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’Idol’ winner happy being who he is (smg mention)

By Courtney Devores

Saturday 13 March 2004, by Webmaster

Posted on Fri, Mar. 12, 2004

’Idol’ winner happy being who he is

Ruben Studdard doesn’t worry about the limelight — or Clay Aiken’s high profile


Charlotte Observer

He’s bigger. He’s hipper. And America thought he sang better.

But since Ruben Studdard beat his friendly rival, Clay Aiken, on the second installment of the Fox TV "American Idol" series, the 6-foot-4, 360-pound Studdard has had to jockey his way around the lanky shadow of the N.C.-born runner-up.

Aiken made the cover of Rolling Stone first. Aiken’s debut single outsold Studdard’s, and Aiken’s No. 1 album, "Measure of a Man" made it out of the gate two months ahead of Studdard’s "Soulful."

"Everybody was trying to get me to come out with (the album) so fast," said Studdard from his car phone earlier this week after a cross-country flight to Los Angeles.

"I didn’t want to rush the project."

To be sure, "Soulful" debuted at No. 1 when it came out in December. But the music press and an army of hardcore Clay fans have managed to steer the limelight back to Aiken time and again.

"My thoughts are that the media as a whole has given Clay Aiken more attention than Ruben," said Power 98’s No Limit Larry. "They treat Clay as he was the winner when Ruben was the real winner."

Is it Ruben’s race? Is it his size? Does the abs-obsessed entertainment industry no longer know how to market a man who is more Barry White than 50 Cent?

"I think it is deeper than a black-and-white issue," added No Limit. "I think the media may feel that Clay is more marketable than Ruben."

Is it that Ruben’s music is too clean by sexy R&B standards and too risqué (his first single mentions strip clubs) for fans of squeaky-clean "Idols" Aiken and Kelly Clarkson?

Studdard blows off any notion of a conspiracy or of a rivalry between him and Aiken.

"Clay and I have been friends from day one," he said. "Before we made the top 30 we became friends. That hasn’t changed at all. Not at all."

He said the press created much of the fuss: "It puts a strain on you guys to figure out how good of friends we are."

While he consistently maintains that he’s close with Aiken, Studdard’s popularity is undervalued by a business that measures success by magazine covers.

Not only did Studdard win the "American Idol" contest, but earlier this year he was nominated for a Grammy (losing to Luther Vandross). This month, Studdard appears in "Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed," with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr.

Like Aiken, Studdard comes across as a happy if overscheduled guy, enjoying the ride fame has afforded him. Studdard and Aiken may be musical and physical opposites, but the two, both 25, have a lot in common.

Both singers charmed America with their friendly, aw-shucks personalities. Both are mama’s boys who share Christian values. According to Studdard, these similarities are what fueled a friendship; any differences are irrelevant.

"Obviously I’m different, because I’m an R&B singer," he said.

Of the two main things that set Studdard apart from his fellow "Idol" alumnus — race and size — the singer has dealt with one of them in his music.

In the song "What is Sexy?" he and plus-size rapper Fat Joe address the weight issue head-on. But Studdard said he doesn’t see himself as a role model for large America or the catalyst for some new standard of sex appeal.

"I just always tried to be me and if that’s what came out of it, I’m happy," he said.

While the music industry capitalizes on the realistic image Studdard projected on "American Idol" — the one he said helped him beat Aiken in the first place — and the entertainment magazines continue to chatter about his health, his diet and that so-called "Idol" rivalry, Studdard takes it all in stride.

"I think people just want to be nosy," he said. "I am what I am."