The second season of “American Idol” holds a special place in many fans’ hearts because of Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken.
The two singers forged a close bond 20 years ago when they competed on the reality show. Now, they’re recreating the “American Idol” experience with “Ruben & Clay Twenty | The Tour,” which comes to the Fox Tucson Theatre on Friday, Oct. 20.
Studdard, who hails from Alabama, and Aiken, who is from North Carolina, toured together in 2010 and starred on Broadway together.
“It would be difficult for people to understand the level of family that we have become in the past 20 years,” Studdard said.
“Not just with Clay and I, but with the vast majority of people who were on our particular season of ‘American Idol.’ Everybody on our season, we try our best, especially with the top 10, to keep up with each other and know what’s going on with one another and keep that family spirit going.”
Studdard won the season and is modest about it.
“He never rubs it in my face that I came in second,” Aiken said.
“He’s the magnanimous one. I’m the one who makes fun of the fact, because I think it’s funny. We do enjoy teasing each other. But the interesting thing is people have always assumed that there was some sort of competition between the two of us, and there never was.”
More than 38 million viewers tuned in to watch the finale of Season 2. More than 124 million votes were cast.
Around their season, social media wasn’t a thing, so audiences had to tune in.
“Most of the stuff that we did on the show is lost to history,” Aiken said.
“There are a lot of performances that both he and I did that you can’t even find on YouTube anymore. When Ruben starts singing ‘Kiss and Say Goodbye,’ a lot of people in the audience go, ‘Holy crap. That’s the first time I’ve heard him sing that since 2003, and I remember how much I loved hearing it back then, and it brought back all of these memories.’”
At the show, audiences can expect to hear Aiken sing “Bridge over Troubled Water,” and Studdard performing “Flying Without Wings.” They also do a tribute to ’80s and ‘90s boy bands.
Studdard said the songs’ meanings have changed as their careers have grown.
“I definitely think music has a different meaning for you when you get older in general,” he explained.
“There’s a connection that you make with music in general, because you have had different live experiences. Our show is littered with songs that we sang on ‘American Idol’ that have a completely different meaning or understanding now that we are older.”
Following “American Idol,” the two have had successful music careers.
Combined, they have sold more than 8 million albums worldwide. They have toured the country 14 times and won four Billboard Music Awards and one American Music Award.
Studdard received a Grammy nomination in 2003 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Superstar.” He has released six studio albums, including his platinum-selling debut “Soulful,” which featured hits such as “Flying Without Wings,” “Sorry 2004” and “Change Me.”
Aiken was the first “American Idol” alum to have his first single debut as No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. His album “Measure of a Man” debuted at No. 1, with the highest first-week sales by a debut artist. His 2004 holiday album “Merry Christmas with Love” was also record-setting, tied as the high-charting holiday album debut in Billboard history.
The tour is focused mostly around music they sang on “American Idol.” So, they won’t be doing songs that came after, such as “Sorry 2004” or “Invisible.”
Studdard and Aiken perform together, too.
“What we do is try to relive that energy and excitement that we had in 2003,” Aiken said.
“One of our favorite things to do every week when we were on the show were the group numbers. Ruben and I do a lot of stuff together. We have some really talented musicians on the stage with us who join in and sing along and play along. Ruben does his own solos, and I do my own solos, but everything is chosen to recreate that ‘Idol’ magic of 2003.”
The duo have had very different careers, although they both did theater. Studdard was on the national tour revival of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and Aiken was in a Broadway production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”
Studdard said during the show, they talk about their influences, such as Lionel Richie and Smokey Robinson.
Aiken ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, and served as a UNICEF ambassador for nine years.
Studdard and Aiken find it important to give back to their communities.
Studdard created a foundation that supports music education programs in the greater Birmingham, Alabama area.
Aiken co-founded the National Inclusion Project, an organization that advocates for and offers extracurricular activities and summer camps for children with disabilities.
Aiken said one thing that most people wouldn’t know about Studdard is his extensive knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement.
“He has an encyclopedic knowledge of every location, every individual, every event, every part of the Civil Rights Movement,” Aiken said.
“I am only my grandfather’s child. My grandfather knew everything about everything,” Studdard said.
Studdard said that Aiken is knowledgeable in different subjects.
“I feel like at some point in his life, he’s going to be elected to some office, even if somebody has to pull him there kicking and screaming. Because he’s probably tired of running for things. Every time I’m around him, I see the politician in him. He is a president, senator or governor in waiting. I cannot wait until that happens,” Studdard said.
The two share a common love of barbecue and have a heated rivalry going on whose barbecue is the best.
“It is the only competition between Ruben and I where I prevail, because North Carolina’s is by far superior,” Aiken said.
“If you believe that statement from him, I can sell you anything,” Studdard countered.
The two have developed such a close relationship that they don’t always have to be around each other on tour.
“We know each other so well now that some days, we don’t see each other until the show starts. I say that in a good way, when you get into a relationship with someone where you know them so well, you’re so comfortable around them. There’s no effort necessary,” Aiken said.
“There may be a little effort necessary from Ruben to put up with me sometimes. But there’s no effort necessary when we tour together, because we know each other so well. There are days when we do something together on days off. There are some days where we don’t see each other until the show starts. We walk right onstage, and it’s like putting on your favorite pair of slippers. It’s just easy like that.”
Ruben & Clay Twenty | The Tour
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20
WHERE: Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress Street, Tucson
COST: Tickets start at $20