“We want to give people the opportunity that were fans of Luther’s and people that are fans of mine an opportunity to just experience the good vibes that his music provided to people,” Studdard told the Daily Herald in a recent phone interview.
SARAH HARRIS: What has it been like for you to focus on Luther Vandross’ music?
RUBEN STUDDARD: To be perfectly honest, it’s been greater than I ever expected it to be. At first, when we decided that I would take this project, I didn’t know how people would receive it just because I’m not him. And it’s been a wonderful surprise for me that people have just been enjoying themselves … because what we do is exactly what he did. We basically studied his show and put it back onstage exactly the way he presented it, so we’re giving people the opportunity that never really got a chance to see him perform, see something that they may have wanted to do while he was alive and never got the chance to. So I’m just always excited when people ask us to come out and do this show.
HARRIS: As you’ve been focusing on this Luther Vandross music, is there a song that has stood out to you or is particularly meaningful to you?
STUDDARD: Reason No. 1 that I did this show is because my mother was the actually biggest Luther Vandross fan. So for me, doing this show just reminds me of all the songs I would hear around my house with him as a child. And my mom never missed a Luther Vandross show when he came to Birmingham. So for me, it’s basically just doing all of these songs that are really my mom’s favorite songs. So when you’re hearing this show, you’re basically hearing my mom’s playlist, and it’s just fun for me.
HARRIS: How do you hope that performing Luther Vandross’ music will impact listeners?
STUDDARD: I hope that people, and especially if young singers come to the show, will get an opportunity to experience his music in the way that I did and also inspire other young people like Luther inspired me to dream big because he was no different than I am. We all start with a dream, and then we get an opportunity to live that dream through perseverance and hard work. So hopefully people will see through our professionalism that we work hard and we want to present something that is appealing visually and acoustically and then that some young person in the audience gets inspired to do what I do for a living.
HARRIS: Growing up listening to Luther Vandross and now performing his music, how has he influenced you as an artist?
STUDDARD: I think that just performing at the highest level and always giving your best is one thing that I always took away from listening to him. And I got an opportunity to see him perform when I was a child, and so just trying to make sure that I always give everybody 110 percent, even when I don’t feel my best. Because just like any singer, we have nights when our voices are tired, when we sometimes don’t feel like it. But you want to make sure that that’s never conveyed to the audience. So when I step onstage, it’s just like anybody else that goes to work, and they have to give their best at every angle. My mother was an educator for 30 years, and I know there were times when she probably didn’t feel like going to her classroom and there were probably the days when she just felt tired and didn’t want to get up and do her job. But she did it every day for 30 years, and for me, that’s an inspiration, and I only have to perform for an hour and a half. So getting the opportunity to do something like I do and give people this feeling of nostalgia has just been a blessing for me.
HARRIS: What has your mom’s reaction been as you’ve been focusing on Luther Vandross’ music lately?
STUDDARD: Oh, she absolutely loves it, and I told her it makes me mad a little bit because I feel like she likes it more than my original stuff. But it’s fine. I’m happy that I’m doing these things that make my mom and dad proud, that my grandfather, who passed away last year at 100 years old, was able to see me reach the highest levels of music. And for me, I know how hard they worked to make sure that all of us were able to do what we love to do, but not what we have to do. And so I’m just excited every time I get a chance to go onstage to make them proud and to continue doing the music justice.
HARRIS: You recently reunited with your “American Idol” competitor Clay Aiken for “Ruben and Clay’s Christmas Show,” which was your Broadway debut. What was it like for you to work together on that production?
STUDDARD: Clay’s my brother, and I say that often because the two most unlikely individuals became the closest of friends. And for me, it was really just like going to work every day with your family member. It was a lot of work, for sure. Doing eight shows a week is not something to shake your foot at. You have to really be committed to your craft. But I enjoyed every minute of it and just getting a chance to be away from Alabama and live in New York for three months was amazing, and hopefully that’s something that we can do every holiday season.
HARRIS: It’s now been 16 years since you won “American Idol.” Looking back, how has your “American Idol” experience influenced you, both as a singer and in general?
STUDDARD: The “American Idol” experience for me opened my eyes to how big the world was because you only perform for about 1,000 people a night. And for me, that was a lot of people at the time because of course as an amateur singer, you maybe perform for 200 or 300 people when you’re doing your show in your hometown, and in that room, it’s about 500 people. But what you understand very quickly is that the world is very big and everybody is paying attention when it’s all television, and so for me, getting the opportunity to just open my eyes to the possibilities of what could be. And so for me, I thank them all the time just for giving me a chance to live my dream and live it in a way that I had dreamed about. If God’s plan for me would have been just to be a local performer and educating kids about music, that would’ve been great, but I’m just so thankful that Fox and “American Idol” gave me the chance to live my dreams.