To paraphrase "The Godfather" -- just when you think you're out on "American Idol," they keep pulling you back in. Indeed, season-two winner Ruben Studdard will perform the "farewell song" used to play off the losing contestants when they depart the top 12.

This year, the song will be a cover of Kenny Loggins' "Celebrate Me Home," in a new version produced by Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam. "It's very soulful, very heartfelt," Lewis says. "Ruben is singing his pants off."

It's a significant gig for Studdard, who was dropped by J Records at the end of 2007. He is, however, still managed by the show's 19 Entertainment and under contract to subsidiary 19 Recordings, a link that paved the way for him to return to the show as the song's performer.

"Ruben has never left our fold," "AI" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe says. "[With] the success that we've had with the play-off song, I wanted to keep it in-house."

The "American Idol" season-five farewell song, Daniel Powter's "Bad Day," went on to sell 1.9 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and was the top digital download of 2006.

As part of the show's new sponsorship this season with iTunes, "Celebrate Me Home" will be made available digitally starting March 12, the day the first of the top 12 will be eliminated. In addition, it is expected to be included on one of the compilation albums annually released by "American Idol," according to 19 Entertainment U.S. head Iain Pirie.

"[Lewis and Jam] were on my list of producers to work with, and to have the opportunity was a blessing," Studdard says. "If they tell you something is hot, you can probably rest assured that other people are going to like it."

"Celebrate Me Home" was selected after Lythgoe suggested the tune to Pirie and show creator Simon Fuller. "Each year we think about what's going to reflect that really special TV moment," Pirie says. "Musically and lyrically, it fits it perfectly."

Pirie says the idea to have Studdard record the track came after the warm reception he received following an appearance on last season's "American Idol" finale. In addition, Studdard is in negotiations to perform the song during "Idol Gives Back," the show's midseason charity effort.

Loggins' version of "Celebrate Me Home," originally released on an album of the same title in 1977, has sold 73,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
And while traditionally thought of as a Christmas tune, the first line of the song -- "Home for the holidays"-has been excised to make it less seasonal, Lythgoe says, and Studdard has give the track an updated feel.

For his part, Studdard -- who is getting TV exposure as the syndicated "American Idol Rewind" highlights season two -- is about to return to the studio to record an album for 19. "I need to get into the studio, go there and kind of trip out for a while," he says.