12/13/2013 12:23 pm ET Updated Feb 12, 2014

Ruben Studdard--Slimmer, Sexier, Ready to Give Us His 'Unconditional Love'

"DAVID FOSTER says, 'From now on, everything you do has to be sexy!'"

That's the advice Ruben Studdard's new producer, Mr. Foster, gave the singer.

And Ruben is taking Foster's advice. Reuben's latest album, "Unconditional Love," is the most romantic and swoony of his career.

Ruben, made famous via his "American Idol" win some years back, says he always wanted to be sexier, more romantic, but "I wasn't sure in the beginning. I felt I was being made to be something I wasn't, or something I didn't feel. At the time, anyway. There's a certain manipulation involved. That's fine, but you have to be ready for it and on the same track."

I MET Ruben in the office of his rep, Liz Rosenberg of Madonna, Cher, Michael Buble, Stevie Nicks, etc, fame. He's a great big guy, but he settled comfortably onto Liz's fabled red velvet couch. (It is here that La Liz comforts, advises and generally saves the lives and careers of so many. She is the maternal spider inviting ambitious--if sometimes misguided---stars and eager hopefuls, into her super-smart web.)

Ruben is now on Verve Records, and he was appreciative when I mentioned that Verve was the home of Billie Holliday in her "autumnal" years--the best years, in my opinion. He said, "When I go to the building, I'm overwhelmed when I realize how many great singers--Ella, Stan Getz, Ben Webster--were here. It's a kind of humbling religious experience. "

Ruben -- nominated for a Grammy for 2003's "Superstar" -- says that David Foster asked him, "You know, whenever I see you in concert, when you do a romantic ballad, there's a standing ovation. Why don't you have an album like that?" Studdard says, "I kind of laughed and said, "I guess because I haven't done that album -- yet." Well, he's done it now, and he heaps praise on producer Foster as "a man who knows how to produce but not over produce. You're never lost, only enhanced."

Ruben is currently recording a Christmas album--to be released next Christmas. I asked him if this is going to be sexy, as per David Foster's advice? He laughed, "Well, I don't know. How sexy can you be? -- 'have yourself a very merry Christmas, emphasis on the 'very!'"

Ruben thinks he's ready to fill in the smokin' hot Luther Vandross slot, just as "Beyonce stepped into the Tina Turner space and Justin Timberlake stepped into the Michael Jackson space."

The singer is a big guy, but comfortably big. He's tall. He has struggled with his weight, but now he says, "I work out every day, and my goal is to be fit and healthy. I don't know if I was meant to be actually thin!" Ruben is adorably mellow, laid back, no-drama. "I'm basically a relaxed guy. I'm not nervous and I don't need to be catered to. No special M&Ms, no rare flowers, no ass-kissing. I just want to sing!"

HE'LL be at NYC's Beacon Theater in February and on tour with Laylah Hathaway further into the new year. Of Laylah, daughter of the iconic Donny Hathaway, Ruben says, "It's hard to believe I'm touring with her, I worshipped the work of her dad. She has this incredible thing she does with her voice. She can do three notes at once! I know it seems crazy, but she kind of makes her voice into a vocal triad. All I know is that I told her, "please don't do the triad when I'm onstage with you. I'm just one note at a time!"

Rueben says, "No matter where my career is, or where people perceive it to be, I just love to sing. I think music can mean so much, on so many levels. And not simply for the average listener. I believe music inspires writers and artists-painters. They hear a song, it clicks and they write or create something based on that sound. Of course, I'm sure writers and painters feel the same way about their own art -- it inspires music! But, as I'm a singer, I feel my art is the most expansive and influential. Not me, Ruben Studdard, but the art of song, of music, in general. It is so life-affirming."

I WAS glad to see Showtimes's "Masters of Sex" nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Television Series, Drama. But I was stunned that none of the actors nabbed a nod, especially the great Allison Janney. (There isn't a clunker amongst the cast, but Janney stood out even from this great ensemble. And I believe we were the first to write about the effectiveness of her heartbreaking performance.) I was hoping, because USA Today just did a big profile on the actress.

Even more surprising, "Masters of Sex" didn't pick up any nominations at all from The Screen Actors Guild. But once again, SAG nominated Alec Baldwin for "30 Rock." I adore Alec, but...let's give somebody else a try in that slot.

I was happy to see Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto pulling in SAG nods for "The Dallas Buyers Club."

SO, Madonna and her 25-year-old boyfriend of the last three years, Brahim Zaibat, have split. Well, he's a quarter century now. Makes a girl think.

"He better be careful, he might get elected!" That's what Ron Paul quipped about his son, Rand Paul, possibly running for president in 2016.