Randy Jackson first picked up a bass guitar at the tender age of 13. Four decades on, the American Idol judge is something of a cultural icon, having achieved fame and fortune first as a member of 1980s pop sensation Journey, and then as a Grammy Award-winning producer, music manager, and executive, collaborating with artists ranging from Jerry Garcia and Bruce Springsteen to Madonna and Mariah Carey. But the endless days and nights in recording studios and on the road didn't just result in hits: The Baton Rouge, La.–born-and-bred Jackson ate all of the wrong foods—in particular, "Southern-fried favorites" and sweets—spent more time jamming on his bass than exercising, and eventually tipped the scales at more than 350 pounds.
Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1999 served as a major wake-up call. Almost immediately Jackson turned his focus to his health and well-being. Today, thanks to a balanced diet, exercise, gastric bypass surgery, and a whole lot of serious commitment, he's dropped more than 100 pounds, his cholesterol is down, and his blood glucose has been fine without medication for almost 5 years.
In 2002 Jackson achieved his biggest success to date, becoming king of the "dawg pound" on the colossally successful Idol, providing a cool, rational counterpoint to fellow judges Simon and Paula. In the midst of preparing for the show's eighth season (along with the third season of MTV's Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew and the publication of his new book, Body With Soul: Slash Sugar, Cut Cholesterol and Get a Jump on Your Best Health Ever—part memoir, part self-help tome, complete with practical tips and recipes)—the 52-year-old father of three took a moment to dish about dealing with "the sugar," managing his condition while helming a major television phenomenon, and why he's gotten so involved in diabetes education and advocacy work, including the Randy Jackson Childhood Obesity Foundation.
BORN: June 23, 1956, Baton Rouge, La.
CAREER HIGHTLIGHTS: Former bass guitarist
for the band Journey. Has recorded, produced, or toured with artists including Mariah Carey, *NSYNC, Whitney Houston, Céline Dion, Carlos Santana, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna. Since 2002 has served
as a judge on American Idol.
FAMILY: Married Erika Riker in 1995; they currently live in Los Angeles with children Taylor, Zoe, and Jordan.
Tell me a little bit about how you were first diagnosed with type 2.
They were sneaky symptoms. I thought I had a cold and started taking cold medicine. I was tired, lethargic, very thirsty. Of course, I didn't take into consideration that a history of type 2 diabetes ran in my family, because you always think that happens to somebody else, not to you. But my dad had type 2 and it ran in my family—I mean, Southern diets are just a recipe for type 2 diabetes, everything is laden with sugar, butter, you name it, and there's the somewhat sedentary lifestyle, so it's not a surprise. But as I said, I never thought it could happen to me. Finally, it got so bad that I went to the ER. As it turned out, my blood sugar was over 500.
Once you knew what was really going on, how did you react?
Well, first I had to let it dissolve a little bit in my brain. You go "ok, I really have no choice now"—either you become sicker and let the disease take hold of your life or you do something about it. But it takes a minute, I think, after the shock wears off. Then, basically, I went to the doctor, had a thorough checkup, met with a dietitian, and started on a healthy diet and exercise program.
At the time, you weighed more than 350 pounds. How did the lifestyle changes go, initially?
In the beginning, I think everyone struggles trying to get it together. I initially lost like 20, 25 pounds, but was still massively overweight. I was trying to make those changes by myself, trying to do a healthy diet and everything, but it wasn't happening fast enough—it takes quite a while to do that. My mother-in-law had recently had gastric bypass surgery and dropped a bunch of weight, so I decided maybe that was something I should try. I talked to my doctor about it and had a bunch of consultations with other doctors and decided to try it. It definitely took a while to get to that point; it's a very risky, very serious surgery—people have serious complications, sometimes people die from it, and I knew people with good results and bad. Also, it's not a quick fix by any means. It's really a jump-start. What happens is that you drop quite a bit of weight pretty fast, in the first 2 months, but after that, it still requires a lot of work, and diet and exercise.
What type of exercise do you love now?
For me, it was all about finding the exercise that really works with my crazy, busy life and finding things where I could move around that didn't feel like exercise—tennis, walking, now I love doing yoga and Pilates, a little bit of weight lifting. Luckily, there's a gym in every hotel.
In your new book, you talk about how diabetes, or "the sugar," was endemic where you grew up.
Yeah, that's what they called it in the 'hood where I grew up—you know, "you got that sugar." The thing is, I knew a lot of people who got it, but with the amount of food, the richness, and the lack of exercise—it's no wonder. Still, when I was a kid I never thought about it and I didn't know a lot about it, even though my dad had it. My parents just didn't talk about it that much.
Speaking of those rich, delicious Southern-fried foods—has it been tough to give them up and completely change your diet?
Oh my God, yes, it's been tough. We always had a couple of courses, always dessert, tons of starches. Food was a satisfying moment to enjoy and get away from whatever emotion was plaguing me at the time. I was working all the time, had a very busy lifestyle, and would just consume food and not even think about what I was eating. Sitting in the studio, we'd just order tons of food, a smorgasbord. That has drastically changed, because not only can't I eat that smorgasbord, but I'm extremely conscious of what I'm eating. It's a complete 180. Now my diet is pretty controlled—I call it the morsel-grazing diet. I eat something healthy about every 2 hours and never get to the point that I'm famished. Every 2 hours: yogurt with blueberries or granola for breakfast; at lunch a salad with some chicken or fish on it, and very light dressing; a healthy dinner; and for snacks I'm never without a healthy alternative. I have to surround myself with healthy alternatives—in the office, studio, on set, whatever—so I'm not reaching for something bad, because the habits are still there, I grew up with them, although I've got [the new routine] down pretty good now. It's like I say in the book: "An old dawg can learn new tricks!"
Where does your health stand today?
I'm in very good shape. But I still check my blood sugar 3 or 4 times a day. I'm also very careful and on top of what's really going on and how I'm feeling. My blood sugar level depends, but it's usually between 100 and 120. I think that everybody should monitor their sugar 3 or 4 times a day, before or after meals or both, until you really get it together. Those monitors are lifesavers.
Why write the book?
Just to share my story, what I went through, and to talk to people about how to prevent diabetes. I think this is one of the sneakiest of all diseases: Most people who have it don't know; a third of people walking around with diabetes don't know it. One of the best things about celebrity is that you can talk to people and alert them—this can happen to anyone if it happened to me. Also, one of the main things I said when I started the book is, I want to talk to the fat guy who knows what I'm feeling like. Not the skinny guy or the bodybuilder or the gym guy talking to the fat guy—that's not realistic. Because I know exactly where those people are coming from.
How did you get involved with the American Heart Association's "Heart of Diabetes" campaign, which you're a spokesman for?
I started working with the American Heart Association about a year and a half ago. The thing is, cardiovascular disease is one of the main [causes of death in] people with type 2 diabetes. I've done a bunch of public service announcements and things to try to help get people aware. People are shocked at how big this disease is but it's amazing how little people actually know about it.
So, what can we expect from the new season of Idol?
A lot of heat, man. I call season 8 the soul of American Idol. It's different than people might expect, but it's a really, really good season. You gotta watch!
What else is on your very full plate right now?
Well, we've got America's Best Dance Crew going into its third season. There's also my eyewear line at Walmart, and I'm just still working on a ton of music projects and other TV stuff. I'm just busy—busy, as bad as it seems, is also good when you're trying to control things. For me, it takes my mind off just thinking about food.
It's amazing how far you've come, health-wise, since 1999.
I see some of the Idol Rewind shows, when I was so heavy, and say "what was I thinking?" I guess the thing is I wasn't thinking at all. That's why in the book I have a lot about the psychological aspects of weight loss. No one talks open and honestly about it, about why you get there, to 350 pounds. There's more going on here than just food. I think for a lot of people, they feel food is the only enjoyment they get out of life. I mean, I've been on 80 million diets, lost a bunch of weight, and gained it all back. If you don't treat the complete problem, it's not going to take hold. I almost feel like you should start with behavioral modification first—let's talk about what's really going on with you, and not talk about weight first, because that's what started all the madness. Unless you deal with that, you're just putting a Band-Aid on it.
Any words of encouragement or advice for folks in the same position you were when you were first diagnosed with diabetes?
You can definitely, definitely manage it, 100 percent. I also want to stress that you still can enjoy yourself and have an amazing time. I still have that sliver of cake sometimes, I just don't have the full cake anymore. If you balance it out—how you've been eating through the day, where your blood sugar is—you can still enjoy yourself. The thing is, you're diagnosed, there's no cure, so you've really got to make changes. But the great part is, it's not too late. It's never too late to start.