Pop, soul and R&B singer Ruben Studdard sang plenty of Luther Vandross music growing up. His mom was a huge fan, and in wedding gigs around his hometown, Birmingham, Alabama, the late crooner’s “Here and Now” was always in demand.
Still, Studdard didn’t identify himself or his music with Vandross. Then “American Idol” happened. During his winning season 2, in 2003, judge Paula Abdul started calling him “the next Luther,” a tag that show producer Nigel Lythgoe echoed, Studdard remembered.
“I wasn’t prepared for it, because I went there thinking I was Ruben,” Studdard said in an October interview. “In Birmingham, we had a really popular band that I sung with, ... and people were always talking about how good our band was, but I never heard that Luther Vandross comparison until I got on ‘Idol.’ ”
He has done more than make peace with the comparison. He has covered a Vandross hit here and there throughout his post-“Idol” recording career. Last year, he went for the full album treatment, releasing “Ruben Sings Luther: A Tribute.” On Tuesday, he is bringing his Vandross tribute show to Jefferson Center’s Shaftman Performance Hall.
The disc, his eighth, was re-released Oct. 23 with a new track, “At Christmas Time,” to go along with his versions of Vandross classics that include “Always and Forever,” “So Amazing,” “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” and “Here and Now.”
Studdard said that, when making the album, he was careful to let the music simmer with him. There would naturally be a lot of expectations attached to any tribute to Vandross, a star of the 1980s and 1990s, who died in 2005 after thrilling millions with romantic song interpretations.
“I started with just falling in love with the songs first, so that way I can make them my own without the pressure of what people would think, with me singing it,” Studdard, 41, said. “I’m at an age now where it really doesn’t bother me as much as it would have if I had done them in my 20s. I probably would be like panicking as to what people would think.
“I only took on this project because I wanted to present his songs in a way that was pleasing to me first. Once I did that, I think people were happy to come along for the ride.”
Putting the concert together was another thing entirely. Studdard sees the show, two sets of about 45 minutes each, as similar to a Broadway musical, with Studdard starring as Vandross.
“We try to give people an experience as if they were going to a Luther concert,” he said. “We spent countless hours watching old VHS tapes, scoping YouTube, anywhere we can look to find coverage of how he presented his product, and we want to give people that same experience.”
“When people think about Luther Vandross, they just think about a balladeer,” Studdard said. “They don’t think about a person who put together these really intricate performances. And they were rather elaborate, even right down to trying to get the outfits made that closely represented what they were wearing. That was a task. I couldn’t just go out at 6’3” and go to Macy’s and say, I want this [tuxedo]. We had to get those things made.”
He did the “Ruben sings Luther” tour last year, after the record was released, and loved it, he said.
“We have a really good time,” he said. “The music is great, and it gives me an opportunity to show off my voice in a way that sometimes, certain songs that you record personally, don’t do.
“Just being on tour is fun in general. I like tour life. I like being on the bus. I like joking and playing cards with the band, and just having a good time, you know.”