Winner of "American Idol" Season 2 Ruben Studdard has a new album out. In fact, the big guy -- who recently appeared on NBC's "The Biggest Loser" and dropped 112 pounds -- released his sixth collection of studio material on Feb. 4. Unconditional Love officially bowed into the Billboard 200 on Feb. 13 at No. 46, 27 places higher than his previous recording, Letters From Birmingham. All in all, things seem to be looking up for Studdard a decade into his career.
Studdard admitted to The Hollywood Reporter Feb. 13 that the new album was constructed via an interesting process. Unconditional Love is a set of classic R&B love songs with two originals from Studdard himself. Working with famed producer David Foster, who co-wrote the album's first single, "Meant To Be," on his new label, Verve (where Foster is chairman), Studdard said that the album's song list mostly came about while he was on "The Biggest Loser." He knew Foster from having done numerous shows with the Grammy-winner but it wasn't until Foster became the head at Verve when things came together for them to make an album together. Unable to have regular contact with the outside world during his stay n the show, he communicated with Foster through snail mail, where Foster would suggest songs, eventually coming up with about 30 tunes for a potential album.
The album ended up containing 11 songs (13 on the Deluxe Edition available at iTunes) and includes R&B standards from the likes of Donny Hathaway and Teddy Pendergrass.
Unconditional Love's debut in the Billboard 200 at No. 46 is a direct about-face from his last outing. Letters From Birmingham debuted at No. 73, becoming not only his worst charting album but his worst selling as well, moving only 22,000 copies to date (per HITS Daily Double). It was his fifth album since being crowned winner of "American Idol" in 2003. But his career seemed to be going in the opposite direction he wanted.
Ruben Studdard's first album, Soulful, not only debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, it went on to sell nearly 1.8 million copies. His second album, 2004's I Need An Angel, although certified gold, has yet to reach the 500,000 sales plateau. In 2006, he released The Return, which only sold half as many as his sophomore set. After signing with a new label, he released Love Is in 2009, album that barely cleared 50,000 in sales.
Meanwhile, he found love, married, and divorced between 2006 and 2012. It is a correlation -- personal commitments and problems impacting a promising music career -- that many like to make.
He told Billboard in an interview this week that he'd lost weight in 2008 but he had done that for other people. "This time it's for me," he said. "I was fighting so hard to figure out how to get on top musically that I neglected to take care of myself. It was unfortunate, but the truth. And now I'm finding a way to fix that balance."
He also noted that doing the hit reality weight-loss show "The Biggest Loser" made him take a look at his life. He told The Hollywood Reporter he weighed 462 pounds going in and shed 112 while there, but it was the reality check -- where they forced him to confront the unhealthiness of his weight -- that made him commit. "Not that I had any body image issues," he said, "because I've always loved Ruben Studdard, but it wasn’t healthy. To allow yourself to get to a place where you could possibly leave the earth over something you can control is really stupid and so I'm glad that they gave me the opportunity to change my thinking. Hopefully I'll be strong enough to keep going in the way that I'm going."
When asked about the new "American Idol," which is now in its thirteenth season, Studdard admitted to seeing a few audition clips on YouTube and thinks the show has found some "really good people." He added, "But I have seen all these people that are on the billboards all over Los Angeles, these random cute people. They couldn't find regular looking people to put on the billboards? They found all the cute people in the auditions to put on the billboards. Ain't that a miracle?!"
Ruben Studdard has good reason to laugh. It was his laid-back, good-natured, teddy-bearish good looks (remember the nickname, the Velvet Teddy Bear?) that helped him get the "Idol" title in Season 2.
Studdard, besides promoting his new album on various talk shows and in interviews, is working on a album of holiday songs with David Foster.