Millions of viewers know Randy Jackson, 51, as an “American Idol” judge and king of the dawg pound. And if you're a hard-core music fan, you also know that he was a bass guitarist for jazz violinist Jean Luc Ponty, and the '80s pop-rock group Journey. He also rocked the house over the years by playing backup for Aretha Franklin, George Michael, Madonna, the Charlie Daniels Band, Bob Dylan and others.
Jackson got his musical start at age 17, when he got hired to play with John Fred and the Playboys. After graduating from Southern University in Baton Rouge, La, with degrees in music and psychology in 1979, he joined jazz fusion drummer Billy Cobham — and the rest, as they say, is history. “When you play with guys that legendary, everyone goes, ‘Wow, [he] must be really good,’” Jackson told The Associated Press last year.
Jackson has been a hit-maker for singers Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, whom he has known since she was a teenager. He served stints heading up the artists and repertoire departments at Columbia Records and MCA Records. But America got to know and love him when Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and he became the three judges of TV juggernaut “American Idol,” which NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker characterized as “the most important show in the history of television,” in an interview for Fortune magazine in May.
Still, with all his career success, Jackson has been struggling for years to control his weight, which got as high as 329 pounds. “Being on the road as a musician and producer, and then as an ‘Idol’ judge, it hasn't been easy to get on a weight management program and stay on it,” he admits.
THE DIAGNOSIS THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
“About five or six years ago, I was feeling really ill. I was tired all the time and felt dehydrated, but couldn't figure out what was going on,” Jackson recalls. “I knew it ran in my family, but was still shocked when my physician told me that I had type 2 diabetes.” He says the news “hit him hard.”
“When I got the diagnosis, I was afraid that if I didn't do something drastic, I wouldn't be around that long,” Jackson says. He and his wife, Erika, took “a hard look” at his lifestyle choices and habits. “I'm from Baton Rouge. Southern food is always cooked with at least two sticks of butter,” He says, adding, “I was also an emotional eater.” Compounding the effects of a rich diet, he was getting far less than the 30 minutes of physical activity five or more days a week that the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends.
“I sat down with my doctor who helped me come up with a plan that included diet and exercise. ... Diet and exercise really do work,” says Jackson, who lost 110 pounds, “but when you are heavy, you don't feel like working out. Now, I want to work out. It gives me all this energy.”
Jackson's doctor also raised his awareness about staying on top of important health indicators — including his cholesterol and blood sugar levels. With good dietary habits that help him control his blood sugar level and working out on a treadmill 30 to 45 minutes a day, Jackson has been successfully keeping his diabetes in check.
“Diabetes can kill you if left unmanaged. There are a lot of people who have the disease but don't even know,” says Jackson, urging people to have their blood glucose levels checked. To get the word out, he has joined forces with the AHA to promote its “Heart of Diabetes” awareness campaign (for more information, see page 23). The centerpiece of the campaign is a newly-launched Web site (www.IKnowDiabetes.org) that offers tips for managing type 2 diabetes, and features a video in which Jackson personally invites people to share their health concerns, challenges and successes online.
“Hearing stories about how others manage type 2 diabetes helps me,” Jackson says, “I hope this campaign will help others who live with the disease lead happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives.”
GOING THE DISTANCE
As it happens, Jackson is not the only person associated with “American Idol” who lives with diabetes. Contestant Elliot Yamin, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 16 and wears an insulin pump to manage his blood sugar level. He told Diabetes Health magazine last year that it was often hard to keep up the frenetic pace required of a contestant on the show while trying to maintain his health. “The excitement and good stress of being on ‘Idol’ would make me run high. I checked my blood sugar pretty frequently so I wouldn't get low during performances. I also made sure that everyone around me knew about my diabetes, just in case there was a problem.”
Jackson, too, believes that monitoring his blood sugar level is important to be able to maintain his busy pace. In addition to his duties as an “Idol” judge, Jackson is still active as a music producer. He's working with Boyz II Men on a soon-to-be-released studio album — their first several years — and is co-producing a new album with country music star, Travis Tritt. And NBC recently announced that Jackson will executive produce a new reality hip-hop dance show, “World Moves,” slated to premiere in the late Fall.
But no matter how busy Jackson is, he knows he has to be vigilant about taking care of his health if he wants to be in peak form. “There is no cure for diabetes, but with hard work I can manage and control it,” Jackson says with the confidence that's made him one of the most in-demand musical magicians in the business.
© 2007 American Heart Association, Inc.