'American Idol' winner Ruben Studdard giving UTC students lessons that can't be found in a book

Contributed Photo from 2R's Entertainment & Media PR / Ruben Studdard
Contributed Photo from 2R's Entertainment & Media PR / Ruben Studdard

Ruben Studdard is a firm believer in the "see it, be it" philosophy.

Visualizing a positive trajectory for his life's path has worked for him, he says. He helps others build on that idea through his annual youth summer camps as well as master classes he leads at campuses around the nation.

Studdard will be a guest lecturer at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for three to five sessions this semester. In a phone interview, the "American Idol" winner said the sessions will be a mix of virtual and in-person classes.

"These classes will be more about the business of music than actual performance," Studdard said. "As a music student, you don't have the opportunity to learn more about the music business because everybody at your school is a music clinician. For example, I talk to them about how contracts can vary in a lot of ways: On some, you do better as your record does better in sales and how streaming has affected that. Some contracts come with signing bonuses; others don't.

"A lot of music majors and students in the arts want to be part of the music industry, but they really don't know what that looks like in real life."

So Studdard will speak to them about navigating the business side of the music industry through what he's learned in his own career - lessons from real life that they won't find in any book.

Studdard will also work with the UTC Singing Mocs, a show troupe that specializes in vocal jazz and a cappella music.

photo Contributed Photo From 2R's Entertainment & Media PR / Ruben Studdard

Studdard said students in his classes always ask his opinion on improving their vocal technique and performances. He holds a bachelor's degree in vocal studies from Alabama A&M University.

"They are seriously interested in how to preserve their voice," he said. "It's definitely important to be proficient in your craft and have that foundation. I wouldn't have been able to do Broadway or to work with David Foster if I didn't have a good vocal foundation to begin with."

"I'm never going to be able to give them all the information they need in three to five master classes," he added. "But I hope something I say inspires them. If one or two take hold of something I say and it helps them, then that's a success to me."

Studdard said he limits himself to only two or three of these master classes per year, depending on his own schedule's open dates.

Studdard's visit was the idea of Stuart Benkert, head of the UTC Department of Music, after the two met when Studdard was on campus in October to sing the national anthem at a Mocs football game. Although the idea was his, Benkert credits Stacy Lightfoot, vice chancellor for diversity and engagement, with making contact with Studdard. Pam Riggs-Gelasco, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Jerold Hale, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, helped bring the idea to reality.

Studdard said he and Lightfoot are old friends who have known each other since their college days. She served as the first executive director of his Ruben Studdard Foundation for three years, he said.

"Stacy is a proponent of exposure to new things, as I am. She wants to expose students to new people and experiences to broaden their education. If you never met a professional songwriter, how do you know you can be one?" Studdard gives as an example of the "see it, be it" philosophy.

"It took about two months to arrange," Benkert said of the star's visits. Benkert added that Studdard's scheduling is still being finalized.

Even though it's been almost 20 years since the Birmingham, Alabama, resident won Season 2 of "American Idol," Studdard said students are always fascinated to hear his insider's knowledge on what happens behind the scenes in TV talent shows.

photo Contributed Photo by Christian Lantry / Ruben Studdard

"This generation grew up on reality shows, and all the kids of my generation who grew up in the '80s grew up on 'Star Search.' I think as long as there is an engine to allow people to reach their dreams they (reality talent shows) will always be popular."

Studdard added there are options for young people today that he wishes had been available to him: They can record music at home, put it on iTunes and they are directly connected to their fans.

He finds a lot of students are interested in his opinion of where the music industry is headed, where it will be 15 years from now.

He projects "virtual concerts will be a big deal," such as buying tickets to a virtual-reality concert in your living room.

"There will be more fan/musician interaction in that way."

As for now, Studdard said he has been working on a new album, which has been a labor of love for three years.

"I did Broadway three years ago. I've been doing my 'Ruben Sings Luther' [Vandross] tour for two years straight. So I've worked on the album between those things. When I get a day off, I'm in the studio."

Contact Susan Pierce at spiercentn@yahoo.com.

Ruben Studdard timeline

Where Ruben Studdard’s been since “American Idol”2003: Released first single, “Flying Without Wings,” which debuted at No. 2 on Billboard Hot 1002003: Received Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Superstar”2003: Created the Ruben Studdard Foundation for the Advancement of Children in the Music Arts and began summer music camps for ages 12-182004: Won NAACP Outstanding New Artist Award2004: Released “I Need an Angel” gospel album, certified gold by RIAA2004: Cameo in film “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed;” TV guest appearances in “8 Simple Rules,” “One on One” and “Eve”2006: Released “The Return” album, opened at No. 8 on Billboard 200 chart2007: Toured with Robin Givens in “Heaven I Need a Hug”2008: Played Fats Waller in national tour of “Ain’t Misbehavin’”2008: Collaborated with gospel singer Deitrick Haddon and duo Mary Mary on “Love Him Like I Do”2009: Released “Love Is,” which debuted at No. 36 on Billboard 200 and No. 8 on R&B/Hip-Hop charts2009: Toured with “David Foster and Friends”2010: Released Sony compilation album, “The Very Best of Ruben Studdard”2010: Toured with Clay Aiken in “Timeless” tour2011: Released “Letters From Birmingham” album2013: Joined cast of “The Biggest Loser,” lost 119 pounds2014: Released “Unconditional Love” album, produced by David Foster; debuted at No. 7 on Billboard R&B Album chart2018: Released Luther Vandross tribute album, “Ruben Sings Luther,” supported by national tour2018: Made his Broadway debut when reunited with Clay Aiken for “Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show”2020: Was touring with his “Luther” show when pandemic began, now resuming concert dates

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