'Idol' winner Ruben Studdard says show changed music

Posted on Apr 5 2016 - 3:02pm by

The big stage wasn’t supposed to be for the big guy.

Ruben Studdard went to “American Idol” auditions to support a friend. He returned a star.

“I wasn’t really nervous at all because I didn’t have any intention of being in there,” he told the News. “I was there for one of my friends who was singing background so I decided to go with her and decided it would be cool to do.”

He sang Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky.”

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Singer Ruben Studdard will perform on the "Idol" stage again Thursday night when the final winner is crowned.Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Singer Ruben Studdard will perform on the “Idol” stage again Thursday night when the final winner is crowned.

The audition was fast, smooth and easy. There were no snide comments — even from Simon Cowell.

Oddly, the acerbic judge never uttered a mean word to him, “which is surprising because he has something mean to say to everybody,” Studdard said.

Studdard, now 37, reflects on those early days of “American Idol” as he checks into a Los Angeles hotel. Walking across the lobby, people flock to him.

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Contestants from the show’s 15 years are flying in for the three-night send-off. And Studdard, like many of the winners, will perform Thursday night when the final Idol is crowned.

Before his fateful audition, Studdard had long wanted to make it as a singer. He had always sung in the church, but was having a tough time getting anywhere.

“I had been wanting to be in the music industry since I was 11,” Studdard said. “I had done everything you could do traditionally, sending demos to record companies and none of that seemed to work and ‘American Idol’ was just the thing that kind of gave me my opportunity to break that threshold.”

Studdard said "American Idol" changed the music landscape, cranking out more stars than any other show.Michael Loccisano

Studdard said “American Idol” changed the music landscape, cranking out more stars than any other show.

This proud son of Birmingham often wore shirts with “205” on them, the area code for his sweet home, Alabama.

And when Paula Abdul, Cowell and Randy Jackson sent him on his way, life started to change.

But just how much, Studdard could not grasp. When he drove to the Nashville audition from Birmingham, Studdard was working at Books-A-Million, answering customers’ emails. He was a worship leader at church and sang in a jazz band.

Then came “Idol.” During his stint on the show, Studdard met one of his idols, Stevie Wonder. And Gladys Knight dubbed him the “Velvet Teddy Bear.”

The most nerve-wracking part of the process were those endless waits when Ryan Seacrest paused for dramatic effect and the show went to commercials, Studdard said.

Ultimately, he edged out Clay Aiken by 134,000 votes. They remain friends.

It wasn’t until Studdard left Los Angeles and returned home that the enormity of winning hit.

“I guess at that particular time I didn’t know how big it was because we were in a bubble,” Studdard said. “We didn’t get to see fans, working 16-hour days. The whole thing was insulated and when I went home there were 20,000 people outside the mall to see me. I was like, ‘What the hell was this about?’”

Since then, Studdard has toured, released six albums, competed on “The Biggest Loser” and through all of this, used the many lessons he gleaned from “Idol” along the way.

“It taught me hard work,” he said. “Not that I didn’t have that skill set before. It is just different. The music industry is a lot of hurry up and wait and I think ‘American Idol’ prepared us for that in a way no other place could.”

“Idol” changed the music landscape, he said.

“For the 15 years it was around no other show has had that many artists come off of it in a short period of time,” he said.

Studdard didn’t know what song he was performing Thursday night, but that didn’t bother him. He would be ready.

“American Idol” is a phenomenon that’s even bigger than the big guy.

jcutler@nydailynews.com

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american idol ,
ruben studdard

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