November 17, 2005 02:00 PM

American Idol runner-up Bo Bice has had quite a year. In less than 12 months, he’s married Caroline Fisher, 25, his longtime girlfriend; moved into a new home in Nashville (while offering his old house in Alabama to a family who had lost their home in Hurricane Katrina); and changed his son Aidan’s diaper for the first time, PEOPLE reports in its latest issue.

Since his first single, “Inside Your Heaven,” debuted on the pop chart at No. 1 in July, Bice has also collaborated with Carlos Santana on the guitarist’s new CD; he s about to tape a concert special that will air on the Oxygen network Dec. 11; and on Dec. 13 his debut album, The Real Thing, will hit stores.

“It’s been pretty hectic,” he says.

Currently Bice is taking a quick breather at his six-acre Nashville spread with his wife and new son. As for Aidan’s birth in September, Bice says calming his wife while she was in labor came naturally to him.

“This is going to sound awful, but we ve had so many litters of kittens with our cat Caboodles, and it really wasn t much different from that,” he says. “You sit there and try to soothe your cat and tell her everything is going to be all right. That s pretty much what I did with my wife.” He pauses before adding: “My approval rating just went through the floor, didn t it?” Not likely.

“Bo s the best dad,” says Caroline. “He ll just sit and stare at Aidan. He loves him with all his heart.” He s also a hands-on dad: “I was up at 3 the other morning with a bottle in my hand,” says Bice. And that’s a blessing, he adds: “That wasn t the kind of bottle I d have in my hand five or six years ago at 3 in the morning.”

In his early 20s, Bice readily admits, he was a hard partyer. In 2001 he was arrested on cocaine possession charges, and in 2003 he was charged with marijuana possession. Both charges were later dropped.

“I went through treatment and did the whole court thing and weekly screenings and everything,” he says.

It was around that time that he met Caroline, who was a waitress at the bar next door to the Birmingham, Ala., music store where he worked. Although they were just friends at first, “she was a big part of me turning my life around,” he says. “We knew we were soulmates.” Bice also began attending a local church. “My perspective on life changed,” he says. “There s not a morning I see a sunrise and don t give full glory to God for it.”

These days, even though he has performed before millions on TV, he says he most enjoys singing for an audience of one: Aidan. He ll even accept some criticism from the little guy.

“If he s crying when I m singing, I’ll try to change the key and see what he says,” says Bice. “Aidan s a new form of entertainment around here.” And if there s ever a Baby Idol show, watch out, says his dad: “Hopefully we ll get a guitar in his hands in a year or so.”

For more on Bice, pick up the latest PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. [IMAGE “1” “” “std” ]

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