Ruben Studdard Tells What Happens The Day After 'Idol'

Mar 9, 2014
Originally published on March 9, 2014 11:00 am



Ruben Studdard became a national superstar when he won "American Idol."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: After 24 million votes, the winner of American Idol 2003 is Ruben Studdard.


MARTIN: Ten seasons of "Idol" have gone by since that win. But Ruben Studdard remains one of the show's biggest-selling stars. His new album is his sixth studio release. It's a collection of classic love songs with a few originals mixed in for good measure. It is called "Unconditional Love."

When I spoke with Ruben recently, he explained how he approaches covering such well-known, well-loved songs.

RUBEN STUDDARD: People are used to hearing particular songs of certain way. And so, to put a new and fresh take on classics is something that I think distinguishes the greats from the OKs.

MARTIN: So I want to get into the music...


MARTIN: ...and play a little bit of this. This is a cover of Hoagy Carmichael's classic, "The Nearness Of You."


STUDDARD: (Singing) The pale moon that excites me, that thrills and delights me. Oh no, baby. Yeah, it's just the nearness of you...

MARTIN: Your version, it's your own style here.

STUDDARD: Well, I have to give a hand to Marvin Gaye. So the day that I was about to record this song, I was listening to his album "Vulnerable" all day. And I was thinking to myself, how would Marvin approach this song. And this is what came out of it.


STUDDARD: (Singing) When I'm near your arms, I feel used so close to me. And my wildest dreams, they come true. Yes, they do...

MARTIN: Would you mind if I ask you a little bit about "Idol," of that experience?

STUDDARD: Sure, of course.

MARTIN: It had to have been surreal in that moment you're standing on a stage with the other finalists, Clay Aiken, and they announce that you're the winner and all the hoopla. Did you ever think to yourself, I'm not quite sure I knew what I signed up for your here?

STUDDARD: I didn't know it would be as big as it was. I knew that I wanted to be a professional musician. I've never wanted to have any other job as long as I can remember. And so, I just didn't think that God would give it to me like that.


STUDDARD: Like, you know, it used to be people say be careful what you pray for, because you might get a gallon of water instead of just a glass. And I really did get the gallon.

MARTIN: And those first few years, trying to figure out who you were and what your sound was? Was that a lot of pressure on you to be a certain thing? Or did you have more control?

STUDDARD: There wasn't very much pressure to try to figure out who I was. I think there was just a lot of pressure trying to figure out where I fit in. The one thing about "American Idol" is that it puts you at such a high level, that you feel as if everything you do has to be at that level forever. We start so high. You know, most artists have an opportunity to kind of be developed and work their way through having a failed album and all that...

MARTIN: Fail privately.

STUDDARD: Yeah. Yeah, we don't get that.

MARTIN: Let's get back into some of these love songs.


MARTIN: There's a duet on here I want to talk about. This is with Donny Hathaway's daughter, Lalah Hathaway, and it's called "If This World Were Mine." Let's take a listen and talk on the other side.


RUBEN STUDDARD AND LALAH HATHAWAY: (Singing) With here in my arms might be so wonderful, my love. Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, give me pretty loving, baby. Give me pretty loving, honey. Keep on loving me, baby...

MARTIN: This must have been fun for you because I understand the Donny Hathaway was an idol of yours.

STUDDARD: Donny Hathaway was definitely an idol of mine. It is an idol of mine. And his daughter is, as well. I've never heard anybody sing this good.


STUDDARD: And I told her this the first time I met her. And, you know, I'm actually going on tour with her in April. And I'm really, really excited about it because I've been a fan of hers for so long. And if you ever hear her by herself, you'll be blown away. She's absolutely amazing. She's, you know, most definitely a chip off the old block.


HATHAWAY: (Singing) The world would be yours, baby. Baby, ooh-ooh. It would be yours.

MARTIN: Winning "American Idol" obviously opened up so many doors for you. I wonder if there is a double-edged sword to it. I mean there is criticism of reality singing shows, that they are this shortcut to stardom. I wonder if you've come up against that at all in your career.

HATHAWAY: Well, I think people are pretty afraid to say that to me to my face because I'm such a big guy.


HATHAWAY: But what they'll find is that, you know, the majority of people that audition for these shows have been trying to be a part of the music industry the traditional way for years. You know, that was my story. You know, I started doing everything I could since I was 12 years old to be, you know, to get discovered or, you know, go to X, Y, Z audition, send in demo tapes. And the blessing is that I was prepared for the opportunity when it presented itself.

My mother used to always tell me that preparation determines your destination. And I prepared myself to be ready when that door opened for me.

MARTIN: How do you look back on that time now?

HATHAWAY: It was amazing.


MARTIN: Ruben Studdard, his new album "Unconditional Love." It is out now. Ruben, thanks so much.

HATHAWAY: Thank you for having me.


HATHAWAY: (Singing) Close the door, let me give you what you've been waiting for. Baby, I've got so much love to give and I want to give it all to you...

MARTIN: Our theme music was composed by BJ Leiderman. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.