Ruben Studdard

Christopher Ruben Studdard (born September 12, 1978) is an American R&B, pop and gospel singer, and actor. He rose to fame as the winner of the second season of American Idol and received a Grammy Award nomination in 2003 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for his recording of “Superstar.” In the years following Idol, Studdard has released seven studio albums, including his platinum-selling debut, Soulful, and the top-selling gospel follow-up, I Need an Angel.

Studdard was born in Frankfurt, Germany, to American parents, while his father was stationed there with the U.S. Army, and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. The youngest son of two teachers, at the age of three, he sang for the first time at the Rising Star Baptist Church in his hometown of Birmingham. He continued singing gospel in church, performing solos as a child while his mother sang in the local choir. While at Huffman High School, he played football for which he received a scholarship to Alabama A&M University. While at Alabama A&M, he joined the Omicron Delta chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the men’s music fraternity of America.

After growing up listening to his mother’s Donny Hathaway albums, Fred Hammond, and gospel music, Studdard began to pursue a career in the music industry, majoring in voice studies at Alabama A&M. He sang with Just a Few Cats, a popular local Birmingham jazz and R&B band founded by members of Ray Reach’s UAB Jazz Ensemble, along with other local musicians. Years later, Studdard stated: “A lot of people don’t realize how hard I was trying to get into the business before American Idol. I was making demos and just working so hard.” A back-up singer from Just a Few Cats asked him to accompany her to Nashville, Tennessee for an audition on the 2003 second season of American Idol.

When auditioning, Studdard sang Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky”. This guided him to be one of the local finalists. On American Idol, he impressed viewers with his performances of the Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett song “Superstar” and the Peabo Bryson/Regina Belle duet “A Whole New World”. During his time on the show, Studdard received praise from music legends such as Lionel Richie, Neil Sedaka, Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, Luther Vandross, and Gladys Knight.

During the televised competition, Studdard gained the nickname “Velvet Teddy Bear” and was noted for his shirts printed with “205”, the telephone area code of his hometown of Birmingham.

He won the contest over runner-up Clay Aiken by only 134,000 votes out of 24,000,000 casts in the May 2003 finale, becoming the second American Idol winner. Alabama Governor, Bob Riley declared March 11, 2003, as “Ruben Studdard Day”.

2003–2004: Soulful

Studdard released his first single, a cover of Westlife’s “Flying Without Wings” (which he had sung on the American Idol finale), produced by The Underdogs and Babyface. Fueled largely by sales, it debuted at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. In December 2003, advance orders for his album Soulful topped the one million mark before it was released into stores. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart that month, selling over 400,000 copies in its first week and attaining the second-highest first-week sales of any American Idol winner. The single “Sorry 2004” from this album found substantial airplay, reaching number nine in the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the Billboard R&B singles chart. Studdard received a Grammy Award nomination in December 2003 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Superstar”, nominated alongside his idol Luther Vandross, who ultimately won the category. In March 2004, Ruben won the NAACP Outstanding New Artist award.

2004–2005: I Need an Angel

Studdard released the gospel album I Need an Angel on November 23, 2004. The title track and first single “I Need an Angel” was a cover of 2002 single performed by R&B singer Daniel DeBourg and written by R. Kelly. The album sold over 96,000 copies in its first week, entering the Gospel charts at number one and at number twenty on the Billboard 200 chart. It since has sold over 500,000 copies, securing Gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. It was also number one on the 2005 Billboard Year-End Gospel Albums Chart.

In March 2005, Studdard filed a lawsuit against his godfather and business advisor Ronald Edwards. The suit alleges that Edwards ran up $156,000 on Studdard’s credit cards and stole $90,000 from his checking account. Edwards filed a countersuit. On June 15, 2006, Studdard was awarded $500,000 for personal losses and another $1.5 million in punitive damages.

Between his second and third albums, Studdard began a diet and fitness program to deal with his weight, out of concern for a family history of diabetes and hypertension, resulting in his losing over 70 pounds on a vegetarian diet.

In 2004, Studdard made a cameo in the film Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, singing a cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star”. He also made guest appearances on TV shows including Life on a Stick, 8 Simple Rules, One on One, All of Us and Eve.

2006–2008: The Return

Studdard’s third album, The Return, was released in October 2006. Returning to R&B music on this album, Studdard collaborated with a variety of producers, including Scott Storch, Stargate, and Ne-Yo. Studdard also co-wrote several songs on the album. The Return sold 71,000 copies in its first week to open at number eight on the Billboard 200 album chart. The lead single, “Change Me,” reached number one on Billboard’s Urban Contemporary chart, while the follow-up track, “Make Ya Feel Beautiful”, also made a strong impression on the R&B charts.

Studdard continued to tour, saying he would play a variety of music: “Coming out to my show is like coming to my house. I’ll play the songs I love. It’s like a party. For me, a party has all different types of music happening.”

Studdard appeared on the finale of American Idol season 6 in May 2007. He spent a few weeks touring with Robin Givens in the comedy-drama Heaven I Need a Hug and prepared to take on the role of Fats Waller in a national tour of Ain’t Misbehavin’ in 2008. The tour is scheduled to begin November 17, 2008, in Atlanta, GA, and end May 14, 2009, in Syracuse, NY.

In December 2007, Studdard had been dropped from his record company, J Records, due to poor sales of The Return and “[falling] short of expectations”. He remained under contract with 19 Recordings and was assigned the high-profile position of performing the American Idol season farewell song, a recording of Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home”, in a new version produced by Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam.

Studdard performed “Celebrate Me Home” live on May 20, 2008, at the Nokia Theatre for the first night of the two-night grand finale of American Idol’s seventh season. In 2008, Studdard also collaborated with gospel singer Deitrick Haddon and duo Mary Mary on the hit gospel song “Love Him Like I Do”.

2009–2010: Love Is

Studdard announced that his next album, to be released on May 19, 2009, would be released on Sony Music offshoot Hickory Records. The new album, entitled Love Is, was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The album spawned the singles “Together” and “Don’t Make ‘Em Like U No More”.

Love Is was released on May 19, 2009, to positive reviews. The album, which features a mix of covers and original songs, sold 15,200 units in its first week to debut at number 36 on the Billboard 200, number five on Independent Albums and number eight on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.

Studdard appeared with the “David Foster and Friends” ten-city tour beginning October 21, 2009, in Chicago, Illinois and ending November 8, 2009, in Vancouver, Canada. A compilation album, Playlist: The Very Best of Ruben Studdard was released on January 26, 2010 by Sony’s Legacy Recordings.

Studdard returned to the American Idol stage on March 31, 2010 to perform “Don’t Make ‘Em Like U No More”. In his on-camera interview with Ryan Seacrest after his performance, he announced that he would be touring with Clay Aiken in the summer.

Studdard and Aiken brought their Timeless tour to cities in the US and Canada beginning in Asheville, North Carolina on July 23, 2010, and ending in Biloxi, Mississippi on August 14. Instead of a concert focusing on each singer’s recordings, Studdard and Aiken opted for a variety show format covering medleys of songs from the 1960s to the 1990s, with a few solos and interspersed with comedy bits.

2010–2013: Letters from Birmingham

In 2011, Studdard signed with Shanachie Entertainment. His first album for the label and fifth studio release overall, Letters from Birmingham, was released in March 2012.

A concept album that traces a relationship through a series of romantic letters, Letters from Birmingham received mostly positive reviews, especially for his duet with Chrisette Michele, “Do It Right”, which was praised as “sublime” and “tantalizing”. The album also included covers of Bobby Brown’s “Rock Wit’cha” and “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, recast as a love song. Since its release, “Letters from Birmingham” has sold 22,000 copies, and the lead single, “June 28 (I’m Single)”, which referenced his marriage and subsequent divorce, reached the top 20 of Billboard’s urban charts.

2013–2014: The Biggest Loser and Unconditional Love

Studdard joined the cast of the fifteenth season of the NBC weight-loss competition show The Biggest Loser, and was credited as its first-ever celebrity contestant. At 6’3 and 462 pounds, Studdard had the highest starting weight and BMI of the entire cast. A member of the show’s Red Team, Studdard was first eliminated in the fourth week after he failed to make his weight loss goal. However, because opposing coach Jillian Michaels had given her team caffeine pills in violation of the rules, Studdard’s elimination was voided and he returned before once again being eliminated during the competition’s eighth week.

At the show’s finale on February 4, 2014 (which coincided with the release of Studdard’s newest album, Unconditional Love), it was revealed that he had lost a total of 119 pounds for an ending weight of 343 pounds. Studdard credited the weight loss for improving his ability to perform onstage. During the finale, Studdard also performed his new album’s lead single, “Meant to Be”, accompanied by the song’s co-writer and producer, David Foster, on piano.

Unconditional Love is Studdard’s sixth studio album and first with his new label, Verve Records. Foster, who has won 16 Grammy Awards, was the executive producer of the disc, which primarily consists of covers of love songs along with two originals, including “Meant to Be”. Studdard has called it “the album that everybody expected from me when I won American Idol.” The album features collaborations with Stevie Wonder, Lalah Hathaway, and Eric Benet, and includes covers of songs originally performed by artists such as Paul McCartney, Donny Hathaway, Bonnie Raitt, Marvin Gaye, and Peabo Bryson. Since its release, the album has received some of Studdard’s best reviews of his career. According to critics, the album “finds Studdard at the top of his game vocally” and he hits his stride, “exuding grace, confidence and class” as he successfully positions himself as a “stylish crooner.” Unconditional Love debuted at #46 on the Billboard 200 and #7 on Billboard’s R&B Albums chart.

Studdard supported the release of Unconditional Love with the national Born Again Tour with his collaborator Lalah Hathaway.

2015-present: Ruben Sings Luther and Broadway debut

Studdard continues to appear regularly on American Idol, including mentoring and performing with contestants in its farewell season on Fox. He released a new single, “Can’t Nobody Love You,” on April 8, 2016, and appeared on several talks shows to promote the song. In 2017, he released a cover of “A Change Is Gonna Come” and guested on Patti LaBelle’s holiday album, performing “Your Presence with Me” and “Ave Maria.”

In 2018, Studdard, who had long been compared to Luther Vandross, released a tribute album, Ruben Sings Luther, on the SEG Music label. He supported the album with the Always & Forever national tour. In an interview with People Magazine, Studdard said, “Since I won American Idol, people have been asking for me to sing Luther songs for a long time. I thought, ‘OK. You want to hear it? I might as well do it. I thought it was the perfect time to pay homage to one of the greatest song interpreters of all time.”

Both the album and tour received strong reviews, with Variety noting that “Studdard truly took wing and made the music of Vandross his own” on tour and The Philadelphia Inquirer calling the album a “full-on lush-and-funky tribute”.

Studdard made his Broadway theatre debut in December 2018, reuniting with Clay Aiken in Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show (aka Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show) at the Imperial Theatre, with previews beginning December 7 and the show officially opening December 11. The show will continue through December 30, with a portion of ticket sales benefitting the National Inclusion Project.

Acting

Studdard has worked as an actor in several roles, including single-episode appearances on the television series 8 Simple RulesLife on a StickAll of Us, and Eve, as well as a cameo appearance in the film Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. He has also appeared on a television commercial for a Birmingham-area Kia dealer.

Studdard headlined the revival tour of Ain’t Misbehavin’, starring alongside fellow American Idol alumni Trenyce and Frenchie Davis. Starring as Fats Waller, Studdard received positive reviews and was part of the cast recording album released by Rhino Records on January 13, 2009. The album was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

Advocacy

Studdard’s love of music led him to create The Ruben Studdard Foundation for the Advancement of Children in the Music Arts. The foundation’s mission statement says their aim is “to promote the essential role of the arts in education through learning initiatives for the development of students in the Greater Birmingham Area.”

Studdard also signed on as an official spokesperson for “Be Sickle Smart”, a nationwide grassroots health-education program aimed at increasing awareness of iron overload among people living with sickle-cell disease.

26
Apr
2020