May 03, 2008
During its six previous seasons, TV juggernaut "American Idol" has launched countless music careers—but the caveat is maintaining staying power. Season-two runner-up Clay Aiken continues to trump the odds. His third RCA album, "On My Way Here," due May 6, follows his 2003 double-platinum debut, "Measure of a Man"; 2004's platinum "Merry Christmas With Love"; and 2006 gold covers album "A Thousand Different Ways." In May, he'll wrap a five-month Broadway stint in the Tony Award-lauded musical comedy "Spamalot."
On the new album, his first of original material since "Measure," Aiken worked with Grammy Award-winning producer Kipper (Sting, Chris Botti). The singer talks about the road ahead and his journey to this point.
You call "On My Way Here" a thematic reflection on life lessons, a sort of road map of your last five years. What do you hope listeners will take from the collection?
When [executive producer] Jaymes Foster and I came across the song "On My Way Here," written by OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, I really connected to it lyrically. It sums up how the experiences we go through make us who we are. As I'm knocking on the door to 30—and it's knocking hard—this decade has been about figuring out who I am. That set the tone for the album; they're all about things I've learned or universal lessons.
Once we had that road map and knew what we were looking for, the songs started falling in our laps. In the past, I'd sing about dog food and sunshine, as long as it was catchy and had a great melody, so it's the first time I've paid close attention to lyrics. I'm not Alicia Keys or Norah Jones when it comes to artistic lyrics, but I like what these songs are saying—and they're still pretty.
Knowing that we probably weren't going to get radio made the process even easier, so we just made an album that is me—songs written for me or whose meaning I connected with, and songs that I sing well.
"The Real Me" was written by Natalie Grant, who comes from the Christian world but is popular at AC. Her songs tend to explore life's challenges and offer a positive spin.
We first looked at that song as one of four originals on the last album. The thing I love so much about "The Real Me" is that when I listened to it, I thought, "It's about God." Jaymes heard a romantic song. Other people think it's about their mom. Everyone is able to take their own message. Natalie was kind enough to change a little bit of the lyric so that it fits my life even better.
You've managed to achieve success, as you noted, without a lot of radio support. You have 32,000 friends on MySpace. What vehicles are you looking at to help get the word out, particularly in the digital frontier?
The record label surprised me by saying they think this record is radio-friendly. Maybe that came as a result of not trying so hard, but we don't count on it. Look, some people that come from "Idol" are meant for radio—Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry. I think they'd have been successful at some point without the show. I'm a TV star. That's where I came from, so that's where I look to spread the word. I do blog in places and we've got the Web site, but a lot of the digital thing is aimed at teenagers. TV is just as big as digital, and it's always been my best vehicle.
Will you tour again to support the record?
I haven't had two days off since October, so I'm just not going to worry about a tour right now. This time, we're going to let things sit, see how the album does and put it together when and if it's right.
"Spamalot" is pretty silly. Your public persona is not. Why did you choose to make your Broadway debut with this show? And are you funny?
That's pretty much the very reason. We had offers from other shows and I'd looked at doing Broadway for years, but I wanted something totally different. I was drawn to this because it was a way to branch out. And [director] Mike Nichols—who is so talented and another reason I wanted to do "Spamalot"—made it pretty clear to me at the start: "Clay is not funny. The script is funny." So I play it pretty dry and it seems to have worked. I've had a great time and worked with a lot of really talented people, who have become my family in New York.
You probably knew this was coming: Even though you're onstage at night, have you caught any of this season's "American Idol"?
I watched the season with Carrie Underwood, but I haven't seen a lot of the show since. Listen, I am emphatic that I will always be appreciative of "Idol"—it gave me this opportunity, I know that—but I kind of equate it to high school. Just because I went to high school doesn't mean I still go back to watch the team's football games.