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Ruben Studdard has been singing for more than two decades, but he didn't achieve reality TV glory until 2003 when he became the second "American Idol."

By 2004, the R&B/gospel singer was nominated for an American Music Award, Grammy and BET Award. He also stayed friendly with the man he beat out for the "Idol" crown - Clay Aiken.

Six "Idol" winners later, Studdard is still singing. He released an album of love songs "Love Is," in May 2009 and starred in a 30th anniversary production of "Ain't Misbehavin'" the same year.

But this year, Studdard, now 31, got back to his "Idol" roots by hitting the road to sing classic hits with Aiken.

"We're having a great time," Studdard said during a recent phone interview.

The two probably have a lot to laugh about because when Studdard isn't hitting high notes on stage, he's serving punch lines.

Where are you calling from? Washington state

What's it like being out on the road with an old "Idol" buddy? It's really cool. We should have done it sooner. Eighty-five to 95 percent of the time, we're on stage together. We wanted to do the show together, rather than both coming back and forth doing solos. We're doing (music) from four different decades. We try not to give our setlist away. (Laughs)

You recently released your fourth album. What was that process like? It was great. I do love the ballads. I got a chance to work with two of the best producers in the world - Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. (It) was really fun . . . making an album with people I used to see on the MTV awards.

What other artists did you used to watch on MTV? I loved New Edition and Babyface - just all the popular stuff like New Kids on the Block. It wasn't much different from any other kid. (Soul and gospel music) was always playing around my house. I listened to Al Green and Luther Vandross.

When did you know you wanted to be a singer? When I was 11 years old. In the sixth grade, I was in the school talent show. I don't remember what song I sang. All I remember was that the girls screamed, and that was what I wanted to do for a living.

You also played football in school. Was there a time that you had to choose between sports and singing? Once I got to college, I had to choose. After my freshman year (at Alabama A&M University), I stopped playing football.

Do you still root for any teams? I follow Alabama A&M and The University of Alabama period. We follow all the players that go into the pros (from those schools).

What stands out about your "Idol" experience in your mind? It was tense seeing the people sing on stage, but the whole time I was there I remember having a good time.

Do you keep in touch with other "Idol" contestants besides Aiken? I still talk to pretty much everyone from my season. I'm pretty close with (season three winner) Fantasia (Barrino).

Do you still follow the show? I still follow it as much as I can. We went on the show to (get) work, so now I'm pretty much working when the show is on. (Laughs)

Were you sad to learn that "Idol" judge Simon Cowell was leaving the show? I was happy for him because I knew he was moving on and getting the opportunity . . . to do the things (he) wanted.

Who would you want to see fill Cowell's space? Nobody can be another Simon. (Laughs) Maybe David Foster.

I know that Aiken is involved with the National Inclusion Project. Are you involved with any charities? I worked with the Be Sickle Smart campaign (to educate people about sickle cell disease) for about two years. It (was) just a blessing. It's a very serious condition, and I don't think it gets enough attention.

How do you unwind after shows? I just go backstage and crack jokes with the band. I'm pretty silly. And then, I get on the bus and watch a movie and go to sleep. I just watched "Alice in Wonderland" the other day, and that was great.

- ERIN McCRACKEN, FLIPSIDE STAFF

Ellen DeGeneres out, Jennifer Lopez might be in as 'American Idol' judge

Ellen DeGeneres is dancing off "American Idol" after one season and Jennifer Lopez is poised to step in.

DeGeneres announced July 29 that she is leaving the show after one season, following fellow judge Simon Cowell out the door. Fox has yet to announce a replacement for Cowell.

A person familiar with negotiations for Lopez said she's close to signing a deal to join Fox TV's hit singing contest as a judge. The person, who was not authorized to comment publicly, spoke Thursday night on condition of anonymity.

Actor-singer-dancer Lopez has appeared as a mentor on "American Idol." Fox declined comment. Phone and e-mail messages for Lopez's representatives were not immediately returned.

- ASSOCIATED PRESS

Local 'Claymates' organized fundraiser

Diane "Cookie" Knappenberger planned a Clay Aiken-related fundraiser May 22 and 23 at the Yorktowne Hotel and York.

Knappenberger, who has seen Aiken in concert about 30 times, organized the Clay Fan Fest to benefit the National Inclusion Project, a charity Aiken co-founded to help children with disabilities. The event included prizes and auctions of various Aiken-related items, including a leather Harley-Davidson autographed by Aiken.

For details about the National Inclusion Project, visit www.inclusionproject.org.

If you go

"American Idol" season two winner Ruben Studdard and runner-up Clay Aiken are hitting the road together this summer on their Timeless Tour. They perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Highway East in Lancaster. Tickets are $55. For details and tickets, visit www.amtshows.com.

On the Web

Learn more about Studdard: www.rubenstuddard.com

Learn more about Aiken: www.clayaiken.com

Who do you think should take judge Simon Cowell's spot on "American Idol?" Sound off under the Entertainment Discussion at www.ydr.com/exchange.

Read more meet-the-artist interviews: www.flipsidepa.com/musicdirectory

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