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Ruben Studdard loses out on 'Biggest Loser,' wins big with new album and tours

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So maybe he’s not the The Biggest Loser, Ruben Studdard having just been eliminated on NBC’s reality show/weight loss contest.

But the 2003 American Idol winner was munching on a healthy salad at lunch the other day as he discussed his upcoming Christmas and spring tours, and his new album, Unconditional Love, due from Verve Records on Feb. 4.

But first, back to The Biggest Loser.

“Honestly, it was funner than I expected,” said Studdard, who weighed in at the start of the show at 462 pounds, and had lost 112 by the time he left.

“I ended up loving all the people on the show,” he said. “But I generally love everybody. I’m a nice guy anyway, and it’s hard not to be myself around people.”

For sure, Studdard is as friendly as he is still big. Then again, he was an offensive tackle, both at Huffman High School in Birmingham—where fellow attendees Marcell Darius and Andre Smith are now NFL linemen (in the Bills and Bengals, respectively)--and at Alabama A&M University.

“I was good at it,” Studdard said of his own play. “If I weren’t as serious about music, though, I’d have been more into sports.”

But it was actually his athleticism that gave way to his admitted overeating.

“I ate whatever I wanted to!” he said. “The bottom line is, you can walk around all day and feel healthy, and still do unhealthy things. I’m a big guy, and I never felt tired or anything. Then I got to the show and had all these damn tests and found out I was sick!”

The experience proved “a great eye-opener for me,” he continued. “At first I was apprehensive: You need to be really transparent and stand up in front of people with your shirt off, which means you have to be comfortable about yourself and overcome a lot of pride—which can be frightening to a lot of people, especially men!”

Doing the show also meant a five-month commitment, which required Studdard to check in with his accountant to make sure he could cover his bills during the four months he’d be off the road. He also had to satisfy his record company obligations.

“I guess it was divine intervention!” he decided. “I wasn’t keen on the idea when the show called and asked me to do it, and I tried to find a way to get out of it. But my road manager said we could get out of the shows that we’d scheduled, and if something is destined, there’s nothing you can do to stop it!”

Yet now that he’s off the show, it’s still a challenge to find the time to take care of all the aspects of his career.

“I got out of bed today, worked out, did the Tom Joyner Morning Show, and I have meetings with the record company this afternoon,” he said. “My schedule’s never going to be empty!”

Nope, not with The Colors Of Christmas 2013 tour starting up Saturday night (Dec. 14) at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center in Cerritos, Calif. The eight-date tour with Peabo Bryson, Melissa Manchester and CeCe Winans ends at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Dec. 22.

“They’re people I’ve been fans of forever,” Studdard said of his tour mates. “Peabo Bryson is an amazing singer, and everybody loves Melissa Manchester! We sang CeCe and BeBe Winans’ music in church as kids, so it’s really a ‘full circle’ moment for me.”

Noting that he’s working on a Christmas album for next year, Studdard observed that since his previous albums had been released in the fourth quarter, he’d never done a Christmas tour, as he’d always been out promoting his then new albums during the holiday season. As for Unconditional Love, he feels it’s “the record I should have made after I won American Idol.”

"I was so young, and it’s hard for anybody to tell you at 23 that you’re the next Luther Vandross!” said Studdard. “Even though I’m probably his biggest fan, I didn’t want to be my mother’s favorite singer!”

Studdard understands, of course, that although he didn’t do it intentionally, many people voted for him because he “invoked Luther.”

“There was that disconnect,” he said. “People who could afford to buy albums knew who he was.”

But Clive Davis, whose J Records label released Studdard's first albums, thought he needed “more edge.”

“He wanted to hear me young, and I don’t blame him. And I sold a lot of records in the beginning, because people loved me.”

Now Studdard looks to “give people what they want,” and to this end is working directly with Verve chairman David Foster.

“We’ve worked together the past five years,” said Studdard, who’s toured with Foster’s David Foster & Friends show.

“Every time I got on stage he’d say, ‘I’ve got to make an album with you!’ But he’s always doing some large project—Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Mary J. Blige’s Christmas album, and there just wasn’t time before he took over at Verve.”

Foster co-wrote Unconditional Love’s first single “Meant To Be”—one of two original tunes. He is also one of several producers on the disc, which also includes such romantic fare as Paul McCartney’s “My Love,” The Carpenters “Close To You" (featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica), Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Teddy Pendergrass’ “Close The Door” (produced by Eric Benet along with Boz Scaggs’ “Look What You’ve Done To Me”) and the Syreeta Wright-Billy Preston duet “With You I’m Born Again,” here sung with Lalah Hathaway.

“Great things happen when you surround yourself with great people,” reflected Studdard, “and David’s most definitely a great person.”

The end result--is first studio album in two years--is “not a comeback," he added, "but a putback.”

“There are valleys in every artist’s career,” Studdard explained. “Luther, Sinatra, Miles—even Duke Ellington experienced a long slump. And I know people say this all the time when they put out albums, but I’m really excited about this one—and I actually mean it!”

Finishing his salad, he concluded: “The older I get, the more honest and transparent I am about the way I feel about things, and I’ve never felt this strongly about anything I’ve done in my career. It’s not just about selling records, but actually getting people to start recognizing the gift God gave me.”

And as for Studdard’s major spring tour, he’ll by joined by Lalah Hathaway, who is the daughter of the late Donny Hathaway, gone since 1979.

“He influenced so many of us, and nobody knows that because he’s not here,” Studdard concluded. "But his voice is so timely.”

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