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'Masked Singer' contestant, 'American Idol' winner Ruben Studdard talks life after sudden fame

Scripps News caught up with "American Idol" Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard in Birmingham, Alabama, where he's gotten married and started a family.
Ruben Studdard
Posted at 6:18 PM, May 17, 2024

It's been 22 years since "American Idol" introduced the world to unknown singers who would become household names, like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson — and a former college football player affectionately dubbed the Velvet Teddy Bear.

Proudly repping his hometown then and now, Scripps News caught up with "American Idol" Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard in Birmingham, Alabama, where he's gotten married and started a family.

"You know, it's good to travel and it's good to understand different cultures and different places of living. But there is no place, as Dorothy says, like home," he told Scripps News.

While his journey after the show has taken him to world tours, a platinum selling album, Broadway and back, Studdard says he still remembers those "Idol" days fondly.

"If you can understand a child at 3 years old having an understanding of seeing or hearing people on the radio and saying that's what he wants to do — that was me. And it took 21 years after that realization for it to come to life, so to speak," he reflected.

"I thank the people at 'American Idol' for giving me the opportunity to do something that, you know, other record companies passed on," he continued.

He says he left the show with a wealth of knowledge.

"I tell people that 'American Idol' is the best music college outside of a university you'll ever get. Because you go there and there's Stevie Wonder's musical director," he said.

A lot has changed since Studdard won the show. Recent winners haven't enjoyed the success or the staying power of those first big names.

SCRIPPS NEWS' AMBER STRONG: Have we lost a step since that first 10 years, that first generation?

RUBEN STUDDARD: Well, I think that everybody has taken a page from their playbook. I mean, you have "The Voice," you have, all these other shows that are competing with "American Idol." and that's fine too. I tell people that any place where young people can get an opportunity to express their talent and be noticed for it, I'm all for it," he said.

For Studdard, "Idol" wasn't just about boosting his singing career.

He also forged meaningful relationships – including one with an onstage rival, turned real-life friend.

STRONG: I watched this interview with Clay (Aiken) and he said Ruben has been a faithful friend for 20 years. What does faithful friendship look like?

STUDDARD: Faithful friendship looks like just showing up for each other. I don't think that with any friendship you are going to agree about everything. And Clay and I definitely have our share of disagreements, you know, and have had them over the past 20 years. But I think that you know, whenever there's a need for something, as a friend, you show up. And that's what we've been able to do for each other.

He also says that's true of the entire Season 2 cast, who still keep in touch.

Aiken and Studdard have connected quite a bit over the years, like a recent tour together, or a stint on this season's hit show "The Masked Singer," wowing as the Beets.

"It's like, you know, being yourself but not, " he said of the show.

"You know, being able to act, so to speak. And they encourage it. You know, they encourage you to like you know, kind of like throw people off a bit. So it was a good time," he said.

Now Studdard is working on a new challenge: New music.

He says his latest album, "The Way I Remember It," pays homage to his first albums. The hit single "Masterpiece," a tribute to his wife, has made its way into the top 20 on the Billboard Charts.

Just like the longevity of his older hits, Ruben says some things never change — like trips to his childhood church, where he grew up singing. That was his first big stage — where the support was abundant.

"Every opportunity there was for me to sing, perform, do anything where I was in front of a mic, I did it here first," he said on a visit to the church.

And no trip through the old neighborhood is complete without saying hello to a few fans who stopped him ahead of our interview.

STRONG: Is that normal when you come here?

STUDDARD: Listen, the people in this community I am connected to unlike I am connected to people anywhere else.

That means pouring into that community, through his foundation, supporting the next generation of Alabama's musicians and artists, showing them the many paths to success.

"There are numerous things that people can do in entertainment and in music that don't involve being at the microphone. So I try to introduce our young people to those jobs and bring people here that can give them real life, a real life understanding of what they do in the music and entertainment industry," he said.