by Michael P. Coleman

“I‘m Now In The Lane I‘m Supposed To Be In.“:  Ruben Studdard Releases his STUNNING Unconditional Love Album & Talks EXCLUSIVELY with THE HUB!

Early on, Ruben Studdard unintentionally teased the promise of being the new Luther Vandross – and after Luther’s untimely death in 2003, R & B and pop music fans desperately needed one.

While Luther’s influence is clear, Ruben has found his own voice, ironically, on an album comprised primarily of covers, Unconditional Love.  It’s a career-defining collection, and Studdard himself states it is “the record I should have made after I won “American Idol.”

Unconditional Love marries Studdard’s stunning vocals with timeless classics including Teddy Pendergrass’s “Close The Door”, Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, The Carpenters’s “Close To You”, and Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”.  Ruben completely reimagines the latter, displaying a gift for reinterpretation that Vandross also shared.  The new album also includes new compositions that are destined to be classics, including the first single, “Meant To Be”.

Studdard graciously sat down with The Hub recently to talk about the new collection and his upcoming tour.  While we were at at, he talked about his friendship with fellow American Idol alumnus Clay Aiken, his faith, his 100+ pound weight loss, working with legends like Peabo Bryson and CeCe Winans, and the role parents need to play in our community.  He also talked about his upcoming Christmas album, and why we WON’T be including Donny Hathaway’s classic “This Christmas” on it!  I found him to be articulate, thoughtful, and refreshingly authentic.

Hub: Let’s start with the new album: Unconditional Love is an excellent collection.  Congratulations.

Studdard: Thank you very much.  I’ve had this music in me for some time now, and I’m excited that I finally get to release the music that I’ve wanted to put out, and especially to work with [producer and Verve label head] David Foster.  It’s an amazing opportunity.

Hub: You said you’ve always wanted to put this music out.  You’ve called this new album the one that your fans have been waiting for.  What took you so long?

Studdard: I think one of our missed opportunities at the beginning of my career was not really paying full, close attention to what the fans were saying.  My very first single was a remake of Luther Vandross’s “Superstar”.  In hindsight, we should have kept coming back with that.  Also, as a young artist, I didn’t want to be characterized as someone who sung cover songs, so it wasn’t just the record company.  As artists, we have to learn that it’s a consumer-based industry, and if you don’t give the consumer what they want, someone else will!  [Laughs]  With this new album, everything has come together in the right space and at the right time.  I’m now in the lane I’m supposed to be in, and the audience has a clear idea of who I am as an artist, going forward.

Hub: How involved were you with the choice of songs and production of the album?

Studdard: I was very involved.  The amazing thing is that David and I chose these songs while I was sequestered [on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser”].  I really couldn’t talk to him.  We picked these songs via snail mail, writing each other letters every week with potential titles.  When I left the ranch, I went into the studio to begin working on the songs, figuring out which ones worked with my voice.

Hub: I want to ask you about a couple of those songs.  When I heard your version of “The Nearness Of You”, I couldn’t quite figure out who your influence was. I was several listens in before I realized it was Marvin Gaye. (Click here to check out our review of Ruben’s new album)

Studdard: It really was a coincidence, because I’m always listening to Marvin, but that day I was just in the car.  I don’t know whether your readers will be familiar with Marvin’s Vulnerable album, but I was listening to that one and I Want You, back-to-back, as I was riding around Los Angeles.  Later that day, I asked the producer whether we could approach the song like Marvin would, and that’s what came out of that session.

Hub: Your version of Teddy Pendergrass’s “Close The Door” is the only cover of that song that made me feel it like Teddy’s did.  I won’t elaborate, as this is a family magazine…

Studdard: [Laughs] That was the only song that I was afraid to do!  Some songs have such a stamp on them by the original artist…and I have to be honest:  I tried very hard NOT to do that one.  Jaymes Foster, who’s in A & R at Verve, begged and pleaded for me to do it, and I finally relented.  I also got a chance to work with Eric Benet on it.  It was fun to sing it.  I just approached it like I was performing live, instead of recording it in the studio.  It turned out great.

Hub: You covered The Carpenters’ “(They Long To Be) Close To You”.  As you mentioned, Luther Vandross blazed that Carpenters trail long before you, beginning with “Superstar”.  What led you to cover The Carpenters?

Studdard: I’ve always been a fan of Burt Bacharach’s writing, and that’s always been one of my favorite songs, even in the cheesy way that The Carpenters approached it!  I see the brilliance in the song.  I’d also heard a cover of that song by Ronald Isley, and I decided I had to do it for my album.

Hub: I know Donny Hathaway was an influence of yours, and you got to work with his daughter Lalah on “If This World Were Mine.”   What was working with her like?  Originally, the two of you were going to cover Billy Preston & Syreeta’s “With You I’m Born Again”.  What happened to that cut?

Studdard: It just didn’t turn out as well as we thought it would.  Lalah’s great.  She’s every singer’s favorite singer, so to work with her was a good, good time.

Hub: Your version of Michael Buble’s “Home” is phenomenal!  And you ended the album with an almost unrecognizable version of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”.  You’ve said about Luther Vandross “He had a brilliant ways of caressing a song and making people actually forget someone else every sang it.  I hope one day that people will respond to me in the way they responded to him.”  I think that day’s today.

Studdard: Wow.  Thank you so much!  First of all, I have to give a special shout-out to my longtime friend John Jackson who produced a lot of the songs you’re asking about.  He’s an amazing producer, and one of the most underrated people in the business.  He’s going to be one of the greats, and David Foster respects him in that way, too.  I’m looking forward to working more with him.

Hub: Speaking of collaborators, you worked with Peabo Bryson & CeCe Winans last year on the Colors Of Christmas tour.  After one of your San Francisco shows, Peabo told me that you were the next generation, one of the great vocalists on the scene today, and that you could deliver both onstage and in the recording studio.  What’s it like to be heralded by a performer of the stature of Peabo Bryson?

Studdard: It’s an amazing feeling, especially when Peabo is such a respected artist in his own right.  I’ve been a fan of his for years, and actually sang one of his songs [“If Ever You’re In My Arms Again”] on American Idol!  I always benefit from being on the road with established artists – it’s like going to school!  I definitely learned a lot from being around and working with Peabo.

Hub: During the Colors of Christmas show, you talked about wanting to be a part gospel music’s first family, the Winans, when you were growing up.  What was meeting and working with CeCe Winans like?

Studdard: It was really cool.  Me and my cousin used to do whole concerts singing BeBe & CeCe Winans, so just to be on stage with her was a dream come true.  We were huge Winans fans!  Even though I’m really good friends with Marvin’s son Coconut, I had never met or worked with his aunt.  It was cool to learn from her, and to see that she lives the life she sings about for sure!  She’s one or the most loving, caring, considerate people that I’ve ever met.

Hub: Have you considered doing Colors Of Christmas again?

Studdard: I am thinking about doing it again this year, and I’m also working on my first Christmas album.  It’ll be out this year.

Hub: Have you chosen the songs?  Are you including Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”?

Studdard: I think the world has had enough of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”!  I think brother Donny’s song has been covered enough, so I’ll pass on that one [laughs].

Hub: I want to ask you about another artist and friend of yours, Clay Aiken.  The camaraderie between the two of you has always been clear.  He’s running for Congress now. Talk to me about your friendship with him.

Studdard: Clay and I have been friends for 11 years now, and I’m extremely excited and proud of him as he aspires to join Congress.  I hope that Congress would have the great fortune to have someone as passionate as he is to represented the state of North Carolina.  I know I kind of sound like a political ad, but that’s how I feel.  I’ve always known him to be very passionate about the things he believes in, especially special needs kids.  I’ve seen him raise millions of dollars for his foundation.  And our friendship has been cool because Clay and I were not the most obvious two people to wind up in the finals at American Idol, if you look at how we looked and where we came from.   Clay will always remember where he came from.

Hub: Clay did something that I thought then and continue to think was very brave, and that was coming out as a gay man in the public eye.  You’ve been quite open from the beginning about your faith and your upbringing in the Christian church.  Did you get any push back, from fans or people in the industry, about being so outspoken about your friendship with Clay?

Studdard: Well, I haven’t gotten any pushback about that, maybe because I’m such a big guy [laughs], but him being gay doesn’t bother me.  As a Christian, I think it’s important that we love people who are different than I am.  I think that the sad thing about people that are faith-based has been our ability to not be judgmental.  I think that God looks beyond our faults and sees our needs, and I think that we should do that as well, with everybody.

Hub: Speaking of you being a big guy — you’re not so big anymore!  Congratulations on the work that you began on “The Biggest Loser”.  I understand that you’ve lost over 120 pounds.

Studdard: Thanks, man.  I’ve been working hard, trying to stay active and keep this weight off.  It’s going great.  I’ve been able to keep all of it off so far, and trying to lose more.

Hub: You learned that you were a Type 2 diabetic while on the show.  How are you managing that?

Studdard: I have it under control now.  My doctor says I still have to say I’m diabetic, so I will say that but I have it under control now through diet and exercise.

Hub: Where do you want to be in 5-10 years?

Studdard: Hopefully, I’ll be at a place in my career where people are packing arenas to see me!  I just hope that I’m still able to do this job that I love.  So many people come in and out of the industry in just a few year’s time, you know.  I hope that in ten years, you’ll still be wanting to call and have an interview with me…that’s just the truth.  Time is filled with sweet transitions, my brother.

Hub: You seem to be a humble, normal guy in an industry that can seem kind of crazy.  How have you maintained your normalcy?

Studdard: I don’t know, brother!  I have to be honest…people ask me that a lot, and sometimes it’s hard to answer because I don’t know any other way to be!  I try to stay grounded, I try to keep the same group of friends around me that I’ve always had.  And then, my momma don’t play, you know?

Hub: Speaking of your mom, talk about a quote that I’ve found that’s attributed to your mom:  “Preparation determines your destination.”

Studdard: She taught me to be on time, to work hard, to prepare.  All of those lessons helped prepare me for what’s happened in my life and career.  I mean, I feel like I’ve prepared myself for the job I have, and I’m prepared to sing not just R & B, but whatever in music I want to do.  My mother’s diligence and my father’s hard work prepared me for my future.  I would implore parents – not the kids, because it’s not their responsibility – but the PARENTS to guide their children’s trajectory.  It took becoming an adult before I realized what a good parental system I had.  Not everyone has that.  I just thank my mom for being willing to sacrifice her time and energy to make sure that I became a productive citizen.  My mother and father are the reasons I’m here, because they made sure I was prepared.

Hub: You’re touring in support of the new Unconditional Love album.  Are you planning any west coast dates?

Studdard: Hopefully, we’ll be out west soon.  I think we have a couple of more dates coming up that we’ll put on the books soon.  Keep an eye on my website,!

While you wait for those west coast dates to be announced, pick up a copy of Studdard‘s Unconditional Love at retail, iTunes, or Amazon.

Michael P. Coleman longs to be close to you.  Connect with him at, via email at, or on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP

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