By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated May 27, 2003 12:08 PM

Oh, no — it’s sounding like the 2000 presidential race all over again.

Cinergy Communications, an Indiana-based telecommunications company that says it handled more than 240,000 misdialed calls during last week’s three-hour voting period for “American Idol,” is now claiming that it took more than 169,000 calls for runner-up Clay Aiken and 72,000 for champion Ruben Studdard, the Associated Press reports.

Out of 24 million votes cast, Studdard beat Aiken by a relatively slim margin of only 130,000 votes.

Cinergy’s residential marketing manager, Joey Randolph, speculates that the problem had to do with the “Q” factor — and the fact that older phones don’t contain the letter on their dials. Newer phones, on the other hand, feature “P-Q-R-S” over the 7, which some people may have mistook for the letter O.

The “American Idol” numbers were (866) IDOLS01 to pick Ruben and (866) IDOLS02 for Clay.

Does that mean that beanpole Clay, 24, might really have won instead of the rotund Ruben, 25?

A FOX spokesman tells AP that the network cannot be responsible for voters who dialed the wrong number.

Either way, both singers sang in a rain-drenched outdoor concert on Monday’s “Today” show, before a curious crowd that refused to be put off by the downpour.

“It’s like a monsoon. Poor Clay is worried about his hair,” show anchor Katie Couric, 46, joked as she tousled Aiken’s slightly less spiky-than-usual coif.

Meanwhile, in other “Idol” chatter, the Toronto Star reports that this weekend some 8,000 hopefuls — as well as their entourages of friends and families — turned out to audition for a North American version of the British and U.S. TV sensation.

Assessing the thousands of “Canadian Idol” hopefuls, one wag told the newspaper: “Everybody thinks they’re Christina Aguilera — including half the guys.”