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On the 'American Idol' tour

Video games, lingerie ... and turkey basters

By Rosemary Jean-Louis
CNN

Clay and Ruben
Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard were the final two on "American Idol" last spring.

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(CNN) -- Ten months ago, "American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard was a white-collar guy.

"I was working at Books-a-Million.com," recalls the singer, "with a suit and tie at a desk, bored."

Top finalists Clay Aiken and Kimberley Locke were on traditional career paths too. Aiken was a YMCA counselor, studying to be a special education teacher, while Locke was an administrative assistant preparing to enter law school.

The TV viewers of America changed all that. With several punches of their touch tone phones and a slew of text messages, "American Idol" viewers transformed Studdard into an instant pop star. Aiken, Locke and fellow finalists Kimberly Caldwell, Julia DeMato, Charles Grigsby, Carmen Rasmusen, and Rickey Smith also became celebrities.

The group is currently on the "American Idol 2" summer tour, traveling rock-star style in a caravan of three buses.

The perks are manifold: There are the sleek leather seats. Giant plasma TV screens that show their choice of DVDs or video games. A kitchenette stocked with must-have munchies and a microwave oven.

Each finalist also has his or her own personal DVD player, along with specially designed bunks that are piled one on top of the other for those moments when the singers just want to sleep.

'It's like a house without parents'

Studdard describes the atmosphere on the bus as similar to that of a frat house.

"It's like a house without parents. All we do all day is play video games," he says. "There's always a movie or stereo on and someone's always shouting, 'Shut up, I'm trying to get some sleep.' "

Idol finalists
The way they were: In March, "Idol" was down to six finalists -- clockwise from top, Joshua Gracin, Ruben Studdard, Carmen Rasmusen, Kimberley Locke, Trenyce and Clay Aiken.

In most cities, the "American Idol 2" concerts have been sold out. Fans often react to Aiken and Studdard as though they're Tom Jones and Mick Jagger.

Studdard -- dubbed the "Velvet Teddy Bear" during the competition -- gets teddy bears thrown on stage during his performances. Aiken, meanwhile, often gets women's lingerie.

Other fan signs of appreciation have been rather, um, unusual.

"The other day I got a turkey baster from a lady in Charlotte," Aiken says. "I still don't know why I got the turkey baster."

Then there are the people who get more out of his music than he expected.

"I had a lady who sent me a letter," Aiken continues. "She went on to describe how she and her husband [had sex] to videos of me on the show. [And] last night I had a lady who had a sign that said, 'Clay you scratch my itch.' "

Preparing for the end

Being on the road does have its drawbacks. The "Idol" crew must deal with limited privacy and often the inability to heed the call of nature they way they want to. (Each bus has one toilet.)

But Studdard, Aiken and company aren't complaining. What's more difficult to them is splitting up when the tour ends.

"We've been a family for 10 months," explains Studdard. "It's going to be difficult for us to split apart. But we're all grown people and we have our own responsibilities to take care of."

After the "American Idol 2" tour wraps up August 31, the finalists will continue their performing paths. Studdard and Aiken will finish recording their respective albums. Aiken's disc is due in October; Studdard's will be out in November.

Kimberley Locke is in the midst of securing a record deal, and a source says Trenyce will release an album in October.

Despite being thrust into the celebrity lifestyle, some things haven't changed. Aiken says that he may not be working at the Y anymore, but he'll always be a counselor at heart.

"I went by the Y to see the kids that I had," he says "and I was like, 'I know you're not fighting.' "

CNN Headline News reporter Kendis Gibson contributed to this article.


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