For years Ruben Studdard put his career ahead of his health.
In the decade since Studdard was declared the Season 2 winner of “American Idol,” platinum albums and Grammy nominations followed. But so did the pounds. “The Velvet Teddy Bear,” as he is known to his fans, is now one of the 15 contestants on “The Biggest Loser.” At 462 pounds, the 35-year-old singer is the heaviest contestant on the reality show, which returns for a fifteenth season on Tuesday, October 8, at 8/7c on NBC.
“I’ve been really blessed to have a career that has done okay for a while, but the one thing that I have not been able to tackle consistently is staying at a healthy weight,” Studdard said in a conference call with reporters. “This show has given me a second chance to live a better life not just professionally but personally.”
And although the Alabama-raised Studdard is used to being in the public eye, he admitted that letting the cameras into this aspect of his life was a much different scenario. “I’m usually a very private and personal guy,” he said. “And so do to this was — it was a lot to think about and I knew that it was going to be different for me. But I just wanted to get myself together and get myself on a track to getting healthy. And, this show has really been that vehicle for me.”
The hardest thing to get used to was being cut off from his family and friends. “I’m always on the road and I’m always away from my family but I’m never disconnected from them where I can’t see them or talk to them via Skype or you know Facetime or whatever. So not having that luxury at the ranch was, I think, the most difficult thing for me,” he said. “And it never got any easier. It’s not something that you get used to. You just have to get through it.”
The theme this season is “second chances” and other contestants include weight lifter Holley Mangold, who hopes to compete in the 2016 Olympics and single mom Tanya Winfield, who wants to break the cycle of addiction that runs in her family. For the first time, the trainers — Bob Harper, Jillian Michaels and Dolvett Quince — helped select the contestants and were each given the opportunity to save one contestant from elimination.
Quince, who is Studdard’s trainer, described the experience of being able to save someone as “bittersweet.” He loved having the power to keep someone on the show but also worried about making sure he was using it on the right contestant. “It was difficult for me,” he said. “But I felt when I did use it and I had to use it, I made the right decision big picture.
Executive producer Lisa Hennessy defended the show’s decision to include Studdard over the thousands of non-celebrities who audition for the series each season. “I feel like it’s completely fair that Ruben is on it due to the fact that he needed to be there,” she said. “We choose people for many different reasons. And I think by Ruben having a fan base, think about all of the people that he will inspire and he will pay it forward.”