Beginning this week on American Idol, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and several other past winners will return to the show as both mentors and performers to be paired with the current 24 semi-finalists.

The first group of 12 – MacKenzie Bourg, Emily Brooke, Gianna Isabella, James VIII, Jeneve Rose Mitchell, Stephany Negrete, Jenna Renae, La’Porsha Renae, Jordan Sasser, Thomas Stringfellow, Sonika Vaid and Avalon Young – will perform tonight; while past winners and fan-favorites Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Caleb Johnson and Nick Fradiani join Ruben and Fantasia on Thursday, Feb. 11 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) to advise and belt duets with their mentees before the judges reveal which seven contestants will move on, and who will be going home.

“I think everybody that comes on the show has a dream of just doing what they love every day. And that has been, for me, the most fulfilling thing in my life,” Studdard told us while promoting his return for the final season at last month’s TCA Winter Press tour.

The “Velvet Teddy Bear,” a nickname given to him by guest judge Gladys Knight, outlasted Clay Aiken to win Season 2 in 2003. Despite his powerful pipes and megawatt smile, Ruben says his dreams of becoming a professional performing artist may have never happened without the national recognition and jump-start that “Idol” provided.

“I have I studied music from the time I was, like, six years old, and all I ever wanted to do was sing for people,” he said. “I sent demo tapes and did everything that people on television told me was the thing to do, and none of it worked. I even left college in the beginning of my senior year to pursue a career in gospel music because we thought that we were going to be the next Winans, because somebody told us that we were really great. And the only thing that worked for me was ‘American Idol.’”

Below, Ruben details all of the career perks that have come his way because of the show:

On Wednesday, Feb. 17 (8:00-9:01 PM ET/PT), the second group of 12 semi-finalists – Jenn Blosil, Amelia Eisenhauer, Trent Harmon, Lee Jean, CJ Johnson, Adam Lasher, Tristan McIntosh, Dalton Rapattoni, Olivia Rox, Manny Torres, Kory Wheeler and Shelbie Z – get their turn.

The following night, Thursday, Feb. 18 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT), former IDOLs Constantine Maroulis, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler, Jordin Sparks, David Cook and Haley Reinhart return to perform duets with the second group of semi-finalists before the judges reveal who is moving on in the competition and who will be sent home.

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(Photo Source: Ruben Studdard Instagram)

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