TV Recap

Big 'Ben

Ruben narrowly takes the title -- After 24 million calls, says Dalton Ross, the sweet homey from Alabama ekes out the second ''American Idol'' crown

Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, ... | IT'S MARGINAL Ruben and Clay react to the news that Ru is the winner
IT'S MARGINAL Ruben and Clay react to the news that Ru is the winner

Ruben narrowly takes the title

So the finale of ''American Idol'' left me with the same nagging question I'm guessing is still gnawing away at you as well -- was that a REAL church choir singing out there with Clay and Ruben, or just a bunch of regular singers dressed up like a church choir? Call me a cynic, but I'm guessing it was the latter.

But there were more important things going on than questioning the religious affiliation of a few blue-robed vocalists. There was the crowning of our second American Idol: Ruben. And even more amazing than the announcement of the winner was how insanely close it was. Out of 24 million votes cast, it came down to a difference of about one-half percent (Ruben got 50.28 percent, Clay 49.72 percent). ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?

We knew it would be close. We knew both Clay and Ruben were deserving and that the verdict could go either way. But THIS close? My feeling is that Clay's the better singer, but Ruben wins out in the personality department. He's mellow as a cello, always humble, and not dripping in Velveeta like my man Aiken. Either way it had turned out, it would be hard for one side to get too riled up about the verdict, unlike if Kelly Clarkson had somehow lost to old Sideshow Bob there last summer.

So, other than the outcome, how was the rest of the two-hour finale? As to be expected, it straddled the line between boring and bizarre. Clay and Ruben first came out looking like Crockett and Tubbs in their ''Miami Vice'' style white suits. I was digging this look, big time.

Speaking of big time, what was going on down in Raleigh, N.C.? I mean, I know the finale of ''American Idol'' is a big deal and all, but did you check out those 8,700 people hanging out in a stadium to watch the show on TV? And they say there's nothing to do in Raleigh, N.C.

Kelly Clarkson showed up to sing with the two finalists, and then, after a commercial break, she was back -- to sing ''Miss Independent'' -- again. This began the déjà vu portion of the evening, which was followed (at 8:53 Eastern Daylight Time) by a running of the opening credits? again, and then Ryan Seacrest introducing the judges? again. (It should also be noted that 8:56 brought not only the first RJ Helton sighting, but also the first plug for the upcoming ''American Idol'' tour.)

And at 9:01 we were treated to our first solo from Carmen Rasmusen. I know because that's when I hit the mute button. The whole time, some insane TV reporter in Raleigh was yelling at people to ''state your name and Clay affiliation,'' and Seacrest kept reading off states that had voted for a particular finalist, leading me to believe a big electoral college map would descend onto the stage at any moment.

Thankfully, the only thing that descended onto the stage was a lot of confetti when Ruben was finally crowned. Good for him. He seems like a nice guy. And he can sing. And you Clay fans shouldn't fret either. Just look at Justin and Tamyra from last year. They seem to be doing okay, and Clay will too. And if things for some reason don't work out, remember -- there's always Broadway.

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Originally posted May 21, 2003