By Camm Ashford
Ruben Studdard, winner in 2003 of the second season of the “American Idol” competition, had three words to describe the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Singing Mocs, “fantastic, fantastic, faaaaantastic!”
On Monday from 5:30-7 p.m., Studdard held a masterclass inside the University Center auditorium, watching the ensemble as they rehearsed–thoughtfully listening, giving tips and offering advice.
“Give yourself a round of applause,” the Grammy Award-nominated recording artist told the Singing Mocs–whose specialty is contemporary singing styles–including pop, acappella and vocal jazz. “I’m always applauding myself.”
Noting that he tries “to give my best to the world,” Studdard at one point asked the students, “Am I being positive? I want to make sure I’m positive.”
Reflecting on his own struggles to develop as a young singer in the church choir in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., Studdard said he was careful not to overcorrect or come on too strong with the UTC singers.
“These young people are still developing as musicians,” he explained. “This is exactly what I was at this age, and I remember it. It’s my job to encourage them to be better than they are today. It’s not my job to come in and berate or intimidate or make them feel unworthy. My number one hope is that they have a good time.”
The son of two educators–his mother, Emily, still teaches in the Birmingham public school system while his father, Kevin, is a former auto body collision technology teacher–Studdard received a bachelor’s degree in vocal studies from Alabama A&M University in 2000.
Studdard’s road to UTC began Oct. 16 of last year when, at the behest of longtime friend Stacy Lightfoot, UTC vice chancellor for diversity and engagement, he sang the National Anthem at Finley Stadium prior to the football game between the Mocs and East Tennessee State University.
Before leaving town, Studdard had dinner with Lightfoot and a group that included the head of the UTC Department of Performing Arts. Someone suggested he consider teaching at UTC. And the rest is history.
Studdard, who earned the nickname “Velvet Teddy Bear” from R&B legend Gladys Knight, has seven studio albums to his credit. The Recording Industry Association of America awarded him platinum status–more than 1 million sold–for his debut album, “Soulful.” His follow-up record, “I Need an Angel,” was the best-selling gospel album in the U.S. and was certified gold–more than 500,000 sold.
Studdard also has appeared in several television shows as a guest star. His theater credits include starring as Fats Waller in a national tour revival of the musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” which received a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album and touring alongside actress Robin Givens in the play “I Need a Hug.”
In 2018, Studdard, who has long been compared to R&B singer Luther Vandross, released a cover album called “Ruben Sings Luther” and launched his Always & Forever national tour.
After winning “American Idol,” he created an advocacy program, the Ruben Studdard Foundation for the Advancement of Children in the Music Arts, to promote music education for students in Birmingham. He has run summer music camps for middle school and high school students since 2003.
Studdard will return to UTC on March 28 for another masterclass.