Ruben Studdard: Still Shining

Ruben Studdard made a name for himself and established a fan base that most artists take years to acquire when he emerged as the American Idol champion in 2003. After Platinum success from his major debut album Soulful, he went out on a limb and released the gospel album I Need an Angel, which reached […]

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Ruben Studdard made a name for himself and established a fan base that most artists take years to acquire when he emerged as the American Idol champion in 2003. After Platinum success from his major debut album Soulful, he went out on a limb and released the gospel album I Need an Angel, which reached Gold status. He proved that his singing abilities were definitely in demand and up to par, regardless of the genre.

Ruben disappeared for a while, leaving many of his fans wondering where he’d gone. He lost over 70 pounds on a strict vegetarian diet, and became the spokesperson for the state of Alabama, encouraging residents to become more heath conscious and lose weight. Back with a new look and a new album, appropriately titled The Return, Ruben talked to us about how he appreciates being associated with American Idol and how he manages the ups and downs of being an R&B superstar. Alternatives: You went to college on a football scholarship, and changed you major a few times. When did you realize that music was your passion?

Ruben Studdard: Music has been my passion since the sixth grade. Of course, I’ve been singing since I was three, but it became a lot more real to me when I actually started playing instruments and learning how to read music. I knew then that it actually became something that I really wanted to do as a career. My math teacher Mr. Smith was in my opinion, the best musician in Birmingham and he taught me so much about music, so many genres from classical to musical. He just turned me on to a lot of different types of music. I actually did a performance in my earlier days in Birmingham and the girls went crazy. Every since then, I’ve always wanted to be a singer.

AHHA: Are you still a football fan?

Ruben: Oh of course!

AHHA: So it’s safe to say you’re in front of the TV every Sunday during football season?

Ruben: Saturday. I watch college sports. That’s how it is when you live in the South.

AHHA: What’s been going on with you lately?

Ruben: I’ve been working on this album and that’s basically it. I’ve been out just promoting this album and just going out to the people.

AHHA: Do you have a tour coming?

Ruben: Yes, we’re supposed to be going out in March. The promoters are trying to see if they can find someone now to pair me with on tour with – hopefully, somebody like Lyfe Jennings or Anthony Hamilton. We’re just looking for a good match to go on tour with. We’re also working on another promotional tour with J-Records for the second single, “Make You Feel Beautiful.” It was written by Ne-Yo, so I am really looking out and doing a lot of radio shows for the second single.

AHHA: What was it like working with Ne-Yo?

Ruben: It was wonderful. We are a lot alike, so it was just really good to work with him and work with somebody who writes songs on his level. With his level of creativity, I had a blast working with him.

AHHA: How much of the album did you actually write?

Ruben: I wrote about 12 songs for the album, but I only ended up using three on the album.

AHHA: What do you think is different from your first album to now? What’s changed about your style and how have you grown musically?

Ruben: I’ve matured as a vocalist. I’ve had the opportunity to learn and soak in so much information. I started off in this game on American Idol working with the best, and you can do nothing but learn from those you work with. I’ve been blessed to have worked with Babyface, Underdogs, Scott Storch, all of the Winans. Everybody who has a big name in the industry I’ve had the opportunity to work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, just everybody. I’ve learned a lot over these past three years. Of course, I’ve taken everything that I’ve learned and have applied it to my career.

AHHA: With your second album you went gospel. Did you think that was like a big risk?

Ruben: I actually started off making that album a Christmas album. Of course, everybody knows that I grew up in the church. Pretty much, every R&B artist that has come out in the past 50 years has grown up in the church. It wasn’t any a huge extension of who I am. I am a Christian. It was nothing that I was ashamed of doing. One thing that I did learn is that everybody is not as enthusiastic about gospel music like we are in the south. Where I’m from gospel is just a way of life. Going certain places people ask me automatically am I a gospel artist now because I did a gospel album. Aretha Franklin did a gospel album earlier on in her career, and I believe she went through the same situation.

AHHA: Do you consider the American Idol brand a stigma?

Ruben: Not for me. Maybe for other artist but I feel like it’s a blessing to be apart of the #1 television show in America. I don’t think it’s anything wrong with coming in the game with a good number of fans. It’s something that most artists have to work on for years. For us to be that critical of being put in that A-1 situation, I feel is ridiculous. But everybody is different.

AHHA: I read that Kelly Clarkson pretty much sought to disassociate herself with the brand – which is interesting.

Ruben: I’ve always had people to call me an American Idol. It was a huge accomplishment in my life, and I never want people to forget that I won that show.

AHHA: There was a lot of media coverage regarding your weight lost last year. Tell us how you went about losing the weight.

Ruben: It really has become a lot more than I really wanted it to. I just wanted to use the second half of my life differently. I just wanted to eat differently and work out. It wasn’t like it was an epiphany where I was like, “Oh my God, I’m about to die let’s work out.” It was nothing like that. I just wanted to do something different. Everybody has points in their life when they need to make a change and for me, especially by me being from the south, our food choices are not the best. I wanted to see what I would feel like if I made better choices. I mean you see the results.

AHHA: So what is your routine like now? Are you a vegetarian?

Ruben: I am. I work out like most people about three to four times a week. I’m just trying to keep it moving.

AHHA: Do you cook your own food or do you have a chef?

Ruben: Yeah, I’m not that rich, yet. [Laughs]

AHHA: You actually cook yourself?

Ruben: Yes. I’m actually in the middle of looking for a new house right now, and took a break to do this interview with you. I’m making sure I pick the right kitchen. That’s a big selling point for me now, to make sure that I have a huge kitchen, and I’m out here trying to make sure I get that.

AHHA: You’ve never considered moving to a different part of the country.

Ruben: Nah, not really.

AHHA: You’ve launched your campaign throughout the state of Alabama to lose weight too, correct?

Ruben: Actually, the Alabama Hospital Association gave me a call wanting me to be a real life coach for the people of Alabama, so I thought it was real cool. It gives people an opportunity to see that I am a real person just like them. I am not anywhere near the picture of health right now. So it basically gives them the chance to work out right along with me and I get to be a mentor. I think it’s going to be fun. You know, Alabama is the second most obese state in the country, so if I can do anything to help people change their lives and affect them in any kind of way, then I am willing to do that.

AHHA: In the past, I know that you had a problem with your former manager and identity theft. How did you deal with that? What was that like when you found out that actually happened?

Ruben: He’s a grown man and so am I, and I’ve handled my business. I trusted him a lot more than I should have because he was such a close friend of the family. I’ve known him since I was a small child, so I just had to handle my business. That’s it.

AHHA: So now are you a little bit more selective – like who you’re around and who you’re associated with on a personal and business level? I know you had an incident where drugs were found on your tour bus.

Ruben: You know what? That was kind of weird for me, because those were people that I had never met before a day in my life. That tour bus was the promoter’s tour bus. I was actually in my bed, in my hotel in Cleveland watching the situation on the news. They were like, “Look at what was on Ruben’s tour bus”, and I was like “What? My tour bus is downstairs parked.” So it was actually the crew that tore the stage down who was on the tour bus that had got pulled over. They said it was my tour bus because they still had on the Ruben Studdard “All Stage” passes.

AHHA: So your name just got drug in the mud unnecessarily?

Ruben: Yeah it gave me a little street credit, so I ain’t mad at that! [Laughs]