After Ruben Studdard won season two of American Idol, Alabama's governor, Robert Riley, named March 11 "Ruben Studdard Day" in honor of the Birmingham resident. It was just one of the surprises that happened as a result of the hit FOX TV show.
Another was landing his current role in the touring production of Ain't Misbehavin', which comes to the Pikes Peak Center April 1 and 2.
The 30-year-old had performed in plays a few times in high school and was a voice major at Alabama A&M University, but as Studdard says over the phone from Seattle, he hadn't performed in anything serious.
"Nothing where nobody really depended on me to be good," he says, laughing.
The Tony Award-winning Ain't Misbehavin' originally opened on Broadway in 1978, and re-creates jazz pianist and entertainer Thomas "Fats" Waller's world of 1930s Harlem. The production includes 30 songs and piano solos, but doesn't have a plot or characters in a traditional sense. Instead, Studdard and his fellow cast members each play parts of Waller's personality, and those parts change from person to person, song to song.
"The musical is basically a play on words, you know, 'ain't misbehavin'," Studdard says. "But we're basically in love with everybody, you know what I mean?"
In love with Waller, too, it sounds like, when Studdard explains why people should see the show: "Fats Waller deserves the opportunity to dazzle everybody once again in a different time frame with his musical genius."
Let's be honest, though: Idol fans just want to see the aptly nicknamed "Velvet Teddy Bear." And as it turns out, Studdard's not the only season two American Idol participant on this tour. Ain't Misbehavin's five-member cast includes Trenyce Cobbins, who came in fifth place to Studdard's first, and semi-finalist Frenchie Davis. After Idol, Davis went on to appear in the Broadway musical Rent, singing the solo in "Seasons of Love."
Studdard credits musical theater "veterans" like Davis for teaching him and helping him out, but he does bring his a certain set of credentials to the stage. His first album, Soulful, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and he's now on his fourth album, Love IS, which is set to release this May.
"Everything that has happened to me has exceeded all my expectations for my dreams," he says. "So all this stuff that's going on now is extra. I'm just happy to be in the position to do a job that I love. A lot of people wish that they could do that every day."
Though he does enjoy the stage-touring experience, Studdard recognizes that he needs to earn his pinstripes for every show, of which he's scheduled to perform six to eight each week through May.
"It's a real cool gig," he says. "But there's a lot more pressure because I get a check every week so I can't, you know, fool around at all."