American Idol finalists coming to Wagner Noël

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Oct. 13—In the spring of 2003, American television audiences were captivated by the relatively new series "American Idol."

The show was in its second season and viewership was through the roof as audiences eagerly waited to see who was going to be the next winner.

The intense season came down to two finalists — Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard.

In the end, it was Studdard who squeezed past Aiken in the voting to win Season 2 of American Idol.

That season's finale remains the most-watched episode in the show's history and the highest-rated regularly scheduled, live, non-sporting television episode of the 21st century with 38.1 million viewers.

Studdard won by only 134,000 votes out of the 24 million votes recorded.

To say that it was a big deal at the time would be an understatement.

Twenty years later, Studdard and Aiken remain good friends and will soon be in the Permian Basin to mark the anniversary of their unforgettable season on "American Idol."

Both singers will be performing at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 with "Ruben and Clay-Twenty Years, One Night" at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center.

Tickets can be purchased online at tinyurl.com/ymavxp2u.

Aiken and Studdard recently sat down to do a phone interview with the Odessa American about their current tour and reflect on their time on "American Idol" back in 2003.

It's the first time both singers will be performing at the Wagner Noël and they are excited about coming to the Permian Basin.

"I'm excited because I know West Texas has some great barbecue so I can't wait to get there so that we can get some beef ribs and some brisket," Studdard said.

This isn't the first time both have toured together since 2003.

"We've done tours before," Aiken said. "We toured together with the Idol tour and then we toured together in 2010 and we did a show together on Broadway in 2018. We both looked for opportunities to do something together."

The two singers realized that they had to do something special for their 20th anniversary this year.

"We've sort of always wanted to do it, but we've always had to look for the right moment and Ruben said it's the 20th anniversary coming up and suggested that it would be a good time to get the group back together," Aiken said. "It's a great thing to celebrate. It's really exciting, but it's really heartbreaking because we're getting older. It's been 20 years. As we say at the show, a lot of people who do this are lucky enough to do this for four or five years. Many people don't have the luxury that we've had to do this for 20 years. It's definitely exciting."

As for who exactly came up with the idea, Studdard said they both did, but he gave Aiken a lot of credit for making it work.

"I would say that I suggested it, that we have something for our 20 anniversary, but as far as us getting serious about it, it was both of our ideas, because it takes a lot of planning and preparation to get ready for something like this," Studdard said. "Clay is very detailed-oriented and I'm more of a creative side of things. It takes both of us as far as us making this work and I think he did a great job."

As Season 2 of "Idol" began, both singers auditioned, not knowing what was going to happen.

Aiken and Studdard were just hoping to break into the music industry.

"I can't tell you how long I've been trying to be a part of the music industry," Studdard said. "As a kid, I was in groups, we had managers and demos. Even in high school, I was in solo acts. I did all the things that you were supposed to do and none of it seemed to work. 'Idol' was the thing that gave me the nudge that I really wanted and needed to be a part of the music industry."

Aiken wasn't sure what would happen with him as well when that season started.

"Ruben knew that's what he wanted to do," Aiken said. "I wasn't sure for myself. We came from very different backgrounds and different motivations for auditioning. But we all were very innocent. Even at age 24 back then, we didn't know that what we were walking into was going to be a national phenomenon."

While there's never going to be the same energy the two had in 2003, this current tour has been a fun trip down memory lane, not just for Aiken and Studdard but for their fans as well.

"It's great to hear people's stories about how their families were inspired by our music," Studdard said. "I remember people saying they watched that season with their grandma who is no longer with them and that experience to me is great because that was the first time my granddad got to see me sing. He's no longer with me. I understand people's connections to that nostalgia."

Aiken echoed those thoughts and added that he and Studdard didn't think the 20th anniversary tour would last long at first.

"It brings back a lot of memories for people," Aiken said. "People will tell us how much they've been taken back by this. That's probably why this tour has done so well. We originally thought it would be two months, but after the first two months, people kept calling the agency and asking to book it. ... The energy has been great and people have enjoyed living in that simpler, better time of 2003."

As the season rolled on, both were just happy to have people listening to them perform.

"I just wanted the opportunity to have someone hear me that was for real," Studdard said. "You have to understand that in the journey of this music thing, you have to know somebody who knows somebody ... There was not a shadow of doubt that if I made it to a certain point in that show, someone for real would hear me. After that, we were just having fun. We were fully into it."

As audiences held their breath during the season finale to await the winner, one of the finalists already knew who the winner was going to be before the host, Ryan Seacrest, announced it.

Aiken knew that Studdard had won, right before taking the stage.

"I saw it behind the scenes before we walked out on stage," Aiken said. "We had been standing off stage, talking. Then Ruben had just said 'can you believe that we, the least likely people in the world, are in the finals?' After he said that, I turned around and Ryan was checking the card beforehand and I saw Ruben's name on it before we walked out. Ruben had no idea, though."

As for what was going through Studdard's mind at the time? He was just ready to go to sleep.

"I was thinking, 'I'm really ready to go to bed now,'" Studdard said. "That was literally the only thought in my head because people had no idea that we had been in three or four states in a short amount of time. I thought that was going to be the moment where at least we got a day off. But then we got on a plane and did more."

There was no bitter feud between the two or anything like that.

Aiken and Studdard were just happy to not only make it that far but to also have both of their albums released that year.

"We had the luxury of them confirming to us halfway through that episode that they were going to put both of our albums out," Aiken said. "We weren't sure if we were going to get that. We were like 'hell yeah! We both get an album?' So in that final episode, it was basically a formality. But there was never this competition between both of us. We were ready to see what the next step of our careers was going to be."

For more information about this week's show, go to tinyurl.com/228twbhy.

If you go

— What: Ruben and Clay-Twenty Years, One Night.

— Where: Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center.

— When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18.

— Where to purchase tickets: tinyurl.com/ymavxp2u