SANTA MONICA, California — As if "American Idol" weren't enough, Justin Guarini is going to continue competing against other singers when his debut album is released the same day as singles from Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard.
It's not a big deal to him, though.
"There's room enough for all of us," Guarini said Thursday. "There's room for this season's winners, and then there's room enough for last season's as well. ... I just want to sell enough to get to get to the third album, because usually they'll give you a chance for the second album, but it's the third album where you really [have to] establish yourself."
If Guarini's debut, due Tuesday (June 10), sells anything like Kelly Clarkson's, he'll be set (see "From Idol To Chart-Topper: Kelly Clarkson To Debut At #1").
And while Clarkson edged him out for the inaugural "American Idol" title, Guarini's got something she didn't — two "first" singles. He's releasing the dance track "Sorry" to MTV and pop radio, and his version of "Unchained Melody" to R&B and adult contemporary stations.
Guarini originally planned on just "Sorry," to show a different side of his voice, like Clarkson did with "Miss Independent," but fans were begging for the Righteous Brothers classic after he performed it as part of the most recent "American Idol" finale.
" 'Unchained Melody' is like the holy grail. I was kind of [nervous] when they said, 'Let's record this,' " Guarini said. "But Clive Davis sat with me and talked to me and he's like, 'This is a great song, it's a great copyright, and I think that you could really make it a hit.' So I said, 'Hey, why not? If C.D. believes in it, then why not?' "
Ballads and slow jams make up a good portion of Guarini's self-titled album, whether peppered with Latin ("One Heart Too Many") or funk ("Inner Child") or Clarkson (the duet "Timeless"). "Sorry," produced by Soulshock & Karlin (Destiny's Child), and "If You Wanna" are the main exceptions.
"One of my goals was to make this an eclectic album, just really appeal to a wide audience," Guarini said. "I never want to alienate ballads — people love ballads — but I definitely want to really dig my heels into the up-tempo stuff, and this is the beginning of that."
Guarini co-wrote "If You Wanna," which he likes as a potential next single, with the song's producer, Wade Robson. Though best known as choreographer, Robson has worked on music with 'NSYNC and Britney Spears.
"Now, it was mostly [written by] Wade, I'm not going to lie to you, but he was so receptive to my ideas," Guarini said. "Wade and I got together and it was just like it was magic. We were just pumpin' stuff out."
Brian McKnight also penned a song, "Condition of My Heart," which Guarini described as "the most vulnerable ballad on there." Babyface and the Underdogs produced that track and about half of the album, while Lester Mendez (Shakira), Steve Mac (Nick Carter) and Damon Sharpe (Kelly Rowland) also contributed.
"Babyface and the Underdogs really are the meat and potatoes of what we're doing on this album, the soulful, R&B, hip stuff," Guarini said. "Kenny ['Babyface' Edmunds] is just so amazing with his melodies and his lyrics, and I would say they got the best vocals out of me on this album."
And showcasing his pipes was the former a cappella singer's top goal.
"I thought my voice was OK on 'American Idol,' but the fact that I've grown and now that I have original music and I don't have to live up to Stevie Wonder's standards, this really is my way of saying, 'Hey, I can really, really sing,' " Guarini said.
Chances are the millions who voted for Guarini through the entire first "American Idol" would say he was more than just OK. Still, even with a built-in fanbase, he's going to have some tough competition on next week's sales chart, with Radiohead and Luther Vandross releasing albums.
Guarini, himself, is racing to the stores to pick up a new release. "Metallica's amazing," he said. "[I'm] such a huge Metallica fan it's not even funny."