Clay Aiken: Photograph by Matthias Clamer
Dave Karger
August 28, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

At some point since the cheesy early Guarini-esque ballads, the ubiquitous Ford Focus commercials, and the sad-sack lone dance move (you know the one, the shoulder pump crossed with the knee bend), ”American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken has become one of the most natural, confident, and addictive voices in contemporary pop music. And thanks to his ”Queer Eye”-popping physical makeover and his show-stopping vocal range, he’s emerged as the biggest star from ”Idol”’s second season.

Earlier this summer, his debut release, ”This Is the Night”/”Bridge Over Troubled Water,” shot straight to No. 1 on the Billboard charts, trounced the offering from ”American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard by 200,000 copies, and became the fastest-selling single since Elton John’s ”Candle in the Wind 1997.” ”I was going to be a teacher or a principal,” Aiken, 24, says of his pre-”Idol” plans. ”Thank Jesus I came back for the wild-card show!”

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