Return of the Velvet Teddy Bear
Every year American Idol gives us something different in our Idol. The first season was a young girl that could sing like nobody’s business. She was totally fresh and new. This past season we had a man win that was the oldest winner so far, was prematurely gray, played the meanest harp ever heard on the show, and let the music out of him weekly, in the only way he knew how. Yet the first man to win the title was no less different. He was a large man, wore jerseys with his Birmingham, Alabama area code on them, and made every sound that came out of his mouth seem smooth and effortless.
From the first time we heard Ruben Studdard sing Stevie Wonder’s Ribbon in the Sky, we were in awe, and we couldn’t stop smiling. We rooted for him in the auditions, and once the semi-finals started, we voted him in to our top 12. We had to hear more. Every week, he was effortless, whether he was singing Disney songs, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Neil Sedaka. Guest judge Gladys Knight dubbed him the “Velvet Teddy Bear,” because he was cute and cuddly, and was so smooth when he sang. Not bad for a guy who only came to the auditions as a favor to a friend.
In a tightly contested final, Ruben won in a narrow margin over Clay Aiken, a fact that Aiken’s fans, known as the Claymates at that time, still contest. It seemed the record companies enjoyed the friendly rivalry as they released the singers’ first singles at the same time, and later chose to do the same with their first albums. Ruben’s R&B album, Soulful, debuted at #1, and later went platinum. His next release was closer to his gospel roots, I Need an Angel. Because he was hitting on a different market, some of his earlier fans never had the chance to hear this new release, and many felt he had stopped recording.
At some point, Ruben must have felt a need to get back to what had originally won hin the title of American Idol. Compared then to top R&B artists like Luther Vandross and Barry White, the Vandross comparison has never been more in tune than with this latest CD, The Return. The title song, The Return (of the Velvet Teddy Bear) features the smoothness we fell in love with on American Idol, yet has a much larger R&B influence than we heard on American Idol. And, once again, his CD has been released at the same time as Clay Aiken’s newest, A Thousand Different Ways.
Ruben’s recently released single from this CD, Change Me, speaks of a man upset about his woman wanting to change him, and being upset that she’s not in love with him just the way he is. Considering that just before the release of The Return, Ruben lost close to 100 pounds off a portly frame that was once up to 400 pounds, it begs the question how biographical this song is. Ruben has said he entered a weight loss facility out of a desire to be healthy, and has now turned to vegetarianism.
The rest of the CD flows the same way, with a smooth voice and easiness that keeps you relaxed. It’s the perfect thing to listen to on a Sunday morning, to just kick back, read the paper, and enjoy. It doesn’t sound like Ruben will be kicking back relaxing for quite a while though. He’s back, although he technically never left. He’s not going to change for anyone else, but he’s getting healthy so we can enjoy his music for many years.
If you’d like to discuss Ruben Studdard, his music, or anything else concering American Idol, email me at LauraBelle@realityshack.com