Ruben Studdard faces reality

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 4, 2014 - 6:13 PM

He won on TV’s “American Idol” and lost on “The Biggest Loser.” R&B star Ruben Studdard reflects on a decade of high and low notes.

Ruben Studdard went from the biggest winner to the biggest loser.

No, that’s not a dis. It’s reality. Well, reality TV.

He won “American Idol” in 2003 (sorry Clay Aiken), and last fall he landed on “The Biggest Loser,” dropping 119 pounds but, alas, not making it to the finals in February.

So which of those TV shows was more important in his life?

“I most definitely have to say ‘American Idol,’ ” said Studdard, who performs Sunday through Tuesday at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. “There would have come a time in my life when I would have had to deal with my health issues whether I was on a sickbed or passed out somewhere. I thank God that wasn’t the case. I think ‘American Idol’ was so important to me because it helped me have faith in the impossible.”

Losing all that weight — he was 462 pounds when he jumped on the scales for “Biggest Loser” last October — has enabled him to make it through the offstage tasks.

“The weight loss most definitely gives me the energy to do the things that I have to do both before and after the show,” the 6-foot-3 singer said. “Most people don’t understand that our jobs don’t end after we get off of the stage. There are meet-and-greets and CD signings and things people expect in addition to the performance that I have to do.”

He’ll need the endurance, performing two shows a night at the Dakota with fellow R&B star Lalah Hathaway.

“We’ll do some duets, we’ll do some songs separately, we’ll bring each other off and on the stage,” Studdard said last week from Malaysia, where he was performing with hitmaker David Foster. “I think people will love our voices together.”

Album of love classics

Studdard will focus on material from his new and probably best-reviewed album, “Unconditional Love,” a collection of love songs belonging to his parents’ generation, produced by Foster, the maestro behind Celine Dion and Josh Groban.

But Studdard, 35, claims he knew all the tunes — including Teddy Pendergrass’ “Close the Door,” Paul McCartney’s “My Love” and the Carpenters’ “Close to You” — from records owned by his older brother and parents. The only number he wasn’t familiar with was Neil Diamond’s “Hello Again,” which sounds heavenly with his velvety tenor, compared to Diamond’s froggy baritone.

“My brother always told me when I was a child that I had an old soul,” Studdard explained, “because I was always so fond of music that wasn’t part of my generation.”

The oldest selection is “The Nearness of You,” a standard written by Hoagy Carmichael in 1938.

“I wanted to put a fresh spin on it,” the singer explained. “So I listened to Marvin Gaye the whole day I recorded that song. That arrangement is really based on how I thought Marvin would approach that song.”

The album also includes a Gaye tune, “If This World Were Mine,” which Studdard does as a duet with Hathaway. And there’s a number by her father, Donny Hathaway, “Love, Love, Love.” The 1970s soul star, who died 35 years ago, was one of Studdard’s idols.

“He was the first singer that I heard who merged the sound I grew up with in the church with a more clean, polished popular kind of sound,” said Studdard, whose 2004 album, “I Need an Angel,” was a gospel collection. “The first time I heard him — my father had a greatest hits album — I instantly fell in love with his voice and ever since I’ve had to find anything I could find with his voice on it.

“It’s really surreal to be on tour with his daughter because I feel the same way about her. She put the album out with Joe Sample [1999’s “The Song Lives On”], I think it was my junior year in college, and it really changed my life. I wanted to stretch my music, listening to her.”

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  • ruben studdard & lalah hathaway

    When: 7 & 9 p.m. Sun.-Tue. • Where: Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls. • Tickets: $35-$50. dakotacooks.com or 612-332-5299.

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