NEW YORK (AP) — Ruben Studdard outsang Clay Aiken to become the new "American Idol."
The cuddly mountain of soul edged out his lanky, spikey-haired rival for the title in viewer voting announced on Wednesday's conclusion of the wildly popular Fox amateur hour.
"I feel great, man! Thank y'all!" said Studdard, 24, of Birmingham, Ala. Then, filled with emotion, he sang his song of gratitude, "Flying Without Wings," as the crowd roared "RU-ben, RU-ben!"
It was a razor-thin decision. Of 24 million phoned-in votes, 50.28 percent were for Ruben, who was just 130,000 votes ahead of Clay, according to "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest.
Clay, the 24-year-old runner-up from Raleigh, N.C., was gracious in defeat, calling Ruben "one of the most talented people I know, one of the best friends I have. I'm so proud of him!"
Airing live from Los Angeles' Universal Amphitheater, the finale had more filler than a Spice Girls CD. Fox stretched the show into a two-hour marathon, announcing the winner just 10 minutes before the end.
Both stars-in-the-making had claimed they felt sanguine during Tuesday's concert finale as they looked ahead to the outcome, saying it was in God's hands.
But more directly, it depended on the button-punching fingers of viewers. Their phoned-in votes were cast after the final judged set of songs (among them: "Imagine" by Ruben; "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Clay).
It all began with 70,000 auditions nationwide. In January, the second season of "Idol" began, proving last summer's initial phenomenon was no fluke. For the current season, the Tuesday and Wednesday broadcasts are ranked fifth and seventh, respectively, in total viewers.
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