Ruben Dishes

updated 12/22/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/22/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

Since his victory last May on FOX's American Idol, Ruben Studdard has gone on a 42-city tour, hobnobbed with the likes of James Brown and released a debut CD, Soulful, that's expected to go platinum. By now, says Studdard, 25, "there ain't nothing people don't know about me." Think again, Velvet Teddy Bear. Here are a few things that may surprise even your most ardent fans:

1. He doesn't just cook up tunes.
"I like to cook because it brings everybody to the kitchen. That's where the fun is," he says. His specialty: a spiced-up chicken fettuccine Alfredo. For the holidays, "I plan to let my mama do the cooking. But I might get inspired."

2. He could've been the fourth tenor.
"Growing up, I wanted to be an opera singer," says Studdard (in '78). Says Clive Davis, who produced his CD: "He lives and breathes music."

3. He's trying to shed some pounds.
Earlier this year he vowed "to change my eating habits" in solidarity with his brother, Kevin, 29, who, he says, "had a few health problems." He doesn't know how much weight he's lost, but he says, "I'm just doing it to be healthy. I eat a lot of seafood. I don't eat red meat."

4. He's a nester.
"I take Votivo candles everywhere because they make it smell like home," says Studdard (at his mom's Birmingham house with mom Emily, uncle Fred and brother Kevin). Ruben, who won a $1 million contract on Idol, is buying a house nearby. "It's huge," he says. "It has an indoor pool and a four-person Jacuzzi in the master bath."

5. He's a reluctant ladies' man.
"Girls always ask me to marry them," says the unattached singer (in '82 with cousin Emmica). The future Mrs. Studdard has to be "someone who is loyal. Also beautiful and intelligent. That's a given, though."

6. He has a Berry big crush.
"Halle Berry" he says, "is so fine." But asked for his dream date for the Grammys—where he'll be up for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (for his single "Superstar")—he says, "My mama."

7. He dressed to kill in high school.
Unlike the jerseys-and-sneakers look he wore on Idol, at Birmingham's Huffman High "he was Mr. Debonair," says his mom, Emily, 50. "Preppy, bow tie and shirt every day."

8. He's a reality show junkie.
He plans to watch the new season of Idol—and maybe vote too—but his favorite show is MTV's The Real World. "It's funny when they fight," he says.

9. He and Clay Aiken really are buddies.
"Everybody else talks about our record sales and we're like, 'Whatever,'" says Studdard, who frequently checks in with his runner-up. Sorry, there's not even a friendly wager on album sales.

10 He thinks bald is beautiful.
To achieve his new cue ball look, Studdard has to shave his pate three to four times a week. "It's not the most comfortable thing," he says. So why bother? Says his barber William Marshall: "He does it for the ladies."

Michael A. Lipton. K.C. Baker in New York City, Don Sider in Birmingham and Lori Rozsa in Miami

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