BEVERLY HILLS — When Simon Cowell suggested during "American Idol" that Clay Aiken was better suited for Broadway than pop stardom, the singer insisted theater was not his thing.
While making his debut album, Measure of a Man, however, Aiken realized he was a natural thespian, at least in recording studios.
"A lot of the stuff on the album I can't relate to," the 24-year-old former Raleigh, North Carolina, student explained. "There's some stuff about being scorned by someone and having a lot of angst and retaliation in a break-up and that type of a thing and I don't know anything about that. ... So when I start performing or singing the song, I try to put myself in the songwriter's place and it's really an acting job."
Aiken's ability to find the perfect voice for classics like "Bridge Over Troubled Water" nearly won him "American Idol," but recording unfamiliar material from the same caliber of songwriters has not been as well-received. Reviews of Measure of a Man have used words like "cookie-cutter," "colorless" and "generic" to explain his selection of tunes. Or to be more accurate, the record label and management's selection of tunes.
"They really picked a lot of the stuff for this album before the show was over," Aiken said. "It was more work, more compromising and it was a lot more thinking than I thought it would have to be. We had to do a lot of thinking about what type of songs we wanted to do and I had to work with Clive [Davis] and a lot more parties involved than I'd thought there'd be. So it was definitely a learning experience."
Still, Aiken is happy with the album and even if half the 400,000 people who bought his "This Is the Night" single in the first week turn out for Measure of a Man, the album will be #1. And judging by the passion his fans, the Claymates, showed on the recent "American Idol" tour, his popularity has hardly dwindled (see "Ruben Studdard Confronted By Rabid Claymates At Tour Stop").
Aiken said he kept his diverse range of fans in mind while recording. "We just did what was me," he said. "We have teenagers that are fans up to a lot older than teenagers that are fans. And we didn't really try to specify an audience, because to do that you are neglecting some other group."
On Measure of a Man, Aiken sings a song co-written by Enrique Iglesias ("The Way") and worked with several veteran producers, including Steve Morales (Christina Aguilera), Rick Nowels (Cher) and Desmond Child (Ricky Martin), whose contributions include the single "Invisible" (see "Clay Aiken Makes A Big Scene For 'Invisible' Video")
Clif Magness, who produced a lot of Avril Lavigne's Let Go, also did several songs with Aiken.
"He's really one of the most creative producers that I've had the experience to work with," Aiken said. "We would get a demo of a song that sounds a certain way and a lot of the producers we would go to would turn the track into that very song, but he had the ability to take a track and hear it in a completely different way."
Aiken, who was going to apply for "The Amazing Race" but was talked into "American Idol" instead, is excited to distance himself from the show a little, even though he loved the experience.
"It prepared us for so much," he said. "It prepared us for the press thing, it prepared us for the recording studio thing, 'cause we recorded every single song that we sang on the show. It prepared us for the camera, for the audience, for the stage. It prepared us for critiques, obviously, too. It was really one of the best schools for this type of thing that you could possibly go through."
Distancing might be a challenge, though, given that he and Kimberly Locke just moved in together in Los Angeles, and Aiken still hangs out with Ruben Studdard.
"It isn't about competing," Aiken said about his relationship with the man who beat him for the "American Idol" title. "He wants me to do the best I can, so he'll give me a story about what he did and I'll say, 'That was a good idea' and I'll do it too, or vice versa. He's still working on his album, which will be out November 25 so pick that up. But pick up mine first!"