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Clay Aiken: "American Idol" is Now All About the Judges

Clay Aiken: 'American Idol' is now all about the judges

Dec. 14, 2012, 7:00 PM EST

By Gary Graff, Billboard

After a five-year break, Clay Aiken says he was long overdue to bring a Christmas show back on the road.

"It doesn't feel like Christmas for me if I'm not doing this," Aiken, who staged holiday tours from 2004-07, tells Billboard. "It was what made my year for me. It's what made Christmas feel like Christmas. This is what really puts me in the mood for the season."

Aiken, who's playing with a full orchestra at each of his Joyful Noise 2012 tour stops, was waylayed first by his Broadway stint in "Spamalot" and then last year's runner-up appearance on "Celebrity Apprentice."

But, he says, "The people who worked for me in the past on the Christmas tours kept saying, 'When are we gonna get back out for Christmas? When?!' Fans would ask when I was going to do another Christmas tour. So I just said, 'Y'know what? We need to do it again."

In fact, Aiken has gotten so into the spirit that he says a sequel to 2004's "Merry Christmas With Love" album and the "A Clay Aiken Christmas" DVD may well be his next recording endeavor. "I think that's the thing we've talked about most, doing another Christmas project," Aiken says. "I don't know that it will happen next year, but it's something I'd like to do. I think there's still some things out there I haven't done, and I like the fact that around this time of year people bust out their Clay Aiken Christmas album and it's part of their holiday."

After an eventful 2012 -- which in addition to "Celebrity Apprentice" saw the release of his sixth album, "Steadfast," and a guest appearance on Dee Snider's "Dee Does Broadway" -- Aiken says he's eyeballing "a few things that are a little more low-key" for 2013 and is holding off most decisions until the Joyful Noise tour wraps Dec. 21 in Anaheim, Calif.

"We've got some producers on a TV show concept idea they want me to work on, but I don't have time to do it right now," Aiken notes.

His primary goal, Aiken explains, is to "sit still for a little bit and sleep in the same bed for awhile," so he's concentrating on theater as well as TV that will allow him to remain relatively stationary. "I would love to do theater again," he says, "but I think it has to be a role that would work, and I want to sing. I didn't get to sing in 'Spamalot,' s I want to do a show where I sing."

Next year will also mark the 10th anniversary of his runner-up turn on the second season of "American Idol," but Aiken isn't expecting to commemorate the occasion.

"I don't know that I would commemorate it on the show," he says. "I don't know that they did it with Justin Guarini and all those folks. But 'Idol' back in those days was about the contestants. Kelly (Clarkson) and Justin and Tamyra (Gray) and Nikki McKibbin, they were all the starts of the show. And when I was on, Ruben (Studdard) and myself and Kimberly Locke were the stars of the show. Now 'Idol' is about the judges. I don't even know if they remember there are contestants anymore."


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Clay Aiken brings holiday spirit to Shippensburg

By ASHLEY STOUDNOUR | Asst. Copy Editor

Updated: 12/15/12 7:12pm

The Luhrs Performing Arts Center was transformed into a Winter Wonderland on Saturday, Dec. 8, as Clay Aiken brought singing, laughing, impromptu duets, and the favorite Christmas classics to Shippensburg during his Joyful Noise tour.

Clay Aiken’s performance at the Luhrs Center Saturday was a show to remember right from the opening number. As the lights faded out and a spotlight was brought up on the curtains, Aiken walked on stage to the beat of applause and began to sing his opening song, “All is Well;” except that no music came out.

Standing in silence with his hands clasped around the microphone, Aiken looked side to side to see if someone was fixing the issue. After two to three minutes, he finally walked off stage as the audience burst into laughter at the unexpected situation.

Re-emerging with a new microphone, Aiken laughed with the crowd and began again; this time with full sound and a booming voice. The curtains rose, revealing a full orchestra with Christmas trees and presents aligning the stage. It was a genuine scene of Christmas celebration.

When he finished his opening songs, Aiken approached the crowd and delivered jokes about Pennsylvania being the heart of America.

He praised the energy of Northwestern fans, saying that Southern fans were usually quite reserved and respectful, but that he enjoys the crowd being excited. From there he led into his rendition of “O Holy Night” and a medley of other popular songs.

Working his way through his favorite Christmas songs and tracks off of his own album “Merry Christmas, With Love,” Aiken put his unique style to each song and showed off his large vocal range. Aiken explained that he has done multiple Christmas tours over the years and that “it doesn’t feel like Christmas without doing these shows.”

He complimented the Luhrs Center on its beauty and noted that the acoustics of the theatre were doing wonders for his voice.

“I’ve waited 35 years for this. There’s so much bass in my voice,” Aiken joked.

Later in the show, he said that the Luhrs Center reminded him of his time on “American Idol” because the rooms looked similar, and the Luhrs Center had a similar sound to the area that Aiken used to practice in for the show.

He went on to talk about the amount of sponsorship that went into each part of the theater, poking fun at each part having a different “donor.” He thanked the “donor” of the toilet in his dressing room and joked that there were still “sponsorships available.”

The most impromptu part of the show came when Aiken addressed his mother in the audience, who was in Lancaster the day before to see a performance at the Sight and Sound Theater.

Aiken talked to his mom about the show, as if there weren’t 200 strangers surrounding them, and discussed a talented woman Aiken’s mom met at Sight and Sound. Aiken called Sarah Timm to the stage and asked her to play a game. She would pick a song title out of a bowl and try to remember the lyrics.

Timm selected “Up On the Rooftop,” and proceeded to stun the crowd with her vocal ability. After a strong urging from his mother, Aiken asked Timm back to the stage to sing a duet. Flawlessly, the pair joined up and sang “Sleigh Ride” in perfect harmony, causing the audience to erupt in cheers and applause.

After Timm left the stage, Aiken explained that the past two shows he has “lost complete control” of where the show was supposed to go.

“I’ve lost control of the ship, no pun intended,” Aiken quipped.

Getting the show back on schedule, Aiken spent the rest of the show praising his orchestra, chatting with audience members and picking out specific people to talk to. He then turned the crowd’s attention to his drummer, who has a challenging last name: Joe Choroszewski.

Aiken brought a folded sign with the drummer’s last name boldly written across it, and he challenged an audience member to say it correctly. To the amusement of everyone in attendance, she failed and Aiken refused to say it correctly for fear “it would leak to YouTube and his game would be ruined.”

Throughout the show, Aiken made it feel more like a gathering of friends than a performance with strangers. He singled out the male audience members and a few women sitting in the front row; his humor never faltering throughout the show.

In a more personal, intimate ending, Aiken reminisced that 10 years ago this week was his time on “American Idol” and the first time he met his fellow competitor Ruben Studdard, who would go on to win the show that season. Aiken continued to thank his fans for all that they’ve done.

“I thank you for allowing me to do this for the past ten years,” Aiken said to his dedicated fans, known as “Claymates.” He went on to say that he is thankful for the kindness and compassion his fans continually show not only to himself, but to fellow fans and others.

He closed with some inspirational words and encouragement to continually be kind to one another and faded into his last song, “Don’t Save It All For Christmas Day.” It was this perfect ending that earned the singer a standing ovation.

When the applause died down, Aiken returned for the encore just like the show had started: a single spotlight on him in front of closed curtains, and nothing more, as he sat and sang to the audience in Luhrs.

He worked his way up the aisle and finished by exiting out the side door, leaving everyone to feel like the Christmas spirit had arrived.

Clay Aiken has had a busy 10 years with tours, albums, a role on Broadway and his work with the charity UNICEF. Throughout those 10 years, one thing has remained consistent: Aiken remains a talented and kind person who genuinely loves what he does. Saturday night was no exception.

Published December 15, 2012 in Arts & Entertainment

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Clay Aiken on Christmas, "American Idol," and Donald Trump

Clay Aiken on Christmas, American Idol, and Donald Trump

By Jason P. Woodbury Mon., Dec. 17 2012 at 4:00 AM

At one point during our early morning interview, singer and performer Clay Aiken yawned.

It was a deep, expressive yawn. He did not ask to be excused, but he didn't need to: Aiken is among the most affable, pleasant, and charming interviews I've ever enjoyed. Plus, the guy has every reason to be worn out. The former "American Idol" has been making his way across the nation on his "Joyful Noise 2012" tour, belting out selections and standards from his Christmas recordings, Merry Christmas with Love and All Is Well: Songs for Christmas. It's a lot of work, and Aiken notes: "This is my fifth year doing it, and if we count all the times that I've done this show you're up into the hundreds, you know?"

With his upcoming tour stop at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler approaching, Aiken took some time to discuss Christmas music, 30 Rock, Donald Trump (Aiken competed onCelebrity Apprentice this year), and the season a "big black guy from Alabama and a skinny gay weirdo from North Carolina" wooed America on American Idol.

Up on the Sun: You started this tour in the 23rd of November, correct?

Clay Aiken: If you say so! You probably know better than I do. [Laughs]

So at this point, are you sick of Christmas music yet?

You know, for some reason, I don't get sick of this tour. If you asked me on other tours, I'd still say the same thing, but I'd probably be lying. [Laughs] With this one, I don't tend to get that tired. Forget the 23rd -- This is my fifth year doing it, and if we count all the times that I've done this show you're up into the hundreds, you know?

So you generally enjoy Christmas music. You'd have to.

There's something about Christmas music that puts people in a better mood. I had a friend when I was in high school that insisted that she kept a Christmas CD in her car and whenever she'd get stopped by a cop, she'd put it in. Whether it was June or July or whatever, she'd throw in the Christmas CD and get out of the ticket every time. I guess there's something about Christmas music that puts people in a better mood.

What are some of your favorite Christmas albums?

You know, I don't listen to many Christmas records when I'm touring. I am so inundated with my own stuff, we run the entire show one time in the afternoon, and then we do it again at night. But in the off years, the years that I haven't done it: Michael Buble's Christmas album, I think it's really great, Josh Groban had a really good one a few years ago. The ones that everyone else loves, I think. Those are the ones I like the most. Mariah Carey's Christmas album, which should go in some American time capsule, I'm sure.

Do you listen to music on the bus to wind down after shows?

I haven't listened to a thing lately. When I'm on tour, we're on a bus, and we don't listen to the radio. We put the TV on. We put reruns of The Closer on or something. I would be the worst person to ask about current musical trends.

You appeared on 30 Rock, one of my favorite shows of all time. Before you were approached about a guest spot, were you a fan?

Oh God, yeah. I love 30 Rock. That's one of the few things I insist on staying up to date on when I'm on the road. I make sure I get the latest episode. I like the fact that they're wrapping up each character up. A lot of shows end and you don't know where that character is going. But you know Liz is going to be married, and Jenna's going to try to be. I just want to know who this "Jacob" Kenneth keeps yelling at is. He's been yelling at "Jacob" for years. I want to know Kenneth's deal. [Note: Up on the Sun has it on good authority that this is a Lost reference.]

The "Kidney Now" musical number your participated in on the show was a pretty good song.

They totally should have sent that to radio.

You were also on Celebrity Apprentice this year. Is Donald Trump as crazy in person as he is online?

You know, I have to say: He was a very gracious host to us. He treated everyone with respect, and he does not get pleasure in firing people, I know that. He was a very nice guy, and before I went on the show, I didn't pay too much attention to the stuff he was doing in the press. When I was on the show, I gained this really great respect for him. When I got off the show, I would come home and see things with him on the news, and I'd think to myself, "God, I wish he would just shut up." He's like that uncle you love, but he does stupid things and you just wish he'd stop doing them because you know that's not really a great representation of him. That's kinda how I feel.

I have to imagine he's playing up his image in the media. I refuse to believe anyone could be so...

Well, I don't know how much he's playing. [Laughs] But he was a nice guy when I was around him.

You got your start on American Idol. Do you watch the singing shows at all?American Idol? The Voice?

I haven't watched anything since maybe '06. It's been awhile.

When American Idol was first the big hit it was, I remember feeling like it was a trend, and that people were going to watch and enjoy these shows for a time, and then move on. You guys were all phenomenal singers, but I never imagined the format having the lasting strength it has.

I think you might have been right. People are not watching the same show today that they were back in '02 or '03. The "singing competition show," where we tune in and we watch contestants sing, and we vote for them, support them, and really invest ourselves in the singers...that's not really what's on TV anymore. Now, I think people tune in and they watch the judges, and the singers are sort of an afterthought. The singers are almost what we sit through, and the filler between when the judges talk.

I have watched The Voice some, I wouldn't say I'm a regular watcher, but I find myself waiting for the person to stop singing so I can see what Christina Aguilera, Cee-Lo, and Adam [Levine] are going to say. To see if they're going to turn their chair around -- that was fun. I want to hear what the judges are saying. I want to hear if they're going to say someone is pitchy when they're not, because that happens a lot. [Laughs]

They give some sort of comment that just didn't happen. That always fascinates me. We pay less attention to the singers now, and more to the judges. We pay more attention the spectacle and the concepts, rather than getting invested in this big black guy from Alabama and this skinny gay weirdo from North Carolina, and become invested in the characters and contestants on the show. To that end, in some ways, that's probably why you may be right. Those shows didn't survive solely on the concept we did. They had to evolve into something else for people to continue to watch, and they don't watch in as high number as they used to.

The Studdard/Aiken season really was a phenomenon. I remember everybody in my family, especially my grandma, just being riveted by your season. People seem to have remained invested in your voice.

It was very organic, back in the day. We didn't have bands. We sang to tracks. I remember asking for a stool this one time, and it was like, "Oh, should we give him a stool? Do we have a stool? Now they're playing in from the ceiling, there are fires on stage, there's a band on stage! But I'm not joking, I asked for a stool one time and they had to look around and see if they had one, or if that was even allowed. It was real talent competition back then, and now, it's a circus in some ways.

Clay Aiken is scheduled to perform Thursday, December 20, at Ovations Live! Showroom at Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino in Chandler.

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Clay Aiken Bringing Joyful Noise to Anaheim

Clay Aiken bringing Joyful Noise to Anaheim

December 16th, 2012, 6:00 am · posted by KELLI SKYE FADROSKI, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER


Christmas comes more than just once a year for modern-day crooner and former American Idol star Clay Aiken. The 34-year-old North Carolina native says he starts prepping for holiday tours as early as September and had entered studios to record covers of classic Christmas tunes by May for his previous winter releases.

He brings his latest seasonal Joyful Noise tour to City National Grove of Anaheim on Dec. 21. Right now for Aiken, it’s “all Christmas, all the time.”

“This is really my favorite show,” he says of the holiday-themed tour, which includes his takes on various familiar cuts as well as a few originals from his 2004 release Merry Christmas with Love and 2006 EP All Is Well. He’s remade everything from “O Holy Night” and “Winter Wonderland” to “Mary, Did You Know?” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Each year, he says, he switches up which one is his favorite.

“Sometimes it changes throughout the show itself,” he adds. “The first song I ever recorded was ‘The First Noel’ on the Idol Christmas album, so that was my favorite then, and if you would have asked me last year I would have said ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ because I loved the arrangement we did on it. Now this year we have a big brass section blowing out on ‘First Noel,’ so that’s become my favorite again to sing every single night.

“I think these Christmas songs fit well in my voice and they work well for me, so I really kind of like them all.”

Life After Idol

It’s been almost a decade since the masses were first introduced to Aiken’s vocals on the second season of the Fox singing competition American Idol. Though Aiken was a close runner-up to winner Ruben Studdard, he nonetheless went on to achieve success after the cameras stopped rolling.

He signed to RCA Records in 2003 and that same year released his multiplatinum debut, Measure of a Man. More albums followed, including a disc of refashioned favorites, A Thousand Different Ways (2006), featuring renditions of tracks made popular by Dolly Parton, Richard Marx, Celine Dion and Bryan Adams.

Two years later, Aiken put out a collection of original material with contributions from several collaborators, among them OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder and mega-producer and songwriter David Foster. That proved to be Aiken’s last album with RCA. He later signed with Decca Records and in 2010 issued an assortment of standards, Tried and True, followed by Steadfast last March. Of all the songs he’s covered, however, Aiken says the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” is by far his favorite.

“I love it for multiple reasons, but it was the first song that I sang, and my mom would play it back when I was in middle school because she loved it and convinced me to learn it,” he says.

“It’s always been a favorite and I’ve been signing it for years, but I never had my own version of it. … I’d pick that as my favorite, but I also loved Johnny Mathis’ songs growing up. I feel like I was born a little too late sometimes. The songs from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, that’s the kind of style that I love the most. Artists like Perry Como … and I know this doesn’t make me the coolest kid on the block to say that Perry Como was someone I loved, but I loved his stuff, and covering ‘It’s Impossible,’ I was thrilled to have the chance to do that.”

It was a reality TV show that introduced Aiken to his rabid legion of fans, instantly dubbed “Claymates,” but he’s not particularly fond of the format now, as it’s been copied numerous times by other shows such asThe X Factor, The Voice and America’s Got Talent. He admits that he stopped watching Idol after Carrie Underwood’s winning season in 2005.

“The show has gotten a lot more slick and the contestants got a lot more polished, but I think the biggest problem is that the judges are the stars now,” he says, carefully choosing his words.

“When I was on the show, Ruben and myself, we literally came right off the bus and into Hollywood, and we were naïve and real and it was all very authentic and organic. Simon (Cowell), of course, was a star, but people tuned in, I think, to see Ruben and myself, Kimberley Locke and Kim Caldwell. Now they tune into see whether or not the judges are going to fight with each other.”

Aiken says he’d be happy to serve as a mentor to an aspiring singer, but he doesn’t feel like he would have much to offer as a coach to someone trying to break into show business in that particular arena now. He believes these competitions still make for good television, yet he doesn’t foresee them creating more massive success stories.

“I don’t think we’re going to necessarily see another Kelly Clarkson or a Carrie Underwood because I think there are too many of (these shows),” he contends. “The people that go on the shows now, they should have more realistic expectations, because it doesn’t mean they’re going to become instant radio stars. But some of them might be able to parlay a television success if they work hard and have the right people around them.”

Over the years, Aiken has done more than just music. In 2004 he wrote Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life with Allison Glock, which became a New York Times best-seller and helped land him guest spots, mostly as himself, on TV shows like Scrubs, Drop Dead Diva and 30 Rock. One of his greatest moments, he says, came when in 2008 he landed the role of Sir Robin on Broadway in Monty Python’s Spamalot.

“I loved doing the Broadway thing,” he says. “I love the consistency of it and the routine and camaraderie of working with the same people every day and knowing what time I was going to be there and all of the teamwork that went into that.”

Second-Time Runner-Up

Earlier this year, Aiken competed on the fifth season of Donald Trump’s The Celebrity Apprentice and raised more than $350,000 for his charity of choice, the National Inclusion Project, during his second stint on reality TV. Aiken played alongside former late-night host Arsenio Hall, pop star Aubrey O’Day, comedian Lisa Lampanelli, singer Debbie Gibson and others. In the end, Aiken was fired by Trump and yet again came in second place, this time losing to Hall, who raised $500,000-plus for his charity, the Magic Johnson Foundation.

“I took away some good friends from that show and the resolution that I am never going to be in a competition with a black man again,” he says with a hearty laugh, referring to losing to friends Hall and Studdard.

His days doing TV competitions are over, he insists, at least for now. He only did Idol and Celebrity Apprentice because he thought he might have a shot at winning, but he’d turn down Dancing with the Starsin a heartbeat because he’d “absolutely have no chance, even for a second, on that show.”

He was excited, however, to do Celebrity Apprentice so he could meet Lampanelli, whom he had heard made fun of him relentlessly in her stand-up act for years, mostly taking jabs at Aiken’s sexuality. (A little more than four years ago, after much speculation, he revealed in People magazine that he is gay.)

“I walked up to her and said, ‘I know you’ve been talking (trash) on me for the past 10 years.’ We easily became friends and I just went and saw her in New York a few weeks ago – you should hear her act now!

“She’s one of my favorite people from the show, without question. I knew what she had said about me and I had seen her on a (celebrity) roast or two, but I didn’t follow her much. But now I do. Her comedy is funny, but she also has a good heart, which makes me like it even more. People see her and think she’s just a bitch, but the truth is she’s a very sweet lady. She just plays this character on stage, which I think is interesting.”

Following his holiday tour, Aiken doesn’t have much planned, which typically works out better for him, he says. As he’s navigated his way through show business, he has learned that when he tries to push it and plan, things don’t quite work out: “The stuff that we’ve done that’s had success is always something that we didn’t seek out. The main plan now is to stay open to lots of possibilities.

“You know, ‘Jesus take the wheel,’ as the great philosopher Carrie Underwood once said.”

Clay Aiken performs Dec. 21 at City National Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave. Tickets: $39.50-$69.50.

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