Clay Aiken -- A Day in the Life
By Ashley Iasimone Posted Jun 24th 2010 01:45PM
It's the morning after Clay Aiken released his new album, 'Tried and True.' Backstage at 'The View,' the singer sits on a plush green sofa in his dressing room, surrounded by others but in his own world, eyes glued to his iPad as he waits for his call to set. Aiken starts his day out in a solitary mode, but perks up when he and his crew mull over which cover he should choose for an upcoming DVD release. Across the hall are the dressing rooms of Belinda Carlisle, who is also appearing on today's show, and guest host and 'Sex and the City' actor Mario Cantone, both of whom Aiken chats with before going on camera.
"I did not celebrate for the album at all," Aiken admits to PopEater, stifling a yawn. "I've been working pretty hard. Typically, when an album comes out, you spend most of your day doing press and interviews and whatnot."
This is one of those days. Starting out in midtown New York City in the early hours of the day at 'The View' (with the PopEater crew in tow, as well as a busy itinerary that runs until roughly 5PM and includes stops at ABC, CNN and 'Talk Stoop' in hand), it's clear to see that he's the type of guy who needs a little breather between charming talk show hosts, reporters and fans with his smooth vocal performances and dry sense of humor. Although the fresh-faced Aiken says that he usually doesn't have a problem with mornings, the week has been so busy that he's been feeling slightly sleep deprived.
"The most difficult part of the day when you're doing this press thing is having to get up so early and getting started too early. Interestingly enough, someone just said to me yesterday, 'Oh, you just have to sing and talk,' but it's tiring! You wouldn't think it would be so tiring, but my brain has to work for these things, and that'll wear you out," he says with a laugh.
Clay Aiken -- A Day in the Life
PopEater follows Clay Aiken around on a busy day in New York. See All Photos >>
Diana Levine for PopEater
Clay Aiken -- A Day in the Life
Still, Aiken, who has been relatively out of the spotlight this year, is proud to be talking about 'Tried and True,' no matter how exhausting it might get. The album is a departure from his previous releases in more ways than one -- not only did Aiken record a collection of standards like 'Unchained Melody,' 'Can't Take My Eyes Off of You' and 'It's Only Make Believe' rather than modern pop songs, he actually called all the shots. "I got to be a part of the process from beginning to end, from 'What type of album do you want to do?' to 'OK, let's do that,'" Aiken says. "'What songs do you want to do? OK, let's do that. What type of producer do you want?' I got to be very hands-on with every part of it, which was different. In addition to it being kind of sonically different to what I've done, it was different to be a part of that. It gives you more ownership, and it just really makes it more my baby."
"This is where the fun starts, ladies," Aiken, bringing his iPad back out to take his chances at a frustrating round of Solitaire, tells us as we board a waiting car that will transport us to our next stop, ABC. Once he starts his game, he's in it to win it. "This is not looking good. And if I lose, I get real cranky," he jokes, his gaze still locked on the game. "I give up at three minutes. There's no point. That two of hearts is underneath there, and I can't move him without a red queen, and I'm not gonna get one."
Seven years ago, Aiken briefly left his hometown of Raleigh, N.C. to get his start on what propelled his oncoming fame as a pop singer -- the second season of 'American Idol.' After coming in a close second to contestant Ruben Studdard, he went on to launch his recording career. As a performer, Aiken undoubtedly enjoyed his time on the show, but he has not watched it for at least five years now, and, while he understands why he's still asked about it, he doesn't have much to say about its current state. Aiken explains that the idea of watching it now makes him a bit nervous and adds, "People change and grow. Once you know how the sausage is made, you don't want to eat it anymore. It's a part of who I am, obviously, but it's not a part of my weekly routine."
As the van pulls over in front of ABC's headquarters, Aiken looks forward to finding himself a grilled cheese sandwich from the cafeteria for lunch, preferably made with cheddar, American and/or provolone -- "Those are the only three I like," he says. We check in at the security desk, head up the escalator and hang out in a news conference room while he once again waits to go on camera. Aiken munches on his grilled cheese, slips out of the room for his interview, returns and watches his recent appearance on the 'The Joy Behar Show,' shaking his head at the fact that CNN.com is running an item about how he called Simon Cowell an "a--hole" -- a lovable one, that is, all in good fun.
Today, he's returning to CNN for another interview, which he's psyched about. "CNN is on all the time in my house and I'm upset I can't get CNN International. I'm very bothered by that," Aiken laments. This is not a disingenuous endorsement -- Aiken gladly calls himself "that big a nerd," and his hobbies are pretty telling of his personality: "That's pretty much what I do when I'm alone. I watch CNN. I don't like crowds. I'm kind of a homebody. I'm a little bit of a hermit. I don't really go out and do too much at all. I'm relatively boring in my free time, and I'm fine with that."
In fact, after the CNN reporter jokingly offers him a job and we leave the network to head to Cat Greenleaf's 'Talk Stoop' in Brooklyn for one last interview, Aiken pokes fun at his own "boring" nature and then remains quiet, save a business call or two. He's in one of the most fast-paced cities in the world but his initial excitement for New York City has waned. "When I lived here for 'Spamalot,' I kind of got my fill of New York City," he says. "I mean, I love coming here. I actually like it quite a bit. But it's not like I'm gonna go see the sites or anything. What is there to do? Clubs, I guess? No thanks."
It was around the time of his run in 'Spamalot' two years ago that Aiken came out to the media, the "Yes, I'm Gay" headline emblazoned on the cover of People magazine. "When anybody comes out, there are going to be people who are supportive and people who are not," Aiken says, referring to fans – including those who he thinks still refer to themselves as the devoted "Claymates" -- and the general public. "Obviously, I was doing 'Spamalot' at the time and I was kind of nervous. I specifically remember that night, thinking, 'OK, I'm going to walk out prepared to be booed,' and nobody did. And people were very supportive. People have been very supportive throughout the whole process and it didn't really change."
With 'Tried and True,' Aiken goes back to what he knows best: home and the music that he heard his mother play while he was growing up. He cites his mom, who often sang in the car as well as at clubs and weddings with a local band, as one of his biggest influences. In particular, she always had a dream that Aiken would record 'Unchained Melody,' head out to Nashville with it and have a big hit. Now, Aiken is raising his own son, Parker.
"For the most part, around the house, we don't have that much music playing," Aiken says. "For some reason, I'm nervous to sing for him. My son doesn't like to listen to me sing, but he enjoys listening to other people sing. Maybe kids just don't like to hear their parents, ever. When they're teenagers they don't want to hear them. When they're babies they don't want to hear 'em sing. Maybe it's just a genetic thing."
So maybe his kid doesn't have the musical bug yet -- he is only two years old, after all -- but what if he one day wants to follow in his dad's footsteps? Aiken, simply a father looking out for his son, is quick to quip, "I don't plan on that happening. I obviously will encourage him in whatever he wants to, whatever he's passionate about, but I'm just gonna hope it's not this."
When we arrive at the Cobble Hill brownstone where Aiken will be interviewed for 'Talk Stoop' with Cat Greenleaf, he changes into a plaid shirt, accessorized with suspenders -- "I'm sitting on the stoop, why not?" he rationalizes -- and puts on a smile for Greenleaf's crew and family. His final press appearance of the day is relaxed, the sun is shining and Aiken treats Greenleaf to a brief a cappella performance.
Aiken's live performance will soon be taken to the road this summer when he embarks on his co-headlining tour with old 'Idol' friend Ruben Studdard, which kicks off on July 23 in Asheville, N.C. In a way, as of late, things really have come full circle for Aiken. "We're two very, very, very, very different people and we're kind of brought together by music, which I think is kind of nice and somewhat poetic," Aiken says. "We are gonna be able to do this on the road together and kind of share what we both love."
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