Claymates are screaming once again as their hero, Clay Aiken, 31, just returned to Billboard's Top 10 with his latest disc, the standards-heavy Tried and True. I decided to catch up with single dad to Parker Foster, 2 (with Jaymes Foster) about his fifth album, summer tour with American Idol Season 2 best bud Ruben Studdard and his second Father's Day. Read on and, hey, pipe down so you can hear him!
UsMagazine.com: It's been two years since your last album. What makes it different than the last one, which was very emotional and lyrically deep?
Clay Aiken: The last album was more lyrically deep than most of them. This one is more of me doing what I always wanted to do, which essentially is covering some of the best songs from before my childhood. Songs like "It's Impossible or "Can't Take my Eyes Off of You," songs that my mom played when I was a kid. And on top of that, it's really kind of what I always wanted to sing. When I was with a few other [record] labels I really didn't have the opportunity to be myself because they try their hardest to put people in their boxes and get the radio singles and try to make things work a certain way. There wasn't really a place where I was before that allowed me to sing what I wanted to sing without having to worry about radio or without having me worry about being extra cool. Which, I mean, clearly I am (laughs). I can't really convince anyone else that.
Two of the songs of the songs I did sing on Idol. I think that to some extent, anybody who comes off the show sort of needs to stick with what brought them through that dance. I loved what I got to do on Idol every week. They were great songs that I really enjoyed singing them and when I got off the show I didn't get a chance to do that as much. So this is is probably the favorite album one I've done. I loved the last one. I had a lot to do with it and I picked songs within the parameter set for me by others. This time, I got to be involved from day one.
Us: Do you feel that your former label tried to sculpt you into their version of a pop star?
CA: I don't blame anybody. If I were the folks at RCA and I got handed someone like me handed [over] and I didn't get to choose them, I wouldn't know what the hell to do either! They did the best they could for no track record for Idol. To some extent, there was an effort to try to make me what a pop star is supposed to look like, sound like and be like, instead of having too much opportunity to do what I should be doing.
Us: What made you want to tour with Ruben? Didn't you want to sever your association with Idol?
CA: Anyone who comes on American Idol wants to make sure that people realize that they can stand on their own. I've said a few times that Idol got me to the same place it got everybody else who was a runner-up. I'm very appreciative of being given the stuff that I have, but the six years post-Idol kind of have been trying to take what they gave me and make it continue to work.
Ruben and I are the two most opposite people you will ever meet in your life, but we're really good friends and we love hanging out together. I have no problem being tied to Ruben for a long time. Because we did the same plan, we took the same journey to get to the place where we are. We've been saying over and over and over, "you want to do something together?" And finally we have a few months this summer, and decided to stop talking about it and do it. Singing older songs are sometimes more fun because the audience already knows them and they can sing along and dance. To me, it's about being about to perform live. Everything I do from now on will continue to be songs that aren't about being the coolest thing in the world or being radio-friendly, they are about being me and also something I enjoy performing.
Us: How are you going to handle the fatherhood thing on the road?
CA: [Parker will] probably stay with his mom. It's not that long of a tour, so he'll probably stay with her, and we're in L.A. for the tour. It's close to his birthday, so we’ll be in L.A. for that and I'll see him afterwards.
Us: How has it been juggling your career and being a dad?
CA: It hasn’t been that hard. We’ve been pretty well. Anybody who has a kid has to juggle everything. So it’s not that much different. We have a nice system that we work out between when he’s with her and he’s with me and we’re together and all that stuff. It’s been really authentic.
Us: Fatherhood has really changed you.
CA: I feel a little more mature and substantially older. I realized on Father's Day, "Oh wait, I don't have to do anything for Father's Day, it is for me!" It's strange to think about that. I enjoy also the quiet of living in North Carolina still and then I come back here to New York a good chunk of the time, at least a week a month doing [press]. I'm a fan of New York. People are a little more grounded here.
Us: Lastly, I have to ask everyone: Are you single or dating?
CA: I am not on the market. I don't know what I am. I am not looking, let me put it that way!