When you hear the name Ruben Studdard, you think, American Idol winner. You can almost hear the voice of celebrity judge Gladys Knight calling him the “velvet teddy bear.” Ms. Gladys would be so proud of Studdard, who performed at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts this past Sunday, on his current Always & Forever national tour, promoting his newly released cd, Ruben Sings Luther, which is a collection of cover songs by the late singer, another Grammy-winning star Luther Vandross. His soulful and powerful voice reminds all of us why he won.

Just like his multi-award winning hero, Studdard won the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 2003 for Vandross’ 1983 song “Superstar.” He easily segued to more memorable songs from the legend, who passed away on July 1, 2005 at age 54 from a heart attack. He put a lot of passion into each song making it his own. You name it and he delivered each time. “Give Me the Reason,” (1986, Give Me the Reason), “If Only for One Night,” a cover by singer/songwriter Brenda Russell’s 1979 song, and the Grammy-nominated “Here and Now” (1989, The Best of Luther Vandross… The Best of Love).

During his AI days, Studdard was oft-compared to Vandross and told many times to record his songs. That dream became a reality in 2018 with. He said his mother is a huge Vandross fan. He continued with songs that Vandross covered. “A House Is Not a Home” a 1964 cover written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David sung by Dionne Warwick, covered by Vandross in 1981 and Deborah Cox in 2005 and the Stevie Wonder song “Creepin’” (1974, Fulfillingness’ First Finale).

A singer is only as good as the people who back him or her up. Under the artistic direction of John Jackson, who doubles as the keyboardist, drummer David Smith produced hard, pulsating beats, bassist Alvin Spratley and guitarist Robert Jones Jr. created soulful magic providing rhythmic energy, while keyboardist Mario Cooper completes the high energetic atmosphere. A little bit of sexiness comes in the beautiful form of dancers Karmessa Padgett and Kwamika Fletcher who sang and danced looking like queens in black, off-shoulder sequined dresses with high thigh slits.

Studdard ended the two-hour concert with has much fervor as he did when he started. The audience enjoyed hearing him boast, that even though Clay Aiken and he are friends, he won the second season of AI. That was worth a good chuckle. He plans on a 12-city Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken Twenty: The Tour in a few months. It was a great night. A wonderful evening listening to classics sung by a true and long lasting fan.

What I discovered:

• His dad was in the army and was stationed in Frankfurt, West Germany were Studdard was born on September 12th, 1978, then moved to Birmingham, Alabama.
• Studdard released seven studio albums, including the platinum-selling debut, Soulful, (2003, Entertainment Records) and followed with the gospel, I Need an Angel (2004, J Records), His hits include “Sorry 2004” (2004, Soulful), and “Change Me” (2000, The Return)
• He starred as jazz pianist Fats Waller in the 2009 national tour of Ain’t Misbehavin’. The soundtrack earned a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Show Album. Also on the compilation are AI alums: Frenchie Davis and Trenyce Cobbins both from the second season,
• His family calls him by his first name, Chris, but, the fans call him Ruben.
• News spread over the social media about the sudden “demise” of Studdard this month.