Ruben Studdard on his ‘American Idol’ run, upcoming Vilar performance
"American Idol" champ headed to the Vilar
Ruben Studdard is no stranger to paying tribute to other artists. Throughout his time on the second season of “American Idol,” Studdard performed songs from the likes of the Four Tops, ‘Nsync and the Bee Gees. Now, he’s singing the songs of an R&B legend Luther Vandross.
“Luther is definitely one of the greatest vocalists of all time,” Studdard said over the phone ahead of his performance at the Vilar Performing Arts Center on Tuesday. “Just having the opportunity to listen to his music and understand what it takes to be professional and be at that level; he’s an inspiration to me.”
Studdard first came across Vandross when he was young, as his mother was “one of the biggest Luther fans ever.”
“My house was full of music all the time,” Studdard said. “Neither of my parents were musicians, but they loved music and we have a huge record collection.”
Studdard was born in Frankfurt, Germany, but was raised in Birmingham, Alabama, where he began singing at church — gospel singers, he said, are some of the biggest influences on his sound and his career. While studying voice studies at Alabama A&M University, Studdard joined a music fraternity, which led to him performing with local jazz band Just a Few Cats.
It’s no wonder that he eventually made his way onto “American Idol.”
Days on television
“The experience was wonderful,” said Studdard of the television show. “It was a training ground for professionalism, and it was expected at all times. People in the top 10 and beyond were people that exemplified that.”
One such example of the professionalism required was being mindful of performing on television, rather than just in front of an audience.
“Treating the camera like the audience,” Studdard said, “… was an art that took a lot of us a while.”
In his 20s when he auditioned for the show, Studdard went through several rounds of auditions and weeks of waiting before finding out that he made it into the top 30 — a moment that Studdard notes as being one of the most exciting of the experience.
“I remember being at the mall knowing that I had made it into the top 30, and watching the first group of people audition to make (it to the next round),” Studdard said. “I couldn’t wait to leave and perform the next week. I couldn’t tell anyone that I was on the show.”
Despite coming out on top and feeling elated at the beginning of the process, it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. At one point well into the show, it was revealed that the R&B crooner was in the bottom two, and risked elimination.
“I think I was almost kind of glad,” Studdard said of the reveal. “I hadn’t been home for so long, it was like ‘alright s–t, I guess it’s time to go home.'”
At that point, Studdard had been performing for nearly six months on the show, which he referred to as having an “intense” atmosphere, leading to him not feeling anxious or worried about his elimination.
Safe to say he’s glad that he managed to stick it out. However, Studdard
made a point of staying level headed, keeping any thoughts of winning out of his mind.
“I never let myself think that (I could win) until I was in rehearsals for the finale,” he said. “I remember having a conversation with my brother early on and he said ‘I really think you could win this.’ I said, ‘man, I’m not even thinking about that right now.'”
Better yet, Studdard didn’t even have his heart set on winning.
“The only purpose was to have my voice heard, not to win,” Studdard said. “Then I got to the finale and it was like, ‘I might be able to win.'”
In the finale with Studdard was Clay Aiken, the runner-up. The duo reunited in December for a show called “Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show.”
“He and I have been friends for a long time,” Studdard said. “… (working together again) felt like it always does, like a reunion.”
Not just a contest winner
After all of that, a turn on “The Biggest Loser,” a Grammy Award nomination and a handful of film and television roles, Studdard is prepared to get back to his roots and honor Vandross, a legendary soul and R&B artist known primarily for his work in the 1970s and ’80s.
The tour, called Ruben Sings Luther: An Evening of Luther Vandross starring Ruben Studdard, comes after Studdard’s release of a Vandross tribute album.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to go around the country performing his songs and sharing these nostalgic moments with people that remember his music,” he said. “People are receiving it really well. People just love Luther. It’s like going out and doing a tribute to The Beatles.”
Vandross, who passed away in 2005, won eight Grammy Awards and was nominated for 25 others, and possesses a catalog of songs miles long. However, Studdard carefully chose what songs to cover for the album and in his show.
“I watched a lot of his concerts and paid attention to what the fans responded to the most,” he said. His set will include his two favorite Vandross tunes: “Here and Now” and “Never Too Much.”
“His music is an example to all male singers period,” Studdard said. “It’s a guide to what is a great standard of excellence.”
Studdard will perform at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $38 and can be purchased at http://www.vilarpac.org or by calling 970-845-8497.
Arts & Entertainment Editor Nate Day can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2932.