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Idol Set

By Waris Banks | Posted 3/17/2004

Ruben Studdard

Morgan State University's Murphy Fine Arts Center, March 13

Morgan State University's Murphy Fine Arts Center, March 13

Ruben Studdard has gone from being that make-yo-mama-proud country boy from Birmingham, Ala., who sang in the church choir to a celebrated R&B star making his way through a 20-city tour. He and the fluttery-eyed Clay Aiken went head to head as the American Idol finalists, and Studdard beat Aiken with his basso-soto crooning of classic soul tunes, winning a deal with J-Records, home to Alicia Keys and Studdard's own musical guide, Luther Vandross. But Studdard has to grow up--and we're not talking about his physical stature. No more covers and no more imitating Luther V. and Donny Hathaway.

Studdard certainly was a sight for sore (and bored) eyes after opening act Calvin Richardson, who was more concerned with being an R&B thug than a musician. We're tired of seeing so-called cock diesel gangsters wearing long, ice-style crosses and sporting jailhouse tats who cry out "where my ladies at" every few bars.

The Velvet Teddy Bear and his 11-member ensemble opened their set with catchy but formulaic tunes written for him, including "Take The Shot" ("What you gonna do girl/ You got the ball/ Make a move girl/You got my heart/ Take the shot/ C'mon take the shot"). Studdard went on to perform "What If," an upbeat ballad in which the singer reminds his adoring fans--or love interest--that he wasn't always an Idol, and begs them to answer what they would do if he were "broke" or "had to catch the bus."

Studdard told the audience that he was going to take us all back to the old records he used to play back in 'Bama. After a rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Day Dreaming," Studdard went into a three-part Vandross medley--"Never Too Much," "So Amazing," and "Superstar" (a staple of Studdard's Idol performances, originally made famous by Karen Carpenter). The audience--especially the older folks praying for Luther's speedy recovery from a stroke--went wild. He then followed with his singles "Sorry 2004" and "Flying Without Wings," and the wilding continued.

We like Studdard for two reasons. One, the boy can really sang. Two, we're tired of seeing pop stars with gimmicky trademarks. But we do hope that he is able to make his music his own. It's easy for Studdard to sing Vandross covers because, as he admits, he does kinda sound like him. But Luther made those songs his own. He's comfortable singing them because he finds meaning in them. Studdard needs to concentrate on finding the meaning in his own songs, making them meaningful and memorable.

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