Clay Aiken throws back to the 50s and 60s on his fifth studio album

In a day of reality-show instant celebrities, still only a select few know the exhilarating feat of being plucked out of anonymity and thrown into the proverbial fishbowl of super-stardom. Clay Aiken was a fan favorite during the sophomore season of American Idol, where he finished second to Ruben Studdard.

Eight years later, despite rumors and set-backs, Aiken’s grit, determination and raw talent have proven why he’s a household name. While Aiken may have acquiesced to a few minor alterations, he has stayed true to himself and his passion, using his celebrity as a platform to raise awareness for gay rights, AIDS and children with disabilities.

Just a few weeks out from a major U.S. tour that brings him to Orlando’s Hard Rock Live Feb. 11 and Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Feb. 12, the 32-year-old North Carolina native talks about coming out, fatherhood, Broadway and Richard Chamberlin.

ERIK RAYMOND: You’ve toured with Ruben Studdard among others. Do you think you prefer touring solo or as an ensemble?
CLAY AIKEN: There are benefits to both. I like touring solo because I get to make all the decisions. [Laughs] But there is something nice about touring with someone else. Not only because there’s that camaraderie. There’s someone you get to bounce jokes off of and you get to play on stage with someone else. It does take some of the pressure off. I like being part of a team—I like being a valuable part of a team. I don’t want to be on the bench and want to be an equal part of a team. Like when I toured with Reuben [Studdard] and Kelly [Clarkson] the pressure was off of me. I was still a very important part, still a boss, but there was someone to be a part of it with me.

With that said, I like singing my own songs. I like doing my own shows. So, it’s kind of six of one, a half dozen of the other.

What can we expect from this solo show?
You can expect I’ll be in charge. [Laughs] This show is going to be relatively laid back compared to some of the other shows that I’ve done. All of the music is love songs from the 50s and 60s. It will be a little more low key than say “Invincible” or some of the stuff I’ve done with Reuben. It’s almost like one of my Christmas shows, just without the Christmas music. It’ll be a sit-down-and-enjoy-the-music kind of atmosphere; perfect for Valentine’s Day. I’m taking less people on tour with me so that I have a little more control over the set list and more flexibility within the show to change things up a bit. My goal for this show is to keep it as intimate and laid-back as possible. I want to have time to talk with the audience and have conversations with some of the people in the crowd.

On your latest album Tried & True, I read that you said your intention was to make a record of timeless classics and get back to a style that you’re comfortable with. Amongst your selection of songs on the album, were there any, in particular that you chose because they have a personal meaning to you?
I used to sing “Unchained Melody” as a kid. When I was a teenager, my mom would always dream that she would take me to Nashville, I’d record [my version] and I’d become a big star. But then, Leann Rimes recorded it like three months after [my mom] had that dream and shot it down. [Laughs] I continued to sing it though as always—the Righteous Brothers version. When I decided to do this album, I said there are a few songs I have to do and “Unchained Melody” was one of those because I wanted my own version of it. So, my musical director created an arrangement for me that was totally different from anything anyone has done before. Now I have my very own arrangement of “Unchained Melody.”

Another was “Moon River.” It was a song I wanted to sing on American Idol but didn’t get a chance to. It’s always been one of my favorites.

I remember always wanting to sing like Johnny Mathis. I can’t tell you the first time I heard him sing “Misty.” Listening to him I would think, “God, he’s a freak. His voice is so…effortless.”

“It’s Only Make Believe” is a song that makes me remember going to Twitty City—where Conway Twitty lived—with my mom, dad and brother when I was a young kid. I never thought it could be turned from a country song to a ballad.

Most of the other songs I chose because I’ve always loved and wanted to sing them. There are a few that I wasn’t familiar with that I’ve come to love.

In 2008, you debuted on Broadway in Monty Python’s Spamalot. Did you find it difficult to go from being a recording artist to Broadway?
I loved it! I didn’t think I was going to. It’s definitely different. Difficult? Not really. I have nothing but respect for people who do eight shows a week. There were doubts if I’d be able to handle eight shows a week but when I was on tour, I did six shows a week. I was in a different city every day. At least when I was on Broadway, I was able to sleep in the same bed every night, spend the day relaxing and then go in and do the show for two hours.

As I said earlier, I loved the fact that there was a team involved. The pressure was not all on me to handle everything. I’m amazed by the ensembles of all these Broadway shows that go in there and dance their heads off. I was lucky. I was in a less physical role, but I was still sore. They had to drag me off the stage a few times. [Laughs]

Over time, it becomes easier. There’s less memorizing involved, it becomes routine and just something you do for two hours every night.

I’m not sure if you read or heard about Richard Chamberlin’s article in Advocate advising gay male celebrities to stay in the closet for the sake of their career. How do you feel about that?

Whether you’re a celebrity or not there is an argument that can be made for celebrities to come out of the closet. I don’t think that’s fair to an individual and I don’t think it really affects the gay community that much anyway. My coming out may have helped one or two people, but it didn’t have a profound effect on the entire gay community. I think that if anything, a large number of my middle-aged women fans who may not have been okay with homosexual men before have learned acceptance.

You decided to come out when you announced the birth of your son because you didn’t want “to raise a child to lie or to hide things.” What advice can you offer to those that may be grappling with the decision to come out?
In the rear view mirror it’s easy to see that a lot of the fears that I had before coming out, a lot of the things that concerned me and a lot of the things that I was afraid would happen to me when I came out did not come to fruition. I realized that those fears weren’t rational. What I know today is that irrationality doesn’t respond to irrationality.

Most people that are in the closet are not able to be rational and I don’t blame them because I wasn’t either. So, the best thing I can say is that when you’re ready, people will be there to support you. And don’t do it until you’re ready. I think that a lot of gays and lesbians that have been out for a long time tend to forget what it was like. Then, there are those who had a great support system and were never made to feel ostracized don’t know what it’s like.

Everybody takes their own path—their own journey. For me, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. I have yet to meet anybody who has said it was as bad as they thought it would be.

With the ban on gay adoption lifted here in Florida, can you offer any advice for those wanting to be parents?
It’s a miracle. Having a child in your life is incredible. It will change your life forever. It’s definitely a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I think that if the gay men and women in Florida have the opportunity and want to adopt and are serious, they should absolutely do it. Do not be swayed in any way by what you think other people might say or think.

Who is your Valentine this year?

If I had a partner, I’d have plans. But since I don’t, I will be performing. My Valentine will be my audience.

For more info:
WHO: Clay Aiken
WHEN & WHERE: Friday, Feb. 11 at Hard Rock Live in Orlando and Saturday, Feb. 12 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota




Originally published by Watermark Media, Inc.