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Ruben Studdard is not only the 2003 American Idol winner, he also serves as an ambassador for the popular TV show that is now fighting to maintain its ratings dominance. With the release of a new album, the “Velvet Teddy Bear” recently weighed in on other competition shows and explained why he would be a natural member of “Team Cee Lo” if he’d been a contestant on the The Voice.

Among the rising programs dedicated to vocal showdowns, Studdard sang the praises of the a capella talent search Sing Off, which focuses on groups as opposed to solo acts.

“It’s cool that choir kids get an opportunity to be on TV,” he told CBS Local. “I was a choir kid growing up and I was a vocal music education Major in college. A lot of times, some kids are afraid to step out on their own but when they are in a group, they can shine.”

The Idol superstar has recently released his new album, Letters From Birmingham, his first since 2009’s Love Is. In the interrum, he has separated from his wife, battled the IRS, and found a new independent label recording home. Through all this, he’s kept an eye on the competition shows inspired by Idol.

“I like The Voice because they don’t see [the contestants] before they pick,” he said. “It’s blind judging. A lot of times, even on Idol, people come in looking a certain way and they might instantly get judged on image.”

When asked which celebrity’s team he would choose if he had been a Voice contestant, he bypassed accomplished group captains Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. “I would probably Cee Lo Green,” he said. “He just has so much soul.”

Studdard’s connection to rising sing-off shows speaks to Idol‘s place in the marketplace. Where it once was the singular name in singing competitions, the show now faces fierce ratings challengers, ceding its top-rated time slot for the first time in February to CBS’s Big Bang Theory. And while Idol remains an overall ratings leader, The Voice has bested Idol in the coveted 18 to 49 age group.

The rise of these other shows is certainly not lost on Studdard. While he admits they all have their appeal, he says he remains loyal to his roots.

“My favorite is still American Idol, hands down,” he said. “They made me who I am.”

Ruben Studdard’s new album Letters From Birmingham was released independently on March 13.  –Erik Parker, CBS Local

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