He was runner-up to Ruben Studdard on American Idol, but Clay Aiken is number one in the hearts of millions of fans. His debut single, ďThis is the Night,Ē was a chart-topping hit, and it earned him an American Music Award nomination for Favorite Male Pop/Rock Artist. Clay recently released his first full album, Measure of a Man, and he took some time to sit down and chat with IML.
IML: What has your life been like since American Idol ended?
Clay: Itís been very busy. Iím on the road, doing interviews, or at a photo shoot. Every day Iím doing something different.
IML: Were you prepared for all of that?
Clay: Not at all. I did not expect to be here at all. My life was much quieter back in North Carolina. Itís still an adjustment to try to get used to going to the grocery store and being stopped, or having people stare at you everywhere you go. In Raleigh, theyíll stop you. In L.A., people just stare and thatís even worse sometimes. Just the other day, I pulled into a parking lot and somebody recognized me in the car. I was parked, on my cell phone. Two people stood behind my car and the others started beating on the window. Thatís just a little bit too much, donít you think?
IML: Of course! Do you ever wear a disguise when you go out?
Clay: It depends. I donít like to do that. I canít wear hats because my hairís too big!
IML: With all the attention and craziness surrounding you, how do you stay grounded?
Clay: I have to remind myself constantly that Iím one of 70,000 people or even more who would trade places with me in a half second if they could. If I get upset about things and start to get jaded, I think, ďStop complaining, because people would trade places with you!Ē There are many days where Iím willing to do it, to trade places with my friends who are teaching back in North Carolina. There are days where Iím ready to give it up.
IML: What keeps you going?
Clay: The fact that itís not so easy to give it up. Itís a little too complicated to trade places.
IML: Whatís the biggest lesson you learned from the American Idol experience?
Clay: Perseverance. I got cut twice. I got cut in Charlotte. I didnít have to go to Atlanta to audition. I could have said, ďIím not cut out for this.Ē But I said, ďI think Iím better than that, I can go try again.Ē So I went to Atlanta and I made it through. Then I got cut the first time around. I could have told them I didnít want to come back for the Wild Card show but I did and look how far I got.
IML: Simon Cowell wasnít very nice to you at first.
Clay: Simon was never nice to me. Simon still isnít nice to me! But he did say a number of times that he thought I was going to win.
IML: The voting was very close. Was there ever any rivalry between you and Ruben?
Clay: Not at all. Weíre very good friends!
IML: Who else from AI are you close friends with?
Clay: Kimberley Locke is my roommate out here, we got a house. We lived together for 11 weeks in the same house, then on the bus and hotels for two more months. We both have the same outlook on life. Weíre both enjoying this for what it is and weíre both realistic and realize it may last for a long time or may last for a year. It may not even last that long. So weíre just going to enjoy and have fun with it. Weíre both very similar thinkers. It made sense because neither of us knows anybody out here. Carmen and I are really close, too. Carmen [Rasmusen], Ruben, Kim, and I were all on the bus together. There were two buses; they split us up, four on one and five on the other.
IML: Have you always had close female friends?
Clay: Yes! You donít have to be either dating or not friends. There can be a middle ground and thatís what a platonic relationship is. I think platonic relationships can be closer than dating relationships sometimes. Dating relationships end and platonic relationships are going to be there no matter what.
IML: What was the American Idol tour like? Was it tiring?
Clay: It was nice because we were able to do what we like to do: sing for the fans. We went through this experience together for nine months. It wasnít hard because it was a routine, and Iím all about a routine. We never practiced because we practiced for a week and a half beforehand. If you do a show every night, you donít have to practice. We just did our thing. We did the show, drove to the next city, slept. We were with family, and there was no pressure of anyone getting cut. It was just singing and entertaining people and having fun.
IML: Was it an adjustment, moving to L.A. from North Carolina?
Clay: Goodness, yes! The traffic is horrible. The people can be kinda nuts. The food has avocado on it everywhere you go. I donít dislike L.A. The weather is nice, but itís always the same. I love seasons. I like snow. I like the leaves to change color. If I lived in Raleigh Iíd get all of that in the same yard.
IML: Letís talk about your album. How did you choose the songs?
Clay: Clive [Davis, of RCA Music] picked the songs. They were actually picked before the show was over and I started recording two weeks after. During the show, we recorded each song we did, and we worked with one producer for every track. On my album I had different producers, so I was able to pick and choose different styles and it helped me learn a lot.
IML: We hear that you also sing on an American Idol Christmas album.
Clay: Yes. I sing ďSilver BellsĒ and ďThe First NoelĒ with Kim Locke. Itís Ruben, Kim, and myself from this season and Justin [Guarini], Christina [Christian] and Tamyra [Gray] from the first season. Thereís a bonus CD that comes with it that Kelly [Clarkson] sings on. Thereís also a TV Christmas special that weíre going to do in November.
IML: What does the title of your album, Measure of a Man, mean to you?
Clay: I picked it because I liked the song but itís a reminder to me that Iím setting only the best example. People who are celebrities have a responsibility. Theyíre influences whether they want to be or not. Sports figures, celebrities, singers and actorsÖkids look up to you. Youíre a role model. You can be a good one or a bad one. I got to this point and itís a high profile job and on top of that, there are the rigors and pressures of being in the public eye all the time. And my absolute priority, more than having a good song, is to set a good example. I accept it as a responsibility.
In Part Two, Clay talks about teachers, bullying, and his work as a Special Education teacher.
Read more about young celebrities in Celebs Say....
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