'American Idol' Alums Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken Talk Returning to the Show 20 Years Later (Exclusive)

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It was an impressive homecoming for American Idol alums Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken on Sunday night. The season 2 winner and runner-up, respectively, returned to the Idol stage 20 years later for the season 21 finale, performing a duet to "The Impossible Dream," with the help of season 21 winner and runner-up Iam Tongi and Megan Danielle.

"It was really good, man. You know, I just definitely enjoyed myself," Studdard told ET's Denny Directo after the performance. "It's like going to a high school reunion. Seeing all the people that you used to work with. It's been great."

Aiken, who has appeared this season as a mentor, remarked on how Idol has changed since they were on it.

"It is a very different show. It feels like the American Music Awards now," Aiken commented. "It's a concert. It's a real production, the way this show is done now. We didn't have a band." 

"We did not have a band. It was all tracks," Studdard recalled.

Despite the changes in the show since their season, the Idol alums still had some sage wisdom to impart on this season's finalists.

"Stay focused. It's a lot of work," Studdard shared. "You know, I just told a young man backstage it starts today. All this, all of this seems like a lot, but it's nothing compared to what he has in front of him. So just stay focused and get the job done."

Aiken mirrored the sentiment, sharing, "We always talk to each other about how Idol for us was more of a, like, it was really the most brilliant educational experience. And as I said to one of them today, you know, when you go to college you get a great education, but you don't automatically get a job afterwards. You have to do the work to make sure that you get the job. So Ruben's right, the work starts tomorrow. They can have tonight. They should enjoy, savor it, but the work starts tomorrow."

Iam Tongi was crowned the season 21 winner of American Idol on Sunday.


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