Clay Aiken's voice bigger than his self-esteem

Posted Friday September 10, 2004 7:29 PM GMT

Its OK to be a loser sometimes. Just ask Clay Aiken.

The Raleigh, N.C., native narrowly missed clinching the American Idol 2 title from Ruben Studdard by 130,000 (out of more than 25 million) votes. Since then, Aiken's success has equaled -- or surpassed -- that of Idol alumni Studdard, Kelly Clarkson, Tamyra Gray and poor, poor
Justin Guarini.

Aiken's first post-Idol release, This Is the Night/Bridge Over Troubled Water, was the only platinum-certified single of 2003. It spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Sales chart.

His debut album, Measure of a Man, sold 613,000 right out of the gate, the highest first-week total for a new artist in more than 10 years. (Snoop Dogg matched that figure in 1993). The album has moved more than 2 million copies since its October 2003 release.

On top of that, Aiken was named one of People magazine's sexiest men alive and one of Rolling Stone's People of the Year. He also co-headlined the wildly successful Independent tour with fellow Idol Clarkson earlier this year. Aiken's current solo tour touches down Tuesday at Reliant Arena.

Not bad for a self-professed nerd who doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.

"Lord! I would not get that worked up over me at all. It's all very baffling to me," says Aiken, 25. "I guess that's why it's so hard to wrap my mind around it when people are waiting outside the venue after a concert and cheering. I'm amazed that they're actually doing that because I would never do it. I especially wouldn't do it for some skinny little dork."

Self-esteem issues notwithstanding, Aiken's appeal lies in his ability to offer a little something for everyone. His clean-cut looks make him an ideal pin-up for excitable teens, while his aw-shucks image and soaring voice endear him to mothers and grandmothers.

"Luck. That's all I can figure," Aiken says about his cross-generational appeal.

But much of it has to do with Aiken's effortless genre-switching on Idol, during which he credibly tackled big-band, country and pop classics. He was one of the few contestants who seemed at ease almost every week.

Measure seems designed to make the most of that audience. Hit singles Invisible, I Will Carry You and The Way are poppy enough to attract the TRL set and appropriately breezy for the older, at-work crowd.

Aiken promises more variety next time around. He plans to release a new album next year.

"This last album I like everything on it, really, but a lot of the songs are kind of sappy, heartbreak songs. I don't need to keep oozing heartbreak," Aiken says. "I think I'd like to find some stuff that's a little more upbeat and up-tempo and also a little more positive."
Also on tap is a Christmas album and Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life, a book of inspirational thoughts and musings Aiken says have helped him reach a peaceful place in his life. Publishers were initially interested in an autobiography or a behind-the-scenes Idol story, but Aiken balked. He eventually came up with the inspirational book idea.

Aiken sees the project as an extension of the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, which he founded to help children with developmental disabilities. Aiken has a degree in special education and was a camp counselor/substitute elementary school teacher prior to his musical success.

For now, Claymates (as Aiken's most rabid fans call themselves) will have to make do with seeing their idol up close and personal onstage. Aiken's tour runs through October, and he pads his shows with covers of songs by U2, soft-rock outfit Orleans and Christian-pop phenom Avalon.

You can expect the night to be an all-out squealfest. Has Aiken ever been as star-struck as his fans are about him?

"I guess I got a little star-struck when I met Oprah because she's the media giant. I don't think I could ever get star-struck about anybody else," Aiken says. "I think I was ... You know, I think I ... gosh. I guess that answer is no."

Spoken like a true dork.

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