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”.