In the nearly nine years since Ruben Studdard beat out Clay Aiken for the “American Idol” title on the show's second season, his career has mostly avoided the seeming “Idol” curse that has plagued some of the show’s biggest voices.
The charming singer -- whose Luther Vandross-inflected vocals and cuddly size earned him the moniker of the "Velvet Teddy Bear" -- has steadily released a slew of gold- and platinum-selling discs and dabbled in acting, starring in the musicals "Ain't Misbehavin'" and “Heaven I Need a Hug.”
The 33-year-old hasn’t been immune to the pitfalls of fame itself, however, with his personal life garnering more than its fair share of ink. In November, he filed for divorce from his wife of three years, he’s shifted labels a few times, and at the moment his alleged troubles with the IRS have received more press coverage than his new album. Despite the scuffs, Studdard remains the same affable and humble Alabama-bred boy who used his gospel-rooted baritone to charm 24 million Americans into crowning him the “Idol” champ back in 2003.
The singer has chronicled the ups and downs of his not-so-private life on his fifth album, "Letters from Birmingham," which was released on Tuesday. The revealing disc serves as his debut for indie imprint Shanachie Records.
Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Studdard takes the concept record approach by tracing a whirlwind relationship from its early beginnings of courtship, marriage and its eventual dissolution -- interspersing spoken-word love letters in between.
“Birmingham,” though largely grounded in 1970s and '80s soul balladry and up-tempo R&B, offers a few surprises including a deft cover of Bobby Brown’s “Rock Wit’cha.” On Studdard's divorce anthem, “June 28th (I'm Single)” -– the title pulled from his wedding date -- he reinterprets the “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” standard “Pure Imagination,” effortlessly transforming it into a quiet storm bedroom romp.
Studdard spoke with Pop & Hiss about getting personal (on record) and longevity long after “Idol.”