Comparisons between American Idol 2003 winner Ruben Studdard and runner-up Clay Aiken are nearly impossible to avoid. Not only was the contest won by a hair; the singers released their debuts almost simultaneously. Aiken's Measure of a Man outsold Studdard's Soulful by more than a million copies, but when it came time to make their obligatory Christmas CDs, Aiken cashed in with straight-ahead carols. Studdard decided there wasn't enough spirituality in Christmas and scrapped the "fa la la las" for an inspired gospel CD.
In the two years since capturing the crown, Studdard has forged working relationships with Clive Davis, Missy Elliott, R. Kelly, and Fat Joe, to name a few. While the other Idols are still milking their second CDs for all they're worth, the Velvet Teddy Bear is hard at work on his third -- a return to his R&B roots, this time in collaboration with legendary gospel producer Marvin Winans (Destiny's Child and Mary J. Blige).
Ruben Studdard might owe his fame and fortune to American Idol, but he's never fit into the show's cookie-cutter image. As he begins to escape AI's shadow, the best may be yet to come.