Ruben Studdarrd

Ruben Studdard prepares for a visit to York


Ruben Studdard with cast members from Ain't Misbehavin'(Jeffrey Richards Photo)

Season two American Idol Ruben Studdard is just a little busy these days.

Since November, he has been starring in the 30th anniversary national tour of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” The show stops in York Thursday for a performance at the Strand Capital Performing Arts Center. His co-stars include former Idol contestants Trenyce and Frenchie Davis.

On May 19, two days after the “Ain’t Misbehavin'” tour ends, Ruben’s new album hits stores. Titled “Love Is,” it features the single “Together.” You might remember Ruben performing that song during the Motown Week results show back about a month ago on Idol.

If that isn’t enough to keep a former Idol busy, Ruben has 10 or so appearances scheduled later this year with the “Be Sickle Smart” campaign, designed to raise awareness of sickle cell disease and ways people with the disease can improve their health.

“Love Is” marks Ruben’s fourth album since earning the Idol crown in 2003. His first, “Soulful,” sold nearly 2 million copies. His second, “I Need an Angel” was the best-selling gospel album of 2005. His third, “The Return,” failed to match either of the first two in sales.

Still, Ruben had the honor of singing Idol’s season seven farewell song, “Celebrate Me Home,” and was back on the show performing it during last year’s finals.

“Ain’t Misbehavin'” finds the former Idol in a surprisingly different role, on stage, helping recreate the music Fats Waller made famous in Harlem in the 1930s. As of Friday morning, the April 30 show in York was a near sellout. Here’s a link to more information. A few partially obstructed seats are also being released at a half-price cost of $27.50. Those seats must be ordered by phone or by stopping by the Strand box office.

Meanwhile, Ruben, now 30, took time out during a recent tour stop in Erie, Pa., to answer the following questions for Idol Chatter in a telephone interview.

Ruben Studdard (left) performs a number during Ain't Misbehavin'(Jeffrey Richards Photo)Question: How does the season two winner of American Idol wind up on a national tour of “Ain’t Misbehavin’?”

Ruben: “One of the producers of the show, I guess he was a fan of mine, said he thought that I would be great in the show and had somebody close to me call and ask if I was interested. They talked to my manager, and the rest is history. They came to one of my shows and talked to me about how it would be a perfect fit. I wasn’t expecting to do anything like this at this particular point in my career, but it’s been a very fun tour, and I get a chance to work with some very talented people, so I’m enjoying every minute of it.”

Question: Can you explain the role you play? I read somewhere that you play the part of Fats Waller, but I don’t think that’s exactly correct.

Ruben: “We all play a different part of Fats Waller’s personality. It’s a musical review, so, you know, it’s a new song every scene, and every scene we all play a different part of Fats Waller’s personality. It’s very energetic and upbeat music. You get a chance to hear people sing some of this wonderful music Fats Waller wrote many years ago.”

Question: I also read that you basically spend most of the play flirting with three women?

Ruben: “(Laughs) We all flirt with each other. The play is a play on words. ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ and we’re basically all misbehaving.”

Question: Had you done much acting prior to “Ain’t Misbehavin’?”

Ruben: “A little bit, but not where I’d been paid for it. I mean, I’ve done a few cameos on television shows, but not where the show depends on my ability to be good at acting or great.”

Question: So how did you make that transition? Your entire career has been about singing, not acting.

Ruben: “I think it just goes to show you great directors mean a lot. Richard Maltby (Jr.) is really great at helping people connect with their part and understand who Fats Waller was so you really become engulfed in the era. And, you know, I’ve always been a huge fan of jazz music and the Harlem renaissance and the arts of that era, so the opportunity for me to get to do something like this is just amazing.”

Question: Now I read somewhere that you had done some acting in your past, back before Idol?

Ruben: “Yeah. (Laughs) But in high school or college. Nothing like what I’m doing right now. I’ve done a few musicals and things like that, but not that were really serious.”

Question: What’s your favorite part of the show?

Ruben: “My favorite song in the show is probably ‘Honeysuckle Rose,’ the song I do with Frenchie Davis. It’s a well-written song and very playful. And anytime I get a chance to perform with Frenchie, it’s just amazing.”

Question: Can you envision yourself doing something like this again, performing in a musical in the future?

Ruben: “I don’t know. I see myself not shying away from any opportunity to do something like this. This is not the first time I’ve been approached to do a musical. I never thought I would want to do it. If something else like this presents itself, I think I’ll be willing to take a chance with the opportunity.”

Ruben Studdard releases his fourth album May 19Question: Now, let’s talk about your new music. First off, what was it like juggling those dual roles, performing in the play at the same time you’re preparing to release an album?

Ruben: “It was pretty easy. I’m used to having so much to do, especially having been on American Idol. We’ve basically been conditioned to do more than one thing at the same time. I mean, my first album — I was on tour with the Idol tour and I recorded my first album. It’s nothing I haven’t done before.”

Question: The first album went platinum in a heartbeat. But the next two haven’t sold as well. What was the difference?

Ruben: “My second album was an inspirational album. In the gospel music industry, my album basically smashed all records for first- and second-week sales in the history of gospel music. So, for me, that was a great success. And I think everybody’s struggling to sell records these days. It’s not an easy task to sell as many records as you would have five or six years ago.”

Question: So tell us about the new album. What should fans expect?

Ruben: “Well, you know, ever since I’ve been on American Idol people have always said they really enjoy the way I sing love songs. So this album is called ‘Love Is,’ and it’s just an album of great love songs. I have about six covers on there and six originals. And it’s just a great album, and it’s produced by two of the greatest producers of all time, Jimmie Jam and Terry Lewis (who also produced Ruben’s version of ‘Celebrate Me Home’), and I’m just happy that I got the opportunity to do music I think the fans will love.”

Question: Taylor Hicks (Idol’s second five winner) found himself in much the same situation you are now. He was on tour with “Grease” and had released a new single and was preparing to release an album. At the end of “Grease,” he’d come out and sing his new single. Do you get to do anything like that?

Ruben: “This is not that kind of show. (Laughs) It is a period piece and we are in period from the time the show starts until the time we finish.”

Question: Do you still follow Idol and, if so, who do you think should win this season?

Ruben: “This season has been pretty difficult for me to follow because I’m on stage every day at 7:30 and I never (laughs) pick sides on the contestants. I think all the kids are wonderful. I got a chance to meet them when I was on the show and I hope that each and every one of them have a wonderful experience on the show. But I never come out and say who I think my favorite is. I don’t think that’s fair.”

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