Ruben Studdard on Weight Loss, Vegetarianism, Music and Marathon (Black Enterprise, 12/5/2011)

By William E. Ketchum III

Ruben Studdard insists that he doesn’t directly try to shy away from his past, but the R&B/gospel vocalist has been through a lot of changes since he captured the public’s heart as the winner of American Idol’s second season in 2004. Since then, the 33-year-old has been on several national and international tours, and has earned Grammy nominations for his own solo material and for an album from his Broadway tour. Despite Studdard’s public accomplishments, most may have a hard time recognizing him. Not because he’s been out of the spotlight for a bit, but because since becoming a vegetarian and enlisting a personal trainer three years ago to shed 70 pounds, the once-heavyset singer looks and feels like a new man.

Now, Studdard is on a mission to help others in his community adopt a healthier lifestyle. This weekend (November 18-20), he’ll be hosting the Ruben Studdard Celebration Weekend, a music and fitness festival, in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. The event will also include a series of marquee running events—a half marathon, a 5K run and the “Linn Park Lap,” a short fun run/walk for all ages—that Studdard himself will participate in. spoke with the singer about the event, his inspiration for getting healthy, the influx of music-based reality TV shows, and working with Heavy D on Studdard’s upcoming album, tentatively titled Letters From Birmingham.

How did the idea for the Ruben Studdard Celebration Weekend come about?

It came about when I was on the Clay [Aiken] tour. I was working with a trainer so I could have my stamina on stage and he knew this guy who puts together big events for health and fitness, and he said, “It’d be cool if you put together something like this for your foundation.” We talked about it and solidified something, and it finally came up.

What are the specifics of the weekend?

We’re having a huge casino night [tonight] to benefit the Ruben Studdard Foundation for the Advancement of Children in the Music Arts. Saturday, we’re having registration for the race. Sunday, we’re having the fitness festival with a 5K fun run and the half marathon for the serious runners. It’s just going to be a great event. We’re having a big concert after the race, so it’s going to be fun… The whole thing is centered around music and having a great time with the community at large. We’re doing something that most people in Alabama wouldn’t be doing; it’s something out of the norm.

We have a lot of great races here, but we try to target people that normally don’t get out and run and bring them out for a fun event. It’s not only a run, but it’s an event that directly benefits the children in the music departments here in Birmingham and in the state of Alabama. We get back with sheet music at music camps and all those things, so we’re looking forward to giving people the opportunity to help us help the kids.

In addition to your training you became a vegetarian, when did that lifestyle change start?

I became a vegetarian about three years ago. It was different, but I just wanted to do something completely different. I wanted to eat differently, and it’s really worked for me, brother.

How much weight have you lost in the process?

During the process of a couple of years, I’ve lost about 70 pounds by becoming a vegetarian, eating healthier, working out and running. It’s an ongoing thing. It’ll never be something I have to stop doing. I’m a larger guy, so I have to always make sure I stay on top of that.

Your big break came via American Idol. What are some pros and cons of being discovered on TV?

You know what? Honestly, people always ask me this question, and to me, there were no cons. Everything was all pro for me. I had been trying since I was 11 to break into the industry through traditional means of shopping demos and all that stuff, and nothing really worked for me. American Idol was my catalyst.

I think the most difficult thing about being on the show is that everything is so fast-paced. There’s really no time to get used to it. People who get traditional record deals have time to get used to the build-up of people recognizing who they are, but with American Idol, it’s one day you’re living in obscurity and the next day you’re famous. That was the biggest shock to my system, figuring out, “Wow, I really can’t go to Wal-Mart by myself anymore.” [laughs] It’s funny, because Wal-Mart is my favorite store and I still go. I catch myself jumping when people call my name out, because my whole life, I’ve gotten used to being able to do those kinds of things without being recognized. That was the biggest shock to my system, but everything else was a blessing—from the opportunity to work with Clive Davis to working with the biggest songwriters and producers in the industry.

Since American Idol, there have been a lot more music-based reality shows. What do you think about that trend?

People enjoy watching people sing on TV. It just is what it is. I can remember how fond of Star Search I was when I was a kid. The networks have really caught onto that. American Idol was such a huge success that people have really tried to emulate that. It doesn’t surprise me that several people have done their own versions. I actually enjoy some of the shows. I really like Sing Off; Simon [Cowell]’s new show X-Factor is cool. But I really, really like Sing Off, because it reminds me of being in choir in high school and college.

Have you had to do anything after American Idol to rebrand yourself and your image, from being seen as a reality TV contestant to who you are as an artist in the eyes of the public?

I was just me, man. A lot of people try to sort of get away from that brand, but the show is what made people know who I am, so I never try to disassociate myself with that brand or being a part of that show. Of course, I’m older than I was when I was on the show. I’m way past 24 now; that was almost 10 years ago. So my subject matter is different, because I’ve had so many different life experiences, but I’ve just been great.

How is your new album coming along so far?

I’ve been working on it for about six months. It’s a really good album and it’s ready to come out. I think we’re going to release it at the end of February, and hopefully we can have some really great success with it.

Will you be taking a new direction musically on this project?

This is the first album where I’ve only worked with one producer and one writer, so it’s kind of like going back to the days when Gamble and Huff would do people’s whole albums. Or Holland-Dozier-Holland did a whole album for Motown. Same concept. We just wanted to do a great album, and we wanted the sound to be consistent and we didn’t want it to be all over the place. It really turned out exactly how we envisioned it.

Are there any songs in particular that stand out to you?

The whole album is crazy, but I have a guest appearance on there from Heavy D. Growing up, he was one of my idols. I was a huge fan of his work, and I’ve been a fan forever, so to get him on the album was a blessing. I have a duet with Chrisette Michele, which is crazy. I’ve got my girl K. Michelle on the album. It’s just a great album, it’s good music.

Are you pleased with the trajectory of your career thus far?

I told God my whole life that I wanted to sing and for music to be my career, and it’s become that. It’s had its ups and downs, and I embrace everything about the journey. I look at the careers of all the greats, and nobody’s careers I’ve seen come up has been on 100 the whole time. There are always peaks and valleys. So I’ve been able to sustain through the peaks and through the valleys. This is my fifth studio album in eight years, and a lot of people don’t even make it past the first one. So it’s a blessing.

[via BlackEnterprise]