By Danielle Deadwyler

Former American Idol is going back to his roots. The Alabama native is set to star in the 30th anniversary tour of Ain’t Misbehavin’, playing Fats Waller alongside fellow “American Idol” alumni Frenchie Davis and Trenyce Cobb. “I know most people are [expecting] to see the Velvet Teddy Bear when, in fact, they’re going to get Fats,” Studdard says.

How did your experience on “American Idol” prepare you for Ain’t Misbehavin’?
It prepared me [for] the workload. It’s my first time ever having to do eight shows a week. It’s more similar to what I did in college [as a vocal education major] than what I did on “American Idol.”

What has been your biggest challenge in preparing for this role?
We did a cast recording about three weeks ago, and we had to learn the whole show in days. [I went] from just singing my music to having to rely on knowing how to sing [technically] and read music — things I haven’t done in years. It’s more musically intense than I thought it would be. The comedy comes from the way you deliver the song. So, that’s the stretch for me, learning how to turn it [up to] 50 when you’re used to singing on stage at 10.

How did you prepare for this role?
I listen to the music a lot [and] watch the original cast recordings, trying to see what I can do to still be myself, but stay true to the part. Singing the material every day is something I have been doing since I left New York with the cast.

Do you feel any pressure performing this role?
Of course. When you come behind anything that’s great, there’s always a certain level of pressure. But this is my job, and this is what God has given me the opportunity to do. At some point, you have to get over that and just try to do the best that you can.

What’s your favorite song in the show?
Probably “Honeysuckle Rose.” I sing a lot of love songs, [but] this one really kind of caught me off-guard. It’s such a well-written song. I really love the words, the music, everything. It’s awesome. And, it’s something I think somebody would want [someone] to say to them. I really love [singing it with] Frenchie. It’s a very sensual play on words. Everybody’s going to like that part.

How did “American Idol” influence you artistically?
Before “American Idol,” I was really into neo-soul music. That changed a lot because, once you get on “American Idol,” you have to do music that is more commercially accepted — people just expect that from you. I think that with this new album that I’m doing with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, everybody’s going to get the opportunity to see the real Ruben, the soul of me. I never want people to forget that I was on the show, but [I’m] trying to step out of the box, the confining box that they put you in musically.