Ruben Studdard wore his 205 area code jerseys with pride in front of millions of viewers on American Idol, but now, as a contestant on The Biggest Loser, the Alabama native is wearing a different number on his chest – his starting weight of 462 lbs.
Studdard and his fellow contestants on the upcoming season of NBC weight-loss competition will each wear their starting weights on their jerseys for all the world to see.
Just days after arriving at The Biggest Loser Ranch in June, the American Idol season 2 winner – who has a history yo-yo dieting (and had lost 100 lbs. in 2008) – spoke to PEOPLE about how splitting with his wife, Surata, triggered his recent weight gain, what life has been like for him on the Ranch, and why now, at 35, he is ready to get fit for good.
How did this come about?
The opportunity was presented to me by the show's producers. They asked me if I wanted to be a part of Biggest Loser and I jumped [at it]. I really felt like it was time for me to get a hold of my weight, get a hold of my life in general. I am always on the road – always touring, always performing – and I never have an opportunity to take care of myself, so this was a Godsend.
It is so funny how when something is supposed to happen for you, everything moves itself out of the way to make it happen – that is exactly what happened for me. I called all of my managers, all of my band and my singers, and everyone was just so supportive. We were able to cancel all of my concerts and commitments that I had for the next couple of months. I am just really happy that I was able to come here.
Your bio says you started putting on weight at age 10. Why?
I was raised in the South and it is what it is. I have a family that show love by cooking and giving you food and that is not a bad thing, but it is a way of life where I am from.
I've always been a heavier guy. I've always been comfortable in my own skin. I've never had any difficulty with my weight but I knew when I turned 35 that I am five years from 40 and I was going to have some things going on with me that I couldn't reverse because of the age I was, so it is just perfect timing. God really put this in a place for me that it could work and I could get this well.
I'm the biggest guy here. It is crazy. I never really expected to be 462 lbs. It is like, "Okay, here is the eye-opener. Let's get this stuff off of you and get in shape."
How did you get to this weight?
I feel like my unwillingness to look for healthy options now is the reason why I have put my weight back on. Y'all did a piece on me in 2008 when I had lost 100 lbs. so it is not that I can't lose the weight, it's just for some reason I decided to stop making those healthy choices.
When the opportunity presented itself, I said, "Man, I could come here and [they could] actually teach me not how to lose weight but how to keep the weight off" because that is the biggest part of the battle people in America face.
Everybody knows how to diet, everybody has had their shares of ups and downs of yo-yo diets, but the hardest thing is to learn really how to make this a lifestyle that you can sustain for the rest of your life.
What was going on in your life that caused you to put the weight back on?
After I got divorced – or separated – in 2012 … prior to that my wife and I, we worked out together, we ate well and all those things. But after that I started going out with my friends, my fraternity brothers, kicking it and having a good time eating chicken wings, drinking beer until 2 to 3 in the morning. Those were things I wasn't doing as a married person.
I started living a college person's life again and it had the freshman 15 effect on me. I continued it for two years and my freshman 15 turned into a freshman 90. I did all those things to cover up the sadness I was feeling. I was saying, "Okay, instead of just sitting here on the couch being sad, I'm going to go out and have a good time."
A good time turned into every time we went out. We'd have pizza and drank beer, and beer is just great – we all like a good beer – but one should be one, and instead of one it's two pitchers.
You mentioned wanting to avoid health issues. Were you already experiencing them?
I deal with high blood pressure and borderline type 2 diabetes. Dr. Huizenga here is amazing – I've only been here three or four days and I already feel like I'm getting better.
This was most definitely something that I really needed to do for myself because I have great health insurance, so I have great doctors that make sure I feel good, but I'm on medication and Dr. H is trying to make sure I feel good, period. Just naturally without any assistance, and it has really been working. The food here is great. Everything here is a blessing.
How have the workouts been?
The first big workout was crazy. I've watched two seasons of this show, so I've seen that first workout but being there ... it's indescribable how crazy that workout is.
We haven't been chosen for teams yet so we are all working out together with all three trainers and they are all collectively crazy. From watching the show I thought, "Oh, I'll like working with Bob [Harper]. He always seems so even-keeled. You never really see Bob lose his stuff." People seem to work out with him and be okay but Bob is crazy, too!
Do you think you can handle them?
Yeah. I obviously can because I'm sitting here. Otherwise I would have packed my bags and said, "Peace out." But it was very challenging and when I made it to the end I thought, "You know, this feels like football practice at the beginning of the season. Two-a-days where the coaches are just going crazy, it's 110 degrees outside, you have full pads and it is just balls to the wall." That’s what it feels like, but with no pads.
At least you don't have the pads.
There's always a silver lining.
What has life been like on the Ranch?
Everybody had been great. I think they were surprised that I was here, but it has been really good to be around this many people who have great personalities. This group was put together for a reason – we all seem to get along really well and that doesn't really happen that often.
You will see personality conflicts quick in intense situations like this. It only takes a second for someone to get on your nerves after those exhausting workouts, and that hasn't happened. It has just been really jovial and everybody really likes each other. I think this is going to be one of the best seasons they've ever had.
You are all wearing your weight on your chest and back of your jerseys. What do you think when you look down at that number?
When I look down at this jersey I say, "You will never be that size again. Ever." And I'm sure everyone is going to come in here and say the same thing but it is serious.
It is like you are blindly going though life doing what you want to do and then somebody finally takes the blindfold off and you finally see what you've been doing. That is what it was like for me.
When we were outside and we were given these jerseys and had to look down at this number I was like, "S–––. I'm 462 lbs. What in the hell have I been doing?" And you know what really pisses me off? [laughs] No one said s––– to me about it. They just went on like it was just cool, like, "Oh, it's just Ruben."
All these so-called friends around me and nobody said, "You know what, Ruben, your ass has gotten pretty damn fat." [laughs]