We first fell in love with his dimpled smile and sultry voice when he belted out the tunes that captured our hearts and our votes on American Idol. Now, second season winner Ruben Studdard is singing to one woman and one woman only. Studdard and his girlfriend of nearly two years, Surata “Zuri” McCant, got married at noon last Saturday in a lavish, contemporary southern-style wedding in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.

Just 24 hours after walking down the aisle, Studdard and his new bride spoke exclusively to ESSENCE.com about how they met, the reports of a supersized wedding with 20 groomsmen, and their top secret honeymoon plans.

Ever since the 29-year-old singer was seen getting a marriage license with the 30-year-old Georgia State University grad and former flight attendant last week, there have been a bevy of rumors regarding the details of their love affair and wedding. The couple told ESSENCE.com it was a beautiful 30-minute black-and-white-themed ceremony, and that they exchanged vows amid prayers. A string orchestra provided classical music.

Essence: How was the ceremony?
Ruben Studdard:
It was beautiful. It was exactly what we wanted—a celebration of family and friends. There were no mishaps whatsoever. The wedding started at noon like we said it would, and it went off with no glitches.

Essence: What does it feel like to be Mrs. Studdard?
Zuri Studdard:
It’s great, but it really doesn’t feel any different. It’s fun to say I have a husband. I’m like, Wow, I’m a wife now.

Essence: How did you two meet?
We met at an autograph signing at a Wal-Mart in Atlanta. Zuri came to get a CD autographed for her best friend who couldn’t get off from work. When I saw her, I just thought she was beautiful. She told me about how much her friend loved me, and I was like, Well what about you? She was like, Well, you’re all right.

Essence: Weren’t you a fan of his music?
I was but my best friend was the Ruben fanatic. Anything that had to do with Ruben she had to get it. So when she said she couldn’t get off from work, I volunteered to go. After I left the signing, he sent his best friend out to ask me if we could keep in touch and then he ended up coming out to talk to me.

Essence: Where did you go on your first date?
We went to see Blood Diamond at Atlantic Station in Atlanta.

Essence: What made you fall in love with Zuri?
She’s my best friend. I can talk to her about anything. When we go out, I just feel like I can always be myself. I never have to be anybody other than the real Ruben. Also, she’s the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever met. She loves God, and I love her for just being who she is.

Essence: What is it about Ruben that made you fall for him?
Before we really started dating, it was as if I’d known him forever. He was my homeboy. Then, after I visited him in Birmingham for the first time, I just looked at him differently and thought, Wow, I could really love this guy. He’s sweet and genuine. I knew I was in love when I started telling my friends about him, and I was like, Ruben this, Ruben that.

Essence: How did you propose?
I had an engagement in Las Vegas, and I thought it would be cool to ask her there, but everything I’d planned kept falling through the cracks. I planned to propose to her while at dinner at the Venetian Hotel, but then the zipper to her dress broke and she wanted to go back to the room. So, I had to think of something else and just do it there.
ZS: I remember sitting in my apartment and joking around with him a few weeks before, like, You’re never going to want to get married. He said it was killing him, because he had just bought the ring and it was in his pocket the entire time.

Essence: What did you think when you saw the ring?
Wow! I thought he was joking at first, but he was like, No I’m serious. I was so happy and in complete shock. It was a total surprise.

Essence: What did you think when you saw Zuri coming down the aisle?
It was really breathtaking. I smiled from ear to ear when I saw her. It was just an amazing moment. I’ve never seen her more beautiful than when they opened the door and she walked down the aisle.

Essence: Other publications reported that you were having as many as 20 groomsmen? Is that true?
: No ma’am, that’s not true. We had eight groomsmen and eight bridesmaids. I asked my friend from college, a couple of guys that I’ve known since I was 3 years old, and my brother was my best man.

Essence: Where are you going on your honeymoon?
It’s a surprise so I’m keeping that to myself. All I’ll say is we’re headed to South America.

Essence: Do you plan on starting a family right away?
We’re going to take a little time. We plan to hopefully have kids in the next year or so.

Essence: Now that you’re off limits, how do you think being married will affect your fan base and music?
It will be fine. People know that I’m a good southern boy and this is a part of life. I hope all my fans will appreciate the type of music I will be making now. You know, life brings about change. The more you experience, the more you’re able to write about, so I’m sure this will reflect in some way in my music.

Essence: Aren’t you working on a new album?
I’m working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, making great music, and just trying to get it out. We’ll reconvene once I get back from my honeymoon and hopefully get the album out before September.

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