“American Idol” judge Randy Jackson has money, fame and a high-profile gig. But there’s one big thing he has in common with millions of ordinary Americans: a lifelong weight problem.
After landing in an emergency room with type 2 diabetes and undergoing gastric bypass surgery that helped him carve 100 pounds off a 350-pound frame, Jackson has written about his experience in the hope of helping others defeat obesity.
“You’ll listen to me because I’ve been there. I’ve walked the walk and talked the talk,” Jackson told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Monday in New York, where he talked about his book, “Body With Soul: Slash Sugar, Cut Cholesterol, and Get a Jump On Your Best Health Ever.”
Jackson said he wrote the book for a simple reason: “Weight control is like a serious disease. It never goes away. There’s no cure, but you can help yourself.”
Music and food
Jackson, 52, grew up in Baton Rouge, La., where life revolves around two things: music and food. He picked up his love of both as a child. The music gave him a career; the food gave him a life-threatening disease.
“I didn’t even know what exercise was until I was 13 or 14 playing organized sports in school, because you’d be outside playing all the time. You never thought about the word ‘exercise,’ ” Jackson said. “So I never thought I’d be writing a book like this.”
As a child, he says, food solved all problems.
"I wouldn't quite say that life is always a party in Louisiana, especially during these post-hurricane days, but when I was a kid, you ate like you were celebrating,” he writes in his book. “Some families might not have been able to buy this or that, but food was cheap, so you could always put something fantastic on the table. There was constant encouragement to eat. ‘My God, you're looking like skin and bones,’ my grandmother would say. 'You better eat something.’ In my Southern, African-American world, just like in a lot of cultures that struggled with adversity in the past, being able to eat as much and whatever you wanted was a sign of prosperity.”
Once he began a musical career during which he played with Carlos Santana and Jerry Garcia in addition to the groups Journey and The Randy Jackson Band, the weight started to pile on.
“Once, when I was in the beginning of my career — and the beginning of what would become a 25-year struggle with weight — I returned home for a visit,” Jackson writes. “Our family minister took one look at me and said, ‘Man, you've put on some weight. You must be living good!’ ”
The wake-up call
It all caught up with him in 1999. “I had a huge wake-up call. I was really feeling crazy ill,” Jackson told Lauer. “I went to the emergency room and found out I had type 2 diabetes. I had to do something because I was feeling terrible.”
He tried dieting and working out, but couldn’t keep the weight off. Finally, after his second season as a judge on “Idol,” he underwent gastric bypass surgery, a solution that doctors recommend only as a last resort because of the potential dangers that accompany the surgery.
That was in 2003. Jackson took off 100 pounds and has kept it off.
“It’s not easy, and it’s a continued struggle,” Jackson told Lauer. “That’s part of why I wanted to write the book, as an inspiration to people and say, ‘Hey, listen. It can happen to anybody. It happened to me, no matter how much money, no matter what I do, I’m still just like you.’ ”
As a record company executive in Los Angeles, Jackson’s life still revolves around business meals washed down with drinks. But he’s learned to deal with it.
“You get over the fact that ‘I have to have all these lunches,’ ” Jackson told Lauer. “I’m tired of feeling bad. I want to feel good, so you change your life around.”
It’s not about extremes, but finding a healthy medium, he added. “You can still be large and in charge, but it can be nice if you’re medium and in charge,” he said. “I want to be healthy. I don’t want to be perfect, I just want to be pretty good.”
Meantime, he’s busy preparing for the 13th season of “Idol,” which begins in January. “We just finished up the auditions, and I have to say it’s going swimmingly well,” Jackson reported.