Santa Claus may be coming to town, but another jolly fellow is ready to make some spirits bright in time for Thanksgiving. American Idol champ and velvet teddy bear Ruben Studdard will join fellow winner Kelly Clarkson, mega-selling runner-up Clay Aiken and the rest of their pop-music posse (including Tamyra Gray and even some American Juniors!) to serenade viewers for An American Idol Christmas, airing Nov. 25 at 8 p.m. on FOX.
Ruben and Kelly recently spoke to PEOPLE about their own holiday traditions and how they get cooking – on record and in the kitchen.
So, what holiday traditions does your family have?
We have the whole family coming over on Christmas and Thanksgiving (for) dinner and parties. I’m looking forward to that this year because I haven’t had that much chance to spend time with my family, so it’s going to be special.
Will you cook?
Oh I cook, man, I cook! I throw down, man. I just bought a new condo in Birmingham (Ala.), so hopefully I’ll get a chance to cook a dish or two in my kitchen to take over to my mama’s house. I make really good cornbread, and anything we eat for Christmas or Thanksgiving, I can make.
We hear Clay and fellow Idol contestant Kimberley Locke are now roommates. Have you been to their place yet?
No, man! And Kimberley has only been there for two weeks. All of us are so very busy that’s it’s hard for us to get any time.
How’s your new album shaping up?
I love it. It’s coming along and is actually done and getting mastered so they can ship it out. I’m very excited about the way it turned out, and it shows me and how much soul I put in my singing, so I’m excited.
Do you prefer singing live or in a studio?
I prefer to sing live with my band, but you know, whatever it is I try to do it 110 percent.
Kelly, does your family have any holiday traditions?
Our holiday tradition is to never end up at the same place. This is actually the first Christmas we are going to spend together since I was 5. It was always in different places because I was singing or in a show or somewhere else. This is the first Christmas I can spend with my family since I was little. Money helps! I’ll be in Texas, I think, or North Carolina.
Do you have a Christmas wish list?
I don’t need anything this year! I had a good year and I am not complaining. My thing is that people are trying to think creatively of what to get me and I feel bad because it’s like, I don’t need anything.
What’s your favorite holiday song to sing?
That would be “O Holy Night.” And that’s actually one of the songs I chose to sing for the special, which I do a cappella for the choir. Amy Grant and Natalie Cole sang this song when I was a little girl, “My Grown Up Christmas List” — that’s my other one that I have on there.
You’ve been performing overseas. What’s that like?
It’s actually more fun over there because they don’t know me from American Idol, so it’s like coming in as a new artist.
Have you been able to catch up on any sleep?
Yeah, we just got back from my first vacation since auditions! I got two weeks off and I was in Texas with my friends just hanging out, and it was normal for a little bit. I went camping, and then we hung out at my house and watched movies, and we went to this place called the Main Event, which has Laser Tag, bowling and a bunch of stuff.
Do you enjoy watching how the Idol stars have fared?
Oh, definitely. I was actually home and my brother woke me up – he’s my roommate – and he was like, “Clay’s album (sold) 613,000 records,” and I am so happy for him because he’s a nice guy and everybody was going against him – even certain people working with him. It’s good for him to be able to go back and go, “Look! There’s a place for me here! I sing great and people enjoy it and that’s what I’m selling.”
It’s cool hanging out with people from the second cast as well as the first because Tamyra, Christina (Christian) and I actually got to have dinner last night – and Ruben, Clay and Kimberley and I hung out today. So it’s just a lot of fun to see how much alike we are.