Talent Recap

Winner Ruben Studdard Makes a Comeback on the ‘American Idol’ Stage

Ruben StuddardABC/Christopher Willard

Reading Time: 5 minutes

American Idol winner Ruben Studdard has seen highs and lows in his career all while maintaining the voice that America fell in love with back in 2003. The singer has taken over the Billboard charts and the Broadway stage. With a career reaching two decades, Studdard continues to show us why he was crowned the Idol champion.

American Idol was still riding high after their stellar first season introduced us to Kelly Clarkson. When Season 2 premiered, producers knew they needed to keep the momentum of the popular show. They passed with flying colors. The Season 2 premiere brought in over 25 million viewers. The finale brought in over 30 million viewers.

Season 2 of Idol introduced us to Studdard. He was born in Frankfurt, West Germany to American parents. By the age of 3 Studdard was singing at his church. The singer was 24 years old at the time of his Idol audition. The Birmingham, Alabama, native’s rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon In The Sky” was short but sweet. Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson sent Studdard through to Hollywood with three yeses.

Throughout the competition the audience fell in love with Studdard. His performances of hit songs such as “A Whole New World,” “Music Of My Heart,” and “Imagine” earned the singer the nickname the Velvet Teddy Bear. 

Studdard garnered rave reviews from legends such as Patti Labelle, Luther Vandross, and Lionel Richie. After finding himself in the Bottom 2 during the Top 5 episode, Studdard fought his way back to be crowned the American Idol champion. 


Ruben Studdard’s ‘American Idol’ Win

The crooner’s win did not come without backlash. The final vote had been controversial due to the smallness of the margin. Ryan Seacrest also mistakenly announced the difference in vote count first as 13,000, then 1,335, but eventually revealed later the count to be around 130,000. That small margin win was against the popular Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken. 

More than 150 million votes were dropped because of the overuse of phone systems. The show was so popular that the communication industry investigated how to handle such events in the future. 

Studdard’s first single, a cover of Westlife’s “Flying Without Wings” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number two. The single “Sorry 2004” reached number nine of the same chart. He earned a Grammy nomination for his cover of Luther Vandross’s “Superstar.” Studdard was nominated in the same category as his idol that year. 

The singer returned to his gospel roots for his second album. I Need An Angel sold over 500,000 copies. Studdard really did need an angel during this time of his career. He faced a public battle with his godfather and business advisor Ronald Edwards. The Idol champion sued Edwards after realizing $90,000 from his checking account was stolen. Studdard also accused Edwards of racking up his credit card bills close to $160,000. 

Studdard was awarded $500,000 for personal losses and another $1.5 million in punitive damages. The singer did not let betrayal or obstacles slow down his hot career.


The Return of Ruben Studdard

In 2006 Studdard released his album The Return. The project struggled to have any fanfare. Another obstacle awaited the singer. Studdard was dropped from J Records because of The Return’s lack of commercial success. The singer stayed under contract with 19 Recordings. He returned to American Idol after being hired to sing Idol’s updated farewell song during Season 7.

Studdard performed “Celebrate Me Home” live on the two-night grand finale of American Idol’s seventh season

The mid 2000’s saw Studdard appear in local theater projects and smaller tours. He also continued making his mark in the world of gospel. In the summer of 2010, Studdard told Ryan Seacrest that he would be touring with Clay Aiken. The two unlikely friends embarked on their Timeless tour, hitting cities across the country and in Canada.

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 comedy bits.

The singer released his fifth studio album Letters from Birmingham. This was Studdard’s first album on his new record label, Shanachie Entertainment. Critics applauded Studdard’s single “Do It Right.” His time on the label did not last long.

The ‘Idol’ Champion’s Next Chapter

Fans became reacquainted with Studdard when the singer joined the fifteenth season of The Biggest Loser. The Velvet Teddy Bear was a fierce competitor but ultimately was eliminated. During the show finale Studdard revealed his 100+ pound weight loss. He also performed his single “Meant To Be” from his sixth album Unconditional Love.

In 2015 Studdard received an honorary Master of Arts degree from his alma mater of Alabama A&M University, where he received a bachelor degree in Vocal Studies.

Studdard granted his fan’s wishes and released an album filled with cover songs from his idol Luther Vandross’s music catalog. He had long been compared to the icon and released Ruben Sings Luther. He also launched the Always & Forever national tour. This past Valentine’s day the singer put on a show singing Vandross’s love songs.

The singer reunited with Aiken. He made his Broadway debut with Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show. The Christmas spectacle opened at the Imperial Theater. A portion of the ticket sales went to the National Inclusion Project.

The singer also created The Ruben Studdard Foundation for the Advancement of Children in the Music Arts. The foundation’s mission aims 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 is following in his parent’s educational footsteps. It was announced that he will be teaching a series of master classes for The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s music department.

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