Seventy thousand auditions, thirty-two finalists, eighteen weeks
and 24 million votes later, Ruben Studdard, the
twenty-five-year-old, 350-pound soulman from Birmingham, Alabama,
has been christened an American Idol. In a close race that has
prompted calls for further audits, Studdard beat out Clay Aiken,
24, by 130,000 votes on the show’s May 21st finale.
Newly branded the Velvet Teddy Bear, Studdard’s prize is a
million-dollar recording contract courtesy of J Records, with the
label’s founder and president, legendary music mogul Clive Davis,
on board to executive-produce the album. (Aiken was signed to a
Davis-helmed label, RCA.) But the winner’s fringe benefits extend
far beyond a record deal — screaming girls, celebrity endorsements
(Kelly Rowland, Stevie Wonder and the Isley Brothers are just a few
of Studdard’s fans) and the marketing muscle of the Idol
franchise practically guarantee immediate star status. Look no
further than last season’s winner, Kelly Clarkson, whose debut,
Thankful, landed at Number One the week of its release and
has been certified platinum.
“[Ruben] very well could be a major recording artist for some
time,” said Davis, who has guided career artists such as Whitney
Houston, Santana and Luther Vandross, to whom Studdard is most
often compared. Other major music players concur. “As a young
Luther, he can fill a void in R&B that’s not being serviced
right now,” says Stephen McVea, a business manager who has worked
with Lenny Kravitz and Boyz II Men.
Studdard’s first single, the Westlife song “Flying Without
Wings,” hits stores on June 10th (Aiken’s single is released the
same day), and the label hopes to have his album out by September.
On July 8th, Studdard joins his fellow finalists on the
thirty-nine-date American Idol tour, and there’s also talk
of movies. What else? “Merchandising,” says McVea. “I’m shocked
they haven’t taken advantage of the Velvet Teddy Bear thing