(NNPA News Wire) – Ruben Studdard is a love ambassador and a superstar. It’s been a journey. Let him tell you …
It seems like Studdard won American Idol yesterday. But that was 20 years ago. He’s grown as an artist since then. His talent as a vocalist extraordinaire was on view as he toured his Luther Vandross tribute show, Ruben Studdard Sings Luther. A logical extension to his cover album with the same name.
On July 19, Studdard and his band took the stage at Sony Hall in New York City’s Time Square area. His voice rang out from backstage as the band played. Then he walked out, to thunderous applause, looking the same as he’s looked for years, 30ish but now age 45. Very professional, polished and folksy. A showbiz persona he’s honed since boyhood.
Studdard started his career as a boy singing in church and at weddings all over Birmingham, Alabama, as he was trying to break into the music industry. His mom booked his shows and would charge clients $30 for a 2-hour performance. Ruben would show up for the wedding rehearsal, sing his butt off and impress the dads. Then he’d explain that they were only charged for his services during the rehearsal. To add the wedding and reception would actually cost $150. But by then everyone was so impressed with him they gave him the money gladly. When he’d tell his mother what he’d done, she’d scold him, then slyly say, “Get your money baby!” Charming tales like this warmed the audience up and invited them into Studdard’s life.
During the tribute show, Studdard crooned the Brenda Russell written ballad If Only For One Night. With eyes closed and feeling the moment he sang, “Let, me, hold you tight, if only, for one night. Let me keep you near, to ease away, your fear.” The audience was enraptured.
Bringing the pace up he bounced around singing,’Til My Baby Comes Home, Never Too Much and Bad Boy/Having A Party, the festive atmosphere was in every corner of the hall.
The quicker pace got the crowd excited, as they clapped their hands and danced in their seats. That vibrant vibe over-stimulated an audience member who screamed out, “I have to catch my breath!”
Heeding her slow-it-down SOS, Studdard sat and talked. He thanked concertgoers from Alabama for supporting him and coming to his shows. That led him to recollect how his parents would throw parties. The adults played cards, and as the evening came, they shooed the children upstairs, while they stayed downstairs and played music – music that would influence him forever and always.
“Everyone was alive back then. If you got all your people around you, live in the moment and enjoy being around folks you love,” Studdard said.
Then the hits kept coming: So Amazing, Don’t You Know That, Here and Now and Creepin’.
Supported by a guitarist, bassist, drummer, two keyboardists and two backup singers the sound felt rich and filled the venue. The bond between performer and fans grew. Studdard’s version of Superstar has become as iconic as Luther’s, and his rendition was soulful and heartfelt. However, his musicianship went up several notches when he sang A House Is Not a Home. Jazzy, filled with subtle riffs, soft loud then soft again. He wrung the nuances out of the song, and it was at this moment when you felt like Luther was hovering over everyone.
Studdard’s relationship with Vandross has evolved. As a young boy, he didn’t like the singer. Not the voice or the songs, but there was another reason. His mom played Vandross’s music endlessly, leaving her young, naive son to believe that his mother was having an affair with a man named Luther Vandross. At some point that misconception was cleared up, and as Studdard grew up so did his love for all things Vandross.
This night he sang and conjured the spirit of Vandross. He also jokingly took absolutely no responsibility for the setlist.
“My momma did the set list,” he said. “You don’t like it, go to talk to Emily Studdard. She’s the one.”
The audience laughed their approval.
Love, nostalgia and happiness permeated the final song, Power of Love (Love Power). Studdard, aka The Velvet Teddy Bear, left the crowd with the message it needed to hear. One that Luther started, and the former American Idol winner continues as he tours the country.
“When I say goodbye, it is never for long,” he sang. “‘Cause I know our love still lives on … We’ve got love power. It’s the greatest power of them all.”
Sing Ruben, sing!