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And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

Clay Aiken, EW's guilty-pleasure cover boy. We catch up with the ''Idol'' star you shamelessly adore

Clay Aiken | ROLLING ALONG Clay's debut release was pushed ahead of Ruben's
Image credit: Clay Aiken: Photograph by Matthias Clamer
ROLLING ALONG Clay's debut release was pushed ahead of Ruben's

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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