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Clay Aiken talks music, fame, philanthropy

'American Idol' finalist to perform Christmas Special at Arcada

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 11:12 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 11:21 a.m. CDT

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Clay Aiken has come a long way since his days on “American Idol.” Among the more successful musicians to come out of the ‘Idol’ woodwork since his 2003 debut on the show’s second season, Aiken has experienced his fair share of bucket-list worthy moments and brushes with greatness. From singing for the president to kicking off the national anthem at the World Series, the North Carolina native said his success as a singer “was never expected."

After 10 tours, a best-selling memoir, five albums, and a stint on Broadway, Aiken has a lot to be grateful for this holiday season. Currently on tour performing his Christmas Special, Aiken is stopping by the Arcada Theatre for a show Saturday, Dec. 15. The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets range in price from $39 to $95 each. To purchase tickets, visit www.oshows.com.

Kane County Chronicle features editor Kara Silva recently got a chance to talk with Aiken, and covered a range of topics from music and his upcoming show to fame and philanthropy.

Kara Silva: For your Christmas Special, What do you have in store for the show?
Clay Aiken:
It’s our fifth year doing a Christmas show. We’ve been around Chicago each time we’ve done it, I think. It always takes on a little different incarnation every year. We’ve done everything from me and a band, me and dancers, actors, snow, big sets and getting a community theater involved. But this year it’s me and a full orchestra.

So, this year it takes on the orchestral vibe, and I think that makes  it feel more like the holidays. Something about a French horn to me says holidays.

KS: As far as songs go are you doing original music, covers or a melding of the two?
CA:
Well, most Christmas songs are somewhat covers, and most of the holiday songs are somewhat traditional, but we do some traditional songs and some that are little more contemporary. But all of them, even the more contemporary songs are holiday songs that have been done before by somebody.

KS: Who do you enjoy listening to, to get you in the Christmas spirit?
CA:
Recently, since I’ve been doing the show, I kind of listen to my Christmas album to make sure I remember all of the words. And my memory is getting bad. We haven’t done this Christmas show in five years. So, I’ve been refreshing myself.

KS: Going back a little bit here, when you did “American Idol” all those year ago, did you ever imagine that you’d be this successful.
CA:
I went on “American Idol” as a dare. So, no not at all.

KS: Being in the spotlight, does that ever get old? Are you used to the fame thing?
CA:
A little bit of both. I’m used to it now in the sense that this is sort of a new normal for me. It’s been 10 years and this is how my life is now, and I can’t take a day off from being myself, so I’m sort of used to it. But at the same time I think it’s like every job. You have a job, you like your job I’m sure – or at least I hope – there are still days you don’t want to go to it (laughs). You’d like to have a day off here and there.

Everybody has things about their job that they love and they hate. Sometimes the attention and the not being able to go out of the house without being stalked is not my favorite part but you know, you deal with it.

KS: I read that growing up you always loved singing and performing, but was [being a singer] a dream of yours or is it something talent just sort of led you into?
CA:
As a kid, I sang because I liked it. I don’t even know if I was any good. I was encouraged to sing, and I guess I did it because I did it somewhat well and I enjoyed it.

It was the thing that I had. I couldn’t play sports and I wasn’t that smart (laughs). But it was never a dream to make it a career necessarily. It was just a hobby.

KS: You have a degree in special education, and you originally planned to teach children with autism, and then you got sort of thrown into the limelight on “American Idol,” have you been able to let go of your former life?
CA:
Well, I started a foundation back in ’03 – The National Inclusion Project – that includes kids with disabilities in the program and kids without disabilities; and we’ve been pretty successful. We have after-school programs, summer camp programs, sports programs and recreational programs. That has been pretty successful for me and a great opportunity for me to meld the two.

KS: You’re an ambassador for Unicef, and you’ve traveled to places beset by political unrest. What are you trying to achieve through these initiatives?
CA:
I think the only thing I can achieve is awareness. I can’t bring peace to the Middle East on my own (laughs). I sort of came to this place in my career on the backs of people who voted for me or people who supported me. And I think I have a responsibility. I’ve got a microphone in my hand to say things that are important; to talk about things that need attention, and I think there are a lot of causes that don’t get the attention that they really need or don’t have the opportunity for change because people don’t know about them.

I’m on a platform and I am at a place where people look at me and listen to me and I feel like I can talk about myself all the time or I can talk about things that are important and not all about me.

KS: What has been the greatest thing that has come out of your success as a singer in the entertainment industry?
CA:
Oh, God. I don’t know. Every time I do something I feel like it’s the best thing I’ve done or the biggest thing I’ve done. Every time I have an opportunity I think, ‘oh wow, I just sang for the president – that’s pretty cool.’

Then I’ll turn around and sing at the World Series. So, every time I get an opportunity to do something, it’s something that I never would have expected to have the opportunity to do, and so it’s hard to just pick one.

KS: Who are your musical inspirations and have you had the chance to meet any of them?
CA:
I’ve never had any musical inspirations. I really didn’t. For a musician, I’m not a music junkie. Music is a big part of my life, but I’ve never had a musical idol.

I was always a news junkie more than a music junkie. When I met Tom Brokaw in the elevator of the Rockefeller Center one time years ago, I about passed out. I was so excited. So, I have really strange idols and very few of them are musicians.

KS: So, what’s next for you, what do you have in the cooker?
CA:
Right now, we have this tour, and that’s what we’re going to stay focused on. When we’re on the road it’s hard to focus on anything else because every day is busy and I have 1,500 things to do every day for the show, so we have to put everything else on hold and on the back burner.

KS: Do you have any dream projects or collaborations you’d like to pursue in the future?
CA:
I feel like I’ve done so much. I mean I loved being on Broadway. I’d love to go back and do something where I get to sing. I love Trisha Yearwood, and I want to sing with her at some point.

There are a lot of things that I’d still love to do, but I don’t have a bucket list anymore. My bucket’s pretty full.

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