IF YOU GO
Who: Clay Aiken
When: 8 p.m. Friday at Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead, 510 E. 10th Ave., Munhall, Pa. (Pittsburgh); and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Palace Theatre, 1615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
Tickets: $47 to $57 (Pittsburgh); and $10 to $75 (Cleveland)
Info: Call 412-368-5225 (Pittsburgh); or 216-241-6000 or 866-546-1353, or visit www.PlayhouseSquare.org (Cleveland)
By John Benson
Clay Aiken has finally grown up. Or so he feels regarding his latest album, “Tried & True,” which features covers from the ’50s and ’60s such as “Unchained Melody,” “Crying” and “Mack the Knife.”
It’s been an interesting road for the Season 2 “American Idol” runner-up, who unlike others in his position has parlayed 15-minutes of fame into a recording career that includes more than 5 million albums sold. Over the past few years, the 32-year-old Raleigh, N.C., native has reinvented himself from sappy pop singer into a Broadway (“Spamalot”) and television (“30 Rock” and “Scrubs”) actor. Though he came out in 2008, that topic was off-limits during a recent phone interview to discuss Aiken’s show Friday at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library Music Hall and Saturday date at Cleveland’s Palace Theatre.
The Vindicator talked to Aiken about his memories of Northeast Ohio, how his new album captures his dapper side and his “American Idol” past.
Q. Over the years, you’ve enjoyed quite a following in Cleveland. What stands out about your local audience?
A. We actually have a lot of luck in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. The swing states for some reason work out really well. There are several fans I can think of in particular who are from Cleveland. I won’t mention their names, but they’re colorful and always the way I think of that city. They just come to the show. There is one lady in particular who likes to be called Granny. She’s a huge [Cleveland] Indians fan and very early on, eight years ago, she started coming to shows. She’s been very enthusiastic. I’m sure she’ll be there.
Q. As far as your new album, “Tried & True,” what was the idea behind recording ’50s and ’60s songs?
A. They’re songs I grew up listening to, and I say artistically, they’re a little bit more close to home to me. It’s a sound, a vibe, an energy I feel more comfortable doing. I enjoyed doing all of the other albums I’ve done, but when I sing in the shower or when nobody is around, these are the kinds of songs I gravitate towards. They’re more musically significant to me, and I think melodically and lyrically, they’re stronger than most things you hear on the radio nowadays. Now it’s more about the producer than it is the singer.
Q. Staying with “Tried & True,” the album cover finds you looking quite dapper, which isn’t always your image.
A. It’s about time I grew up (laughs). The whole concept of the cover was to go along with the sound itself, which it came from my house. When I built my house, my mom decorated my game room with her old LP covers from the ’50s. She framed them and put them on the wall. And as we were doing this album, I looked at them and thought they all have a very similar feel to them; always a very well-dressed professional almost looking dapper. They all have the same vibe. So let’s do the new album cover like that.
Q. Did you realize at the time you were making something straight out of “Mad Men?”
A. You know what? I didn’t but I wish they’d use it.
Q. Let’s switch topics to “American Idol.” We have to ask what you think of the current season’s new lineup featuring judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler?
A. I haven’t watched it in about six years, so I have not seen enough to have an opinion. The only thing I can base an opinion on would be the fact I know who they are. The fact they are both performers I think is nice. With the exception of Paula, there really hasn’t been anybody on the panel who is a performer and knows what it’s like to get on stage. So that’s a benefit.
Q. Finally, do you think you’ll ever officially be out of the “American Idol” shadow?
A. First, you’d have to assume it’s a shadow. I’m not so sure it is. It still shines a pretty big light. I don’t know if one ever does leave that to be honest, but I think after eight years, people for the most part recognize me for me. I think I’ll always be — or at least as long as the show is on the air — be considered or introduced as being from “American Idol.” And that’s fine; that’s how I got here.