GREENSBORO, N.C. – Move over, Kelly. Take a back seat, Ruben. The judges for "American Idol" say their favorite winner is Fantasia Barrino (search), the North Carolina native who won season three of the Fox contest show. Kelly Clarkson (search) was the first winner and Ruben Studdard (search) was the season two champion.
But judges Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell, who were in Greensboro for auditions Thursday, said Barrino was their favorite.
"If we had to choose one American Idol to go out to dinner with, it would be Fantasia," Cowell said. "There are no airs and graces about her. ... I like her."
Barrino recently disclosed that she is functionally illiterate. The singer discusses her illiteracy in a new memoir, "Life is Not a Fairy Tale," which she dictated to a freelance writer.
The judges also had high praise for the new contestants they heard sing this week.
"We saw a young girl we all thought was fantastic," Cowell said. That alone was "worth the trip," he said.
The judges, who were joined by show host Ryan Seacrest, bantered affably, usually at the expense of Cowell, who was celebrating a birthday but still managed to live up to his reputation as a man not afraid to insult.
After someone sang "Happy Birthday" to him, he said, "That was very nice, but you have a terrible voice."