Ruben Studdard Christopher Ruben Studdard (1978- ) is an American singer and actor raised in Birmingham, Jefferson County, who is best known for winning season two of American Idol. Nicknamed the “Velvet Teddy Bear” on the show for his smooth, soulful voice and large stature, he quickly became a fan favorite, winning the talent competition in May 2003. He earned a Grammy Award nomination that year for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for the Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett song “Superstar.” He has since released various rhythm and blues (R&B), pop, and gospel albums, one of which went platinum and another gold. Fellow Birmingham native Taylor Hicks won season five of American Idol in 2006.
Studdard was born on September 12, 1978, to parents Kevin and Emily Studdard, in Frankfurt, West Germany, where his father was stationed while serving in the U.S. Army. His parents later worked as teachers; he was the youngest of several siblings. The family returned to the United States when he was quite young, and he grew up in Birmingham, maintaining strong connections to the city. Studdard began his singing career at the age of three performing solos at the Rising Star Baptist Church in Birmingham. He continued performing and played football while attending Huffman High School. He was awarded an athletic scholarship to attend Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, Madison County, but focused on the performing arts and earned a degree in voice studies, graduating in 2000. He continued singing after college, performing with the Birmingham-based jazz and R&B band, Just a Few Cats.
Hoping to gain the recording contract offered to winners of the American Idol talent competition, Ruben accompanied another band member to Nashville, Tennessee, to audition for the show in 2002. Studdard made it through the first auditions, performing “Ribbon in the Sky” by Stevie Wonder, and advanced into the televised rounds. During the competition, Studdard impressed judges Lionel Richie, Luther Vandross, and Gladys Knight with his smooth vocals and quiet confidence. He won the May 21, 2003, finale after performing the song “Flying Without Wings.”
Studdard released his first album, Soulful, in 2003 under the J Records label as an outcome of his Idol win. The album sold one million copies before it was released into stores and was certified platinum. Studdard earned a Grammy Award nomination in 2003 for best R&B male vocal performance of “Superstar” and the NAACP best new artist award in 2004. He released a second album in 2004 titled I Need an Angel, which reached gold status, selling 500,000 copies, and hit number one on the gospel charts. His third album for J Records, The Return, received mixed reviews and did not sell as well as his previous efforts, and he was dropped from the label. As of 2021, Studdard has released seven R&B, pop, gospel, and soul albums. He married Surata Zuri McCants in Mountain Brook in 2008; the couple divorced in 2012.
In 2009, Studdard starred as pianist and composer Thomas “Fats” Waller in the 30th anniversary revival touring show about his life, Ain’t Misbehavin’. An accompanying album received a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theatre Album. Studdard has also appeared on several sitcoms, including One on One, 8 Simple Rules, and Eve and on numerous talk shows as himself. Studdard received more notice when he was cast in the weight-loss competition show The Biggest Loser in 2013 and lost 119 pounds in total. He performed along with fellow American Idol contestant Clay Aiken in Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show, which opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre in December 2018. He created an advocacy program in 2003, the Ruben Studdard Foundation for the Advancement of Children in the Music Arts, to promote music education for Birmingham-area students. Studdard currently resides in Birmingham and continues to perform, sing, and act.