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EW handicaps the ''American Idol'' race

EW handicaps the ”American Idol” race. Clay’s got the teenybopper vote — but we like the Velvet Teddy Bear’s chances

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Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, ...
Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard:Ray Mickshaw

EW handicaps the ”American Idol” race

If you’re completely, ridiculously, scarily obsessed with ”American Idol” (as we are), you may be enduring sleepless nights trying to determine who’s going to win: Clay Aiken or Ruben Studdard? And with the vote tallies between the two getting closer each week, it seems like one unfortunate ensemble, one misguided dance step, and, oh, yeah, one totally off-key song can spell disaster.

So, once and for all, let’s determine who deserves to be the sole singer standing at the May 21 finale. May the runner-up live well and prosper on the cruise-ship circuit.

American Idol

Clay Aiken

Here are Clay Aiken’s odds for winning ”Idol”

Every generation needs a redheaded pop star. In the ’70s, it was Danny Partridge. In the ’80s, Rick Astley. The ’90s? Ginger Spice. Now we’ve got 24-year-old Clay Aiken. Beneath the Peppermint Patty complexion and aw-shucks exterior are the powerhouse pipes that rivaled Steve Perry’s with a rendition of ”Open Arms” and put to shame the cartoon mouse who crooned the ballad ”Somewhere Out There.” Sure, the ”AI” beauty squad pulled a miraculous geek-to-chic makeover on the North Carolina native (the Seacrest-style choppy haircut, the copious layers of bronzer), but there was no need to change his personality: Clay is the ultimate crush for fifth-grade girls. The guy is exactly the kind of compassionate (he’s a special-needs counselor, for crying out loud), ambiguously sexual sweetheart that someone like, say, Lisa Simpson might sigh over while reading her latest copy of Non-Threatening Boys magazine. Sure, Ru’s a shoo-in with the over-18 set, but who’s doing the text messaging around here? The same ones who buy Olsen twins albums.
LOWDOWN To paraphrase a ginger-haired predecessor: Clay, I’m never gonna give (never gonna give!), give you up.
ODDS 4:1

American Idol
Image credit: Ruben Studdard: J. Viles

Ruben Studdard

Here are Ruben Studdard’s odds for winning ”Idol”

It’s been boring, hasn’t it? Sure, Kimberley came on strong, and Clay, God bless him, will never go jobless as long as there’s a touring company of ”Beauty and the Beast” in need of a singing spoon. But from the moment 25-year-old Ruben, the gentle giant with the plus-size voice, took the stage in the prelims and tore into the Carpenters’ wrenching ”Superstar,” there hasn’t been much argument about this competition’s front-runner. If you doubt it, close your eyes: His is the one voice you can imagine coming out of your CD player. The music biz has always had room for a big fella with pure pipes, and Ruben’s soaring, huge, sweet-with-a-hint-of-a-rasp sound is made for pop. But beyond ”talent!” (Ruben’s mom’s answer to the question ”What did you feed him?”), Ruben deserves to win because he is the calmest person in the history of reality TV. Not for him the naked love-me neediness. Ru just gets up, lets loose, and represents his flava. As for the slam that he can do only one thing: true, and who cares? If America really wanted a winner to be a little bit country and a little bit rock & roll, we’d all be talking about Kimberly Caldwell right now.
LOWDOWN Ru, we can’t get enough of your love, baby.
ODDS 2:1