BY JERRY NUNN
Clay Aiken broke out into the world of music and television on the second season of American Idol. His first release, Measure of a Man, sold more copies in its first week than Madonna and Beyonce's debut albums combined.
He wrote a best-selling book Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life and released Merry Christmas With Love in the same week.
Aiken caught the acting bug on Drop Dead Diva and headed to Broadway in Monty Python's Spamalot.
Steadfast is his most recent album, being released this year and coinciding with his appearance on Celebrity Apprentice, where he finished second.
Nunn tracked him down to chat a bit about his current projects and upcoming show.
Windy City Times: Hey, Clay. Are you out on tour?
Clay Aiken: I am. I'm in New York right now.
WCT: This is a holiday tour?
Clay Aiken: Yes, this is our Joyful Noise tour. This is the fifth incarnation of that. We have done it several times over the years. This is a new generation of the same theme we've had in the past.
WCT: So a lot of Christmas songs?
Clay Aiken: It is all holiday. We tried to put songs like "Invisible" in, and it just doesn't make sense to sing that and "Oh Holy Night" and "Away In a Manger" in the same set.
WCT: Fans of the album Steadfast won't hear much of that then…
Clay Aiken: Fans of Steadfast will get the same type of sound. That particular album, Tried and True, was a full orchestra big-band type of show. We do this particular show with a full orchestra. The reason I did Tried and True, which later was called Steadfast, was because I like that type of orchestra sound and it's where I love to be.
The Christmas music is in that same space for my voice, at least. It is not me trying to be cool and hip and sing Justin Bieber-y type songs. It is me singing what works for my voice and the style. I was born 20 years too late in some regards. If I had been born 20 years earlier I would have been able to sing in the '60s and '70s. Christmas music stays timeless in that way.
WCT: Were you raised on a lot of standards?
Clay Aiken: Oh, yeah; my mom had that stuff playing all the time. She used to sing so it is in my blood somewhere.
WCT: Did you have a musical background growing up?
Clay Aiken: No, not really. My mom and my uncle sang a little bit but never around the family or anything. I think when you are a kid and want to sing around people at four years old people think that is exciting. Even though you might not be that good, you are encouraged to do it. I was encouraged because I was willing to do it then I fell in love with it. That's how it happened.
WCT: You fell into being a contestant on American Idol?
Clay Aiken: Pretty much. I was nagged into doing it. Someone told me that I needed to go so I went and got cut the first day. I thought, "Well, shit! I ain't gonna get cut like this! I might not be the best in the country but I am certainly better than these fools that made it through on the first day." I went back the next week and tried again in Atlanta.
WCT: It must be fun looking back at some of those episodes.
Clay Aiken: I look back with binoculars. It has been so long ago I can barely remember it.
WCT: What do you think about this new Idol? It looks like a different ballgame now.
Clay Aiken: I haven't watched it since 2005. It has been a long time since I've seen the show. So I don't know too much about it.
WCT: I enjoyed watching you on Celebrity Apprentice and you almost won.
Clay Aiken: I need a T-shirt that says "Almost Won!" That has been my lot in life. It should have been fun to watch because we gave you enough drama.
WCT: You have been involved with so many fundraising organizations. What ones are working with currently?
Clay Aiken: I do what I can. I am focused the most on the National Inclusion Project, which is what I played for on Apprentice. It is an organization that I started to include kids with disabilities into programs for kids without disabilities. I've been an ambassador for UNICEF since 2004. I have also done some work with GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) and organizations that have tried to stop bullying with LGBT youth in schools.
WCT: Were you bullied when you were younger?
Clay Aiken: Believe it or not, I really wasn't. I am just ripe for being bullied. I am the most bully-able person you will ever meet. I'm red headed, gay, skinny and pale, which should have made me bullied all the time. But I found something that I loved and was passionate about. I sang all the time and had something I could focus my energies on. So that helped me a little bit.
Now I have been bullied as an adult a lot, but as a teenager I didn't have too much trouble with it.
WCT: What took you so long to come out of the closet? Were you worried about your career?
Clay Aiken: I kind of take offense to the "what took you so long" question, to be quite honest, because I think LGBT people need to stop worrying about what other people do. Every individual who is gay has an individual path. They take a certain time to come out. I came out to my family and friends five years before I was encouraged to do it publicly. Had I had my own way I would never have told anybody because it was really nobody's damn business! Nobody else has to come out publicly.
I think that gay men and women who have come out have a false impression that since they came out it is easy for other people. It is an individual journey for every single person. I have to watch myself now that I am out to make sure I don't say, "Since I did it, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris, and Ricky Martin all did it, then everyone should do it." That's bullshit. Every single person has personal reasons for making the decisions that they make. Coming out is 100 percent a personal journey. It's not done for the benefit of anybody else at all. I didn't come out for anybody else. I had to work through my own issues with my family and the people around me.
WCT: How is your son, Parker, doing by the way?
Clay Aiken: He's doing well, thank you.
WCT: Do you want to do more Broadway shows like Monty Python's Spamalot?
Clay Aiken: I enjoyed it a lot. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. But I did; I kind of fell in love with it. I don't have any plans to do it right now but would love to at some point, only if I got to sing. I didn't get to sing in the last one. That was not a singing show. There are not many shows for guys to sing with so many being for women. Instead of doing one for the sake of doing one then I will wait for the right one.
WCT: Your fellow American Idol competitor Kimberley Locke is playing at a gay bar named Roscoe's three days after your show in Chicago.
Clay Aiken: Is she? She has carved out quite the niche for herself. She has an incredible voiceno question about it.
WCT: What are you doing after the tour?
Clay Aiken: We are going to take a break. Doing a tour takes so much more than actually going out singing. It has been several months in the making so things we were planning on doing we had to put on hold for the tour. I don't have time to talk much with my manager because of the show. I am sure we will just reassess in January to see what is going on and possible, and take it from there.
WCT: I look forward to hearing "Mary Did You Know" at the show.
Clay Aiken: Oh good, and thank you!
Clay Aiken rings in the holiday hits at The Arcada Theatre, 105 E. Main St., St. Charles, on Dec. 15. Tickets may be purchased at www.clayaiken.com or www.oshows.com .