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Clay Aiken Q&A Before His Concert at the Peace Center in Greenville

Clay Aiken Q&A before his concert at the Peace Center in Greenville

By Jake Grove

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Clay Aiken is not that naïve kid who was runner-up on the second season of "American Idol" back in 2003. He's not the young-faced, red-headed lad who was forced to answer question after question about voting procedures, his personal life and what he will do with his "American Idol" fame. In the last eight years, he has done plenty with his rise to fame, and then some.

His first album shot to No. 1 on the Billboard charts and went Double Platinum. His Christmas albums flew off the shelves and garnered him awards, accolades and plenty of tours. He has been around the world, performed with some of the biggest names in the music industry and recently even became a father for the first time.

Now he is touring to support his newest release, "Tried and True," and that tour brings Aiken through the Upstate tonight at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville. But before seeing him, audiences have a chance for a glimpse into the life of Clay Aiken as Upstate Be chats it up with the former "Idol."

Jake Grove: It's been, what, seven years since you were runner-up on "American Idol"? Does that experience feel like a lifetime ago?

Clay Aiken: Unfortunately, I have to correct you. It's been eight years and I am reminded of it all the time. It does feel (like it's been a lifetime ago) when you consider the percentage of my life I've lived since then. But I feel like there is a point in any job where you can't remember where you worked before. "American Idol" is like that for me. It's all a distant memory. It's like a summer camp memory, but one that has lasted so long.

JG: When did you finally feel like you emerged from the "American Idol" umbrella?

CA: That is a multi-faceted answer. I don't know if I would be doing all this if not for "Idol." I think I would have continued to proceed as a special education teacher and maybe been a principal if I never auditioned for "American Idol." I can say that none of this would have been possible, but at the same time I feel like I have done a bunch since "Idol" that has nothing to do with the show. I have made the most of the experience and been fortunate enough to have great people around me to help me move past the show. But I don't think it will really go away until the show goes off the air.

JG: What was the biggest challenge for you in becoming an overnight sensation?

CA: At first, it was "I don't want to do this." I went from a life of obscurity to everyone being in my business and that was never easy. It still frustrates me today, honestly. I might make a comment on stage or talk to the audience about the music industry and how nobody sings anymore than it's all over TMZ the next day. I feel like a politician and have to be careful of everything I say.

JG: Do you still enjoy the job even with those challenges?

CA: At some point there is going to be something you don't like about your job. But then you say, "If I don't love it, I wouldn't do it." The good outweighs the bad in that regard, and I always have to make a choice to cope with the bad and focus on the good.

JG: Being a native of the Carolinas (Aiken is from Raliegh, N.C.), there are many aspiring artists who would like to follow in your footsteps. What would you tell them?

CA: The key is not to try so hard. Always maintain the root of who you are and stick to that. People who go on "Idol" always think they know what it takes to be a pop star and they try to fit that mold. But you can never tell what people want. Even if you did, you might be wrong and you have to change back.

JG: Do you feel you were able to "be yourself" throughout your career?

CA: I think I was. Some might argue that I wasn't myself by not coming out, but I am not defined by that. I have always behaved and performed as myself and always maintained that. I record what is true to me, I don't put out radio singles and we have been fortunate to succeed with that path.

JG: Talk about your live performances. What do you hope the audience takes away from a Clay Aiken concert?

CA: I always hope (audiences) get more from a live setting than they would from the album alone. I don't see the added value of just watching me sing the songs from the album. When I perform, I am always thinking, "What are they getting out of this that is more than just music?" So, we try to be funny and interactive on stage. They get more than just turning on the album really loud.

JG: Has your work or the projects you do been influenced by the arrival of your son (in 2008)?

CA: I don't think my music has changed at all. It doesn't change my work so much as my outlook on life. I have made decisions in the past based on what I thought was fun, but now it's about taking care of my family and you have to consider that.

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Greenville News

Review: Aiken Gives Classics Their Due

There are few souls in this wide world who can pull off Joni Mitchell and the Righteous Brothers back-to-back. Clay Aiken proved he was one of them Thursday night at the Peace Center.

It was a simply presented show featuring little more than Aiken, a handful of talented musicians and soulful backup singer Quiana Parler, but it was more than enough to highlight the "American Idol" alum's startlingly powerful voice.

Aiken, who is touring following the release of his new album "Tried and True," sang mostly songs from that album – the well-traveled and much beloved classic love songs of the '50s and '60s.

Thanks to Aiken's respectful and yet personal treatment of long-cherished songs, including the finale featuring The Beatles' "In My Life," no one left the show without humming a new favorite old song.

As a nod to the fans who have followed his pop career for years, he also offered a slightly odd medley of some of his better-known songs, including "Measure of a Man" and "Invisible," arranged to sound more like the jazzy classics of the rest of the show.

But it was those classics, like Andy Williams' "Love Story," Johnny Mathis' "Misty" and the aforementioned "Both Sides Now" and "Unchained Melody" that allowed Aiken to really shine, showing off his range and impressive vocal power, much to the audience's delight and amazement.

Upbeat selections like "Suspicious Minds" (Elvis Presley) and "Build Me Up Buttercup" (The Foundations) livened up the show, as did Aiken's lighthearted banter and occasional antics.

An Auto-Tune stunt gave Aiken a comedic soapbox from which to lambaste contemporary pop music for its dearth of talented singers. And renditions of Connie Francis' melancholy hit "Who's Sorry Now" in funk, Celtic and marching styles reaped plenty of laughs.

By Amy Clarke • Staff writer • Published: February 25. 2011 2:00AM

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journalgazette.net (Fort Wayne, IN)

Clay Aiken Embraces Fame But Doesn't Enjoy Limelight

Published: February 25, 2011 3:00 a.m.

Clay Aiken embraces fame but doesn't enjoy limelight


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If you go Who: Clay Aiken When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Embassy Theatre, 125 W. Jefferson Blvd.

Admission: Tickets, from $29.50 to $75, are available by calling 1-800-745-3000 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com.

He came in second on the second season of "American Idol," which propelled singer Clay Aiken to No. 1 with his fans. It's been eight years since he was "discovered" on the popular television show and in that time the 32-year-old from Raleigh, N.C., came out as a gay man, became a dad and starred on Broadway in "Monty Python's Spamalot."

His memoir, "Learning to Sing; Hearing the Music in Your Life," published in 2004, became a New York Times best-seller. Aiken is on the "Tried and True" concert tour.

He will be in Fort Wayne on Wednesday at the Embassy Theatre.

Q. Has fame been everything you expected?

A. I didn't fantasize about being famous, that's for sure. I never thought in my life that I was going to be famous. I never thought I wanted to be famous, and some days I still think I don't want to be. (Laughs) So I don't know that I had any preconceived notions of what fame was going to be. Limos and parties and whatnot. That's not really what it looks like most of the time. I'm – I'm boring anyway. (Laughs)

I don't know that I knew what to expect when I auditioned for "Idol." I don't know that I knew what to expect when it was over. I have been surprised regularly. I still find myself going, "What is going on in my life?" And it's been eight years now. So I would answer that – no, it hasn't been what I expected because: A) I'm always surprised; and B) I really didn't have any expectations.

Q. Did it change you emotionally in any way?

A. Ahhh, initially, probably so. Initially, I think it probably made me a little more jaded, unfortunately. After eight years of doing it, it becomes the new normal. I don't think I'm jaded anymore. I don't think I'm skeptical. I think I'm wiser. I would say that I'm still somewhat cautious, but I think I got a little bit of wisdom that I wouldn't have gotten if I'd not done this job. Now it's just my life, and I know how to traverse the perils of it. (Laughs)

Q. From the very start you appeared at home in the spotlight, but what about your friends and family? Were they ready for your fame?

A. It's interesting that you say that because I'm not. I appreciate – I like performing, but I don't like being in the spotlight when I'm not on the stage. If I'm performing, I enjoy it, I appreciate it. I can get into it. As soon as the camera goes off, the lights go off, the curtain comes down, I'm almost reclusive.

Q. And I would imagine doing this kind of interview would be uncomfortable.

A. Oh, yes. Four years ago I would constantly be worried what the next question would be. Or constantly be worried about what I was going to say or (how it would) be interpreted. I realize in life I'm going to mess up – plenty of times now. That's why I say there's a certain wisdom that comes with it. I realize I'm going to screw up a lot, and I need to stop being afraid of screwing up. If something happens in an interview now where I would be like – now I just say I'm not talking about that. Next. (Laughs) And I don't care.

Q. Last year, bullying in general, and anti-gay bullying in particular, was getting lots of media attention because of several student deaths resulting from it.

A. I went to D.C. with GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network) to unveil a bill that Sen. (Al) Franken (D-Minn.) and Sen. (Robert) Casey (D-Pa.) … had presented to help stop bullying. To make sure sexual orientation was included in the federal guideline. Sexual orientation and gender identity were not included, so teachers were not empowered to stop it. I got bullied plenty. I still get bullied. (Laughs) Some of your peers, the media – the press doesn't have a problem bullying me, either. (Laughs)

We live in a society now where it's just OK. It's much more accepted whether it be comedians who make it OK to pick on people because they make it funny or the message boards or comments on a news article. Since there's anonymity involved, people can say the nastiest things. I think it was great there was a lot of exposure given to bullying. It was horrible it came about the way it did.

People would be remiss to think that there was a lot of bullying and gay young men and women were committing suicide only last year. It's been happening for years and years. I think it's important that people pay attention to it. It happens everywhere. There have been so many wonderful things the Internet has brought us, ... but there have been plenty of ways that people can bully.

Kids get cyber-bullied all the time, and I think there needs to be more attention drawn to that type of thing, too. We just need as a people to stop being jerks.

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Feat of Clay

Feat of Clay

Posted on 03 Mar 2011 at 6:00pm

Clay Aiken went from 'American Idol' to gay icon — and more

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer

It should come as no surprise that singer Clay Aiken would be a gentleman. With his Southern twang and clean-cut persona, he's both personable and professional in an interview. But the kid is also pretty slick.

"Not many people can deal with the scrutiny of bullshit."

Whoa — did Clay Aiken just drop the "S" word? The remark comes on the heels of a question about his much blogged-about new relationship with Jeff Walters, a local actor with recent parts in such shows as Uptown Players' Closer to Heavenand Ohlook's The Rocky Horror Show. Perez Hilton and many others (our own Instant Tea blog even got in on the action) were quick to highlight the guys' night out on the town, complete with pics at Theatre Three and the Gaylord. What soon followed were pics of Walters from Grindr and his work as an underwear model.

"I'll save you the trouble of asking and not answer," Aiken laughs with that underlying tone that he's tight-lipped about his personal life.

Fair enough. There is much more to Aiken, after all, than mere gossip fodder, as he's proven with his staunch activism for the welfare of children and youth. His service with the National Inclusion Project (formerly the Bubel/Aiken Foundation) and UNICEF has been notable, but his work with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) may have his most personal vested interest at heart.

"I think that I chose to work with GLSEN more vocally than other equality organizations because it hits home more," he says. "All the organizations are incredible, but I got picked on growing up as a kid. For being a nerd, for being gay before I knew I even was. And I still get picked on. Being a celebrity doesn't protect you and it can be worse when it's more public."

Aiken says that without any sign of whining. He focuses less on what people are saying about him (there is a lot out there that's not-so-nice, starting when he was still an American Idol contestant) and is more interested in directing his attention to anti-bullying causes and making schools safe.

"I understand that mission from my personal standpoint. From the scars," he chuckles. "But as a former teacher, I want to be sure schools are safe places for kids."

Interestingly, as a fairly new dad (his son is 2 now), Aiken says his passion didn't necessarily grow from parenthood. Instead, he says he'd like to think he was always that passionate. But having a son did add a perspective that he thinks might be missing in today's LGBT parents.

"Well, it's one thing to protect yourself, but an entirely different thing to protect your child," he says. "I understand that if my son is gay, I want him to have rights and protections. I think that idea is somewhat lacking within the community. It's easy to forget that the rights we're fighting for are for another generation."

Aiken hesitates to liken the struggle for equal rights for LGBT citizens now with the civil rights movement of Black America in the '60s, but he connected with the idea that then, people were working and fighting for rights so that generation's children didn't have to. Aiken encourages that thought for LGBT parents.

"We don't have as many opportunities to look at it that way," he says. "The generation before us may not have been able to get married and we may in this lifetime, but as a father now, I want to make sure and set up a future for my son."

Lest we forget, Aiken is first and foremost a musician and singer. He'll remind North Texas of that as his tour stops at Verizon Theatre on Tuesday in support of his fifth full-length studio release, Tried and True. He recorded old-school tunes from the '50s and '60s, putting his indelible vocal stamp on classics like "Mack the Knife" and

"Unchained Melody." Ironically, Aiken doesn't listen much to any music. He's more of a news junkie.

"I really don't. I listen to NPR and watch CNN," he admits. "I love top 40 stuff like Katy Perry and Gaga when it's on in the car, but I guess I'm kind of a music-less musician."

Highly doubtful.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

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3/10: Clay Aiken at the Mesa Arts Center

3/10: Clay Aiken at the Mesa Arts Center

by Randy Cordova - Mar. 3, 2011 11:19 AM

The Arizona Republic

Clay Aiken's big voice and Southern charm made him a favorite during the second season of "American Idol," and he has parlayed a second-place win into a consistent career with a devoted army of Claymates who support his every move. Aiken, 32, called from his home in Raleigh, N.C., to talk about his current tour, which supports the disc "Tried and True," a fitting name for an album that includes such classic tunes as "Unchained Melody" and "It's Impossible."

Question: What is the "Tried and Tour" like?

Answer: I've kind of done the big production stuff before. This is something really laid back, more intimate and low-key. It's the kind of show where you can come inside and kind of warm up and relax. Well, not in Arizona, where it's already warm outside.

Q: The album has great songs. Was it fun to do?

A: It was fun and easy, if only because these songs are the ones people grew up on, and they're in a genre I feel comfortable doing. It was easy to find 150 to 200 songs, and I sang them in the shower, in the garage, wherever I could get great acoustics. Then we picked the songs that were best for me.

Q: How do you know a song works for you?

A: A song just naturally fits. It's like when you go into the store and find some clothes in the rack and you think, "Oh, that won't look good on me," and then it does. Sometimes I find a song I think I'm going to like, and it's not necessarily for me. Then there are songs that the record label likes. I don't necessarily like it on the rack, but it does fit me. Every song I went into the studio with, I felt comfortable with.

Q: Where do you think your sound fits in contemporary



A: I don't know that it does, if I'm being honest. Sometimes I think I was born two decades too late in order to musically fit in where I feel the most comfortable. There are definitely examples of music that are about a great singer and a great song all the way up to "My Heart Will Go On." But in the last three or four years, it's not about the singer so much as the producers.

Q: You're the same age as a lot of people on the radio, so is that frustrating for you?

A: I have no idea, but thank you for thinking I'm that young! (Laughing) I am getting old. I think even Bublé is younger than me (Note: He's not - Aiken is three years younger). There's not too many people that have been around. It does make it tough, but it also leaves a market for me that's not really been addressed . . . I was never a radio person anyway. I was more recognizable from TV than radio.

Q: But your career is interesting because you've never depended on hit singles. How do you do that?

A: Again, it's TV. People are very into TV, and there aren't a lot of people who have come from "Idol." We're a small class of people as it is. I don't know how to bottle it, and I wish I did. I don't know how to respond; if I did, I'd be a manager and record executive! (Laughing) I think I've just been sort of lucky, and we kind of make decisions long-term vs. short-term.

Q: Speaking of the record biz, Perez Hilton just reported that you lost your record deal.

A: It's very inappropriate to believe anything you read on the Internet. We finished this particular album for Decca, and now we're working on what our next steps will be. We never had any extremely long-term plans with this label.

Q: What do you think of the way the media writes about you?

A: We have got this 24-hour news cycle. People have to have it first, like Perez, without getting anything from me, without waiting to get confirmation. It used to be people just read the newspaper and watched the news at 6:30, and you had 24 hours to get it right. People don't take the time to find out what's really happening anymore, because they have to get it out really quick.

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Ex-"American Idol" Runner-Up Clay Aiken is Just...So...Nice

Ex-'American Idol' runner-up Clay Aiken is just … so … nice

By Allison Stewart, Special to the Tribune

March 4, 2011

It's been almost eight years since Clay Aiken came in second on the second season of "American Idol," long enough that he almost can't remember his pre-fame life.

In the years since, he's released six studio albums, including last year's collection of '50s and '60s covers, "Tried and True," starred on Broadway, become a UNICEF ambassador and outed himself on the cover of People magazine.

We asked the superbly genial Aiken, 32, about coming out, his rabid-soccer-mom fan base, his strange phobias and a lot of other things we thought he would never tolerate being asked.

Q: You're young …

A: Aw, how nice of you to think that (laughs).

Q: Do you think your audience skews older than (is normal for someone your age)?

A: Are they older? I don't think the audience is older — it's older than the Jonas Brothers' audience or Justin Bieber's, for sure. I think the older members of the audience are more vocal and more active. I go out and look at the crowd every night, there are young girls. We have a very young guitar player on tour and he's in hog heaven, because he's got a lot of young girls in the audience and a gay boss who doesn't care. He can take his pick.

Q: Did your audience change after you came out?

A: You know what's amazing? It didn't change. I was out years before I did a magazine cover, I just didn't tell the world. Anybody who comes out, in their personal life they tell their family and their friends, they just don't wear a sign all over town. … It did cross my mind when we (decided) to go ahead and be public that we were going to lose quite a few of these women who are following me around for whatever reason. My security (guy) who was with me for eight years … he said, "Listen, if 10 percent of them leave, I'm going to be surprised." And I said, "You are crazy. It's going to be 50 percent." And he was wrong; it was less than 10. Very few. I think a lot of them took a minute or two to reassess their reasonings for why they loved me. I think they stopped being able to swoon as much (laughs).

Q: I imagine they had always wanted more to make you a home-cooked meal than to have sex with you.

A: There's definitely a faction that feels like that. There are people who imagine I'm their son. Their far-older son than I used to be. I'm not that naive and innocent. I might be innocent, but I'm not that naive and helpless, but I come across like that to them.

Q: Does it feel like you've been around for eight years?

A: What's interesting is that I'm getting to a point where I remember doing this more than I remember doing anything else. … I've been doing this job longer than anything else I've done, where this has become the normal. And I do my best to remember that this isn't normal. … Two years after "Idol," it was all new enough that I could look back at what life was like before "Idol" and see things from that perspective and now … try my very best to take a few minutes every day to remind myself of what life was like when this wasn't happening for me. I'm not entitled to this, that's for sure … I'm not as apprehensive and nervous in public as I used to be. I'm still more agoraphobic than the average person.

Q: When you go onstage is that a different feeling, or do you still get really nervous?

A: It's a completely different feeling. I don't get nervous at all anymore. It's an interesting phenomenon. I am far more nervous in public offstage than when I'm onstage, because I feel like when I'm onstage, that's kind of my space. This is what I'm good at. I'm not good at normal life (laughs). … I'm not good in public mingling situations. I work with UNICEF quite a bit, and I will go to the dirtiest, nastiest corner of the world with them and poop in a hole in the ground and sleep on the floor and have no problem. But when it comes to dinner party-type things. …

Q: Then it's good that you came up through "Idol." It's hard to imagine you going through the record company ranks, being out there shaking hands and trying to get a record deal.

A: Oh, there's no way it would have happened. Never, ever would have happened. I was 120 percent ready, I was going to be a teacher. I thought maybe I'd be an assistant principal. I didn't want to be a principal; too much pressure. … Had it not been for "Idol," it probably would never happened for me.

Copyright © 2011,

Chicago Tribune

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Clay Aiken Back on the Road

Clay Aiken back on the road

Aidin Vaziri

Sunday, March 6, 2011

After a successful run in the Broadway musical "Spamalot," Season 2 "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken is back on the road in support of his latest album, "Tried and True." The disc, his first since coming out on the cover of People magazine and becoming a father to 2-year-old Parker, features faithful covers of button-up pop classics from the '50s and '60s such as "Mack the Knife," "Crying" and "Moon River." Earlier this month, Aiken's most recent label, Decca Records, reportedly dropped him. We spoke to the 32-year-old North Carolina native in advance of his concert Saturday at the Warfield.

Q: Are these the songs you sing in the shower?

A: Some of them. For the most part, they're songs my mother sang around the house and I grew up with.

Q: You did a couple of them on "American Idol." Why did it take you so long to put out an album like this?

A: Because an album is not put together by just one person. There are so many different people who have their hands in the kitchen - it took me seven years to be able to do what I wanted to do.

Q: Why did you part ways with the label earlier this month?

A: You shouldn't believe everything you read. I've never had a long-term contract with anybody. We agreed to make one album, and that's what we did. I don't have any intention to go back to the studio. I just want to sing.

Q: You honestly don't want to make another album?

A: The recording process is the most boring thing in the world. I would rather sing live and continue to do shows and not go back in the studio for that eight-month-long process.

Q: Is the music industry more of a headache than it's worth?

A: For me, it's not. I've been fortunate enough to do what I wanted. This record was more my doing than the earlier ones were. But it's still a business. I think it's not a headache if you understand that's what you're getting into.

Q: Do you go out of your way to avoid watching "American Idol"?

A: I don't go out of my way to avoid it. I don't even think about it at all until I do an interview and somebody asks me about it. I watched the season after mine, but it stressed me out too much. I felt like I needed to move on. Once you've seen how the sausage is made, you don't want to eat it.

Q: How do you think you would do if you went back on the show?

A: I don't know if I would make it on this year's "Idol" as it is now. It was more organic and homespun when I was on. Now it's such a behemoth. It became more polished. I've never been polished. I appreciated the way it was back then, when the fat black guy from Alabama and this skinny white kid from North Carolina could have a shot.

To hear Clay Aiken's music, go to www.clay aiken.com.

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Clay Aiken on New Album, Mac, "Idol" Changes and Future Plans


Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 6:00 am | Updated: 8:30 am, Wed Mar 9, 2011.

By Mandy Zajac, Tribune |

Just as a new season of "American Idol" cranks into high gear, one of the show's most memorable alumni is headed for Mesa.

Clay Aiken, Season Two runner-up, has a new album out. Called "Tried and True," it's comprised of '50s and '60s songs such as Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe" and "Moon River" — a song Aiken always wanted to sing during his stint on "Idol."

On the phone from a tour stop in Greenville, S.C., the singer chats for a few.

Q: Some are saying this is the album Clay Aiken was MEANT to make. How have these songs felt different for you as compared to your previous work?

A: This was an album I wanted to make for years and hadn't been in the position (to make). In any job, it takes a while to get your footing, and it took awhile to get enough clout to be able to make this album. These are songs I was singing long before "Idol." I grew up with these songs. They're the ones my mom listened to in the house and that I always sang, thanks to her. So if people think it sounds better, it's probably because I'm in my wheel house, so to speak.

Q: Were you nervous about changing up standards that people know by heart?

A: We wanted to take these songs and assume they'd been sung by a different person in that era, not by someone in 2011. We didn't depart too much from the originals in that sense. We kept them pretty close to the mood of the era. It was a little difficult to pick the songs simply because there are so many. But I just kind of took them in the shower and sang them, and the ones that fit on me, like trying on clothes, we kept.

Q: How will a more intimate space, like the theater in Mesa, affect your show?

A: I like interacting with the audience quite a bit. One of the best shows we've done on this tour was in a really small venue in Baltimore, and that fit really well with these songs. They're ballads, snuggle-up-next-to-the-person-you're-with type ballads.

Q: What do you think of the new judges on "American Idol"?

A: I haven't seen "American Idol" since Carrie Underwood. I say to people a lot, I went to high school, and if I hadn't, I wouldn't be where I am today. I thank all of my teachers and the people who helped me, and without my education I wouldn't be where I am today. But I don't go back to the football games.

Q: What's next?

A: I have a few irons in the fire. I went on tour with Ruben (Studdard) last year, and it was one of my favorites to date. I like performing live, and I enjoy that more than I do going into the studio. I've been fortunate the last couple of years to be able to tour without needing an album. If I can continue to do that and just put an album out when I need to, that's alright by me.

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Clay Aiken Sings, Talks Smack on Ke$ha in Mesa

Clay Aiken sings, talks smack on Ke$ha in Mesa

by Joe Golfen - Mar. 11, 2011 10:16 AM

The Arizona Republic

Clay Aiken has built himself a loyal fan base, and he clearly knows it.

When the North Carolina native arrived onstage at the Mesa Arts Center Thursday as part of his Tried and True tour, the crowd welcomed him with open arms. But while the show certainly had some great crowd interaction and a fun, upbeat feel, the lack of original songs and some slow transitions seemed to keep the crowd of so-called "claymates" somewhat subdued. In the end, the show still came out as mostly a success, if only because Aiken's charismatic personality outweighed his



From the very beginning, it seemed clear that Aiken knew he was playing to a crowd of diehard fans, even before he mentioned meeting a girl at the show that had two tattoos of his autograph and a tongue stud featuring a picture of Aiken's face.

The night began with a dark stage, a few dramatic piano chords and plenty of swelling strings, before Aiken's clear tenor voice cut through. As the curtain rose, the spotlights found Aiken belting out the dramatic "(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story," and just seeing the crowd react to the sight of Aiken is enough to make you wonder how he ever ended up in second place on "American Idol."

Joined by a swinging jazz quartet, Aiken tore into songs from his latest album, 2010's "Tried and True," a collection of popular songs and standards from the 1950s and 60s. Snapping along in true rat pack fashion, Aiken made his way through tunes such as ""Mack the Knife" and "There's a Kind of Hush," smiling all the while.

"It's so warm in here tonight, and I've got this little sweater action going on and it is just not working for me," said Aiken as grinned into the crowd, before someone in the crowd shouted "Take it off!,"

"That's disgusting, how old are you?" Aiken responded in mock horror. "I will take off this tie though, because it bunches up in the front and makes me look three months pregnant."

Aiken is a natural performer, so comfortable onstage that his banter became a conversation with the crowd, often causing the theater to erupt with laughter.

The show took a while to find its groove however, as Aiken stuck too close to his new material, explaining that his older tunes wouldn't fit into the big band style he was experimenting with on this tour. While it's certainly fair for an artist to want to move into new territory, the crowd was clearly eager to hear some of his familiar work, including the songs from his multi-platinum debut, 2003's "Measure of a Man."

Aiken came off as eager to distance himself from his older work, even going so far as to tell a detailed story about how he can't remember the titles, let alone the words, to many of those songs. He did give the crowd a taste of the older tunes however, playing a quick medley of songs including "This is the Night," "A Thousand Days" and "Invisible."

Aiken and his band reworked the songs into big band numbers, but from the roar of the crowd each time he switched tunes, it was clear that fans were hoping for a bit more than a few lines from each.

Aiken's regular touring partner and singer Quiana Parler soon arrived onstage, leading the band through the Gershwin classic, "A Foggy Day."

"People just don't sing like that on the radio anymore," Aiken said following the performance. He then went on to say that many pop stars don't even have to sing anymore, namedropping Ke$ha as an example.

After demonstrating that he could just speak the words to Chris Brown's "Forever" and let the autotuner do all the work for him, Aiken and Parler proved they really knew how to carry a tune with renditions of Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" and the Foundation's "Build Me Up Buttercup," followed by a showstopping version of "Moon River."

For his version of the 1923 classic "Who's Sorry Now?," Aiken invited the crowd to suggest unusual musical genres, promising that band could play the song in any style. The talented group of musicians lived up to the challenge, turning the tune into a boogie-woogie, a lullaby, a mariachi tune and a klezmer.

They even nailed a "beatbox" version of the tune, which found Aiken doing a crotch grabbing dance and mock-rapping, a sight so hilarious it made a young girl sitting near me laugh so hard she nearly fell out her chair.

After giving his band a lengthy introduction, Aiken unleashed his dramatic rendition of "Unchained Melody." Though his voice strained to hit a few of the notes, Aiken's passionate rendition of the song earned him a standing ovation.

Through his inviting personality and laid-back charm, Aiken easily won over the crowd Thursday night, even if he only sang old pop tunes. It doesn't seem to matter at this point, because as Aiken's himself put it, he's now the leader of a "cult." His fans seem as though they'll follow wherever he leads. There was even a woman in the crowd who had been to every show on his tour.

And though Aiken might be fully aware of his fan's dedication, that doesn't mean he's taking it for granted.

"When this started with 'Idol,' I figured I'd maybe do one album and it would all be over in a year," said Aiken, before closing the night with a tender version of the Beatles' "In My Life." "But it's been more than eight years now, and I want to thank everyone of you for letting me take this ride."

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