Ruben Studdard says "American Idol" gave him a career. Now, he wants "The Biggest Loser" to give him a life.
Studdard -- nicknamed "The Velvet Teddy Bear" partly for his girth and his cuddly, cheerful, happy-go-lucky demeanor -- said he is returning to reality TV to face the demons that caused him to balloon to 462 pounds.
Studdard, 35, said there is nothing funny about his condition, which includes high blood pressure and a diagnosis that he is borderline diabetic. "I've been a big guy my whole life. This is something I have dealt with since I was 8, or 9, or 10 years old," Studdard told the L.A. Times. "It's time to do something about it."
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And he is asking fans and obese Americans to join him on this transformational journey.
"I want the people who have watched me for 10 years to get inspired by what I am doing," he said. "I hope just me being a part of this show, even if I get cut off in the second week, will help them get going."
"The Biggest Loser" unveiled the new crop of contestants Wednesday and announced an Oct. 8 start date for the weight-loss reality show, about to begin its 15th season. This year's theme: second chances.
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As usual, there are several twists. Among them: The trainers, who for the first time ever had a say in casting some of the contestants, will each have "saves" -- the all-powerful ability to each save one of the competitors from elimination.
"The Biggest Loser" is known for its heart-breaking stories of people who cloak themselves in excess weight to deal with their pain, and this season is no exception. Among the competitors fighting for a second chance at life is a man who put on 200 pounds while his wife lost her battle with brain cancer, leaving him a single dad of two young children. One competitor postponed his wedding to be on the show, while another "hopes" to miss the birth of his first son. (Missing the birth would mean that he's still at the ranch, in competition for the $250,000 grand prize for the largest percentage of body weight lost.)
In addition to Studdard, the new season of "The Biggest Loser" will include another high-profile cast member in Olympic weightlifter Holley Mangold, who is 24 and weighs 351 pounds. She says she believes she can medal at the 2016 Games in Rio if she can first win her battle with her weight.
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But it is Studdard who becomes the highest-profile competitors the show has ever seen, and has the potential to go down in history for winning two prime-time reality TV shows.
Trainer Jillian Michaels said she was looking forward to getting to know Studdard, and tackling his inner emotions. "There's some pain in there, some anger in there, obviously," she said. "You don't get to over 450 pounds without being hurt, and without being angry about it. He doesn't wear it on his sleeve, though. I think of Ruben as an excavation."
Studdard did not try out for the show, like so many competitors do.
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"The producers of the show called me and asked me if I had any interest in being on 'The Biggest Loser' and as soon as they called me I was like 'Yeah!' I knew I needed to lose weight. I knew I needed to get healthy."
Part of his personal struggle, Studdard said, is that he never felt pressured about his weight, which allowed him to ignore it.
"I have always been comfortable in my skin," Studdard said. "I've never had any hold backs because of my size. I've always excelled in athletics, excelled in sports, music. But here's the thing: Now that I am 35 and I have high blood pressure and I am borderline diabetic, there's a setback. Now that I am an adult and I can't go to Disney World and I can't go on all the roller coasters -- that's a setback."
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Studdard said he wants to turn his weight around -- literally. Instead of 462, he aims to be 264, or lower.
He said that in addition to riding all the roller coasters at Disney World, he has another goal when he losses the excess weight.
"When I get to 264, I'm going to Ralph Lauren and I'm going to get a made-to-measure suit," Studdard said. "I want to look like one of those guys on the Polo.com website."
He added: "It's going to be freeing."
Studdard said he also believes losing weight will help his singing.
"I'm never going to be the run-about-the-stage-doing-Usher-moves type of guy," he said. "I'm a balladeer, I stand behind the microphone. Physiologically, though, your abdomen has a lot to do with your performance." He predicted: "If I can see my abs, and I can look down and tell my abs what to do, I'm probably going to hit all kinds of crazy notes."
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