August 08, 2003 01:55 PM

Ruben Studdard may have walked away with the “American Idol” championship, but runner-up Clay Aiken is a hero to his hometown fans whose applause nearly brought tears to the singer’s eyes Wednesday night, reports the Associated Press.

Aiken, 24, who’s on tour with the nine other finalists in the “Pop Tarts Presents American Idol Live!” tour, opened his performance at the RCB Center in Raleigh, N.C., with his single, “This Is the Night.” At its conclusion the audience burst into a prolonged ovation for their hometown hero, AP reports.

“Thank you so much,” Aiken said, after appearing to tear up at the tribute. “There’s no place like home.”

The “Idol” finalists are halfway through a 40-city tour scheduled to conclude on Aug. 31 in Anaheim, Calif.

Meantime, “American Idol” is getting some more competition in the TV talent-show genre. Showtime and Interscope Records have teamed up to create “The Next,” a new six-part series hunting for the best up-and-coming rappers, USA Today reports.

Producers of the show say it will be less like “Idol” and more like the Eminem movie “8 Mile,” in which rappers would battle each other one-on-one.

The episodes are due to begin airing in October.

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