Ruben wins 'Idol' by slim margin

— Ruben Studdard, a mammoth man with dimples and an infectious smile, is the new American Idol.

The 25-year-old, who took as his trademark the 205 area code of his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., emerged No. 1 over North Carolinian Clay Aiken by a scant 50.28 percent to 49.72 percent out of more than 24 million votes cast, according to Ryan Seacrest, host of the Fox program.

Wednesday's result was a repeat of the Feb. 11 "American Idol," when Studdard, Aiken and third-place finisher Kimberly Locke all made their debuts. Fans voted for Studdard and Locke to advance.

Aiken made the final round of 12 through a second-chance opportunity of contestants selected by the judges as the best of those who didn't make the cut the first time around.

Studdard, whose forte is rhythm and blues, won a recording contract worth a guaranteed $1 million but a big future seems guaranteed for both finalists. Kelly Clarkson, the first American Idol, and Justin Guarini, the runner-up, were both signed to contracts by the record company affiliated with American Idol.

During Wednesday's heavily padded finale, Clarkson was awarded a platinum record in recognition of her first album, "Thankful," selling 1.3 million copies in its first five weeks. Guarini's debut album will be released next month.

Acerbic judge Simon Cowell, a producer of dozens of hit records, told TV Guide that no matter how the competition turned out, Aiken, whose specialty is old standards, "could end up making more money than anyone who's ever entered this competition."

Clive Davis, a Hall of Fame record producer, revealed during the "Idol" finale that Studdard and Aiken are already being recorded for their debut albums.

Just before the viewers' decision was announced, Cowell quipped, "The big battle's coming. We're going to put both their records out the same week."


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