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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 May, 2003, 05:48 GMT 06:48 UK
Ruben is America's Idol
Clay Aiken (left) and Ruben Studdard
Ruben Studdard (right) beat Clay Aiken by just 130,000 votes
Soul singer Ruben Studdard has triumphed in the second series of talent show American Idol after 24 million viewers voted in the final.

Studdard - dubbed the Velvet Teddy Bear - beat fellow finalist Clay Aiken in a tense live showdown.

After the result, he said: "I am just elated. I have dreamed of being in this place my whole life. There's nothing better than living out your dream."

Studdard, 25, is already a household name and a lucrative record contract now has his name on it.

With a gospel and R&B style, he chose to sing Imagine by John Lennon, Westlife's Flying Without Wings and Burt Bacharach's A House is Not a Home on the show.

Aiken - described by the BBC's Peter Bowes as "a geeky crooner with a big, rich voice" - sang The Beatles' Here, There, and Everywhere, Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and an original song titled This is the Night.

Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson was the winner of the first series
The 24-year-old from Raleigh, North Carolina, said: "I couldn't have had a better experience."

Organisers said some 250 million votes were received over the past four months, more than double those phoned in last year.

The popular talent show has received between 18 and 20 million telephone votes in recent weeks.

Studdard won over the fans, including judge Paula Abdul, with his rich voice and dimples.

Kelly Clarkson, who won the first series last year, enjoyed immediate success with her first single, A Moment Like This.

Despite complaints from the US music industry that the show was boring, American Idol 2 won a huge following among the public.

The show, hosted by Ryan Seacrest, attracted more than 26 million viewers for the Fox network, making it one of the most popular programmes in the network's history.

'Talent over image'

One of its biggest draws was the acid-tongued British judge Simon Cowell - well known for his uncompromising views on the original UK show, Pop Idol.

At the end of the competition he said: "It was image over talent - talent won."

Fellow judge Randy Jackson predicted both men would go "straight to the top".

"They are both very talented. There is nothing in their way," he said.

The series was on air throughout the war with Iraq and led to the release of a charity single, God Bless the USA.

Guest celebrity judges including Robin Gibb, Neil Sedaka and Smokey Robinson joined the regular panel of Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.

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