent, judges emphasized they were looking for the "whole package" of voice, look, and personality. Clad in sporty homeboy gear emblazoned with "205" (the area code of his hometown Birmingham, Alabama), Studdard's XL frame and unassuming manner made him an unlikely candidate among his svelte, coifed, and carefully dressed co-contestants. But as the weeks wore on, "Ruuuuuuuben" delivered sophisticated soul in a voice that inspired Gladys Knight to christen him the "Velvet Teddy Bear." Millions of viewers were similarly enamored: In a nail-biting finale, the super-sized soul man edged out the heavily lacquered, self-proclaimed nerd (and teen favorite) Clay Aiken by just a few thousand votes.
Post-Idol, Studdard was signed to Clive Davis's J Records, and his first release, Soulful, hit No. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts. Studdard clearly has all the makings of this generation's Luther Vandross. True fans of the show may be torn between staying home and watching a new American Idol unfold live on TV or going to see the genuine article.