They call him "The Velvet Teddy Bear, the loveable, affable singer from Alabama who crooned his way to an "American Idol" championship. But as a new celebrity, Ruben Studdard is discovering there can be some heat under the spotlight, with headlines and concerns about a financial controversy, his health, and his weight. Studdard sat down with NBC’s Al Roker, who knows a thing or two about losing weight, to talk about the perks and the pitfalls of newfound fame.
Two years may have passed since Ruben Studdard won American Idol, but judging from the response he gets on the streets of New York City, it's like he's still wearing the crown.
Life after "American Idol" has been filled with fame, fortune, new opportunities, but there's also been scrutiny about Ruben's weight, his health and his finances. We asked Ruben all about it in the home to the original amateur night, Harlem's famed Apollo Theater.
Al Roker: “What is it about this stage, this theater?”
Ruben Studdard: “Everybody has performed on this stage from Duke Ellington to Dizzy Gillespie to James Brown.”
Roker: “When did you perform on the stage of the Apollo?”
Studdard: “I think it was about a year ago. I performed right here. I was so nervous.”
Roker: “More nervous than during ‘American Idol?’”
Studdard: “More nervous than ‘American Idol.’ I never watched ‘American Idol’ growing up, but I watched Apollo and I’ve seen a lot of people get booed off this stage.”
Roker: “I mean, if you could make it on this stage…”
Studdard: “You could make it anywhere.”
And 26-year-old Ruben is making it. His two CDs have sold more than two million copies worldwide.
Roker: “How's life changed for you?”
Studdard: “Life has changed tremendously. You know, firstly everybody knows who I am now and that's just different in and of itself.”
Roker: “Do you get used to the fame?”
Studdard: “I think you do a little bit. It still kind of blows me to hear myself on the radio.”
But being in the public arena leaves you open to more than just adoring fans. It also leaves you open to wisecracking comedians.
Roker: “Did they ever bother you, like the jokes or anything like that?”
Studdard: “No, that's their job, that's their job to make people laugh And I make jokes on people all the time, so you know that is what it is, man.”
While Ruben may not mind jokes about his 400-plus pound frame, he did try to lose weight publicly. He was featured on a diet and exercise program sponsored by the TV show "Extra," a diet he found hard to maintain with his busy schedule.
Roker: “Do you think in hindsight that it probably wasn't the best thing to do it publicly?”
Studdard: “Well the thing with me was you know, when they came to me with the situation, my only thing was to get in shape, cause I've never had an issue with my weight ever.”
Roker: “You're okay right now- you don't really want to lose weight.”
Studdard: “Uh huh.”
Roker: “You just want to be in shape.”
Roker: “Really? Do you think if you lost weight that would change your persona? You know, people have always said to me, you don't want to lose the weight, you won't be the funny weather man anymore. I'll still be...”
Studdard: ‘I think everyone in the world should want to be the healthiest person they can be, but it's not about you know well I was fat and now I want to be skinny. I like Ruben. I like being big Ruben. That's me. That's who I am.”
Roker: “Did anybody ever come to you and say, oh you’ve got to do like Al Roker did, get a gastric bypass, or Randy Jackson. I mean, that's never crossed your mind?”
Studdard: “No, not at all.”
And as to reports concerning his health and hospitalization last November, Ruben says weight was not a factor.
Studdard: “I had pneumonia man. I went to the doctor and I was like, I just don’t feel well. So he took X-rays of my lungs and stuff.”
Roker: “Did it scare you at all?”
Studdard: “Oh, a little bit.”
Ruben says he's completely recovered. But now he has other problems. He sued his godfather, who was his former manager, claiming he mishandled Ruben's money. His godfather, in a counterclaim, denied any wrongdoing and says Ruben owes him money.
Roker: “Was this one of these things where somebody you trusted…”
Studdard: “Well you know, I can’t really talk about that right now. I mean, it is what it is. In life you go through situations that you don’t feel like you have to go through and you know, I'm dealing with it and it will be dealt with. And that's all I have to say. It will be dealt with.”
Roker: "Is that the danger of achieving so much so fast?"
Studdard: “Well you know my mother always told me as a child everybody is looking out for themselves and you have to make sure that you’re looking out for Ruben, so that's exactly what I’m doing right now, is looking out for Ruben.”
And that means focusing on his career. In January, Ruben performed at President's Bush's Youth Inauguration Concert, and in Febraury, was on BET's celebration of gospel. And then there's his latest CD topping the gospel charts, “I Need an Angel.”
Roker: “Your first album was more rhythm and blues. This new album is gospel. Is that where you're most comfortable?”
Studdard: “I'm most comfortable doing any genre of music. You know, I just felt Aretha Franklin did a gospel album in her first few years of her career and I grew up in a church as well as she did. So you know, it really wasn't a far extension from who we were.”
Even when he was singing in his church in Birmingham, Ala., as a small child, he dreamed of hitting it big.
Studdard: “I’ve actually said my Grammy speech into the playdoh microphone. I've done all that stuff.”
Roker: “So you actually made a microphone out of playdoh.”
Studdard: “I made a microphone out of everything.”
Roker: “Let me hear your Grammy speech.”
Studdard: “I’d like to thank my mom for buying me the playdoh to make this microphone. I’d also like to thank my dad who purchased my first record player so I could practice my New Edition steps.”
Roker: “New Edition steps?”
Studdard: “New Edition, the group New Edition from Boston that was my group, man.”
The performer in Ruben is always there. It's what he enjoys most.
Roker: “Which is better, doing the studio work or performing for an audience?”
Studdard: “Performing for an audience.”
Studdard: “Because I like to hear the girls scream.”
He may prefer a live audience, but right now Ruben's back in the recording studio, working on his next album which will be R&B.
Studdard: “Hopefully we're going to call it the ‘Return of the Velvet Teddy Bear.’ You, know, I’m getting real smooth for the ladies.”
And ladies, he is still single.
Ruben's also interested in bringing music to children. He's started a foundation to support music education in schools in Southern communities, like his own Birmingham.
Roker: “A lot of people in your position would have pulled up stakes and either moved to New York or Hollywood. How come you didn't?”
Studdard: “I just like Alabama, man, and plus it's cheap, you know.”
Roker: “Ruben, come on. Look at the bling on you. I mean, cheap? Come on?”
Studdard: “I mean we have a good time and we still get to keep most of our money in our pockets in Alabama. I love where I'm from and I like being able to go to New York or L.A. and work and then come home.”
Home, where his family and friends are and where Ruben feels most comfortable.
Studdard: “I'm always going to be country, baby. And that's just who I am.”
Ruben's such a homeboy that he seems just as eager for his upcoming 10 year high school reunion, as he does for his next CD.
Studdard: “I’m really looking forward to seeing my old classmates and seeing how everybody is doing.
Roker: “You'll have this nametag. Hello, my name is Ruben, and so nobody really has to walk up and go, say Ruben what have you been up to?”
Studdard: “Well they get to see it all the time…I'm just enjoying all of it . I don’t have any complaints or anything. I am really blessed and I've been given a wonderful opportunity to do the things that I've always wanted to do.”
Ruben Studdard has also been meeting with producers about branching out into acting. Last year he filmed a cameo for the movie "Scooby Doo Two,” and just this week guest-starred on a TV sitcom.