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Oct 28 04 10:56 PM
Clay Aiken's Single Released
POSTED: 4:06 p.m. EDT June 9, 2003
UPDATED: 11:55 a.m. EDT June 10, 2003
RALEIGH -- Clay Aiken's first single hit physical and virtual shelves across the country Tuesday.
The "A" side cut is the "American Idol" runner-up and Raleigh native's cover of "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." The flip-side is a new song called "This Is The Night."
The single was the top seller on Amazon.com Tuesday morning. The album was outselling the recently released single by Ruben Studdard, who beat Aiken in "Idol's" final round. Studdard's single was the site's ninth-most requested album of the day.
Employees at the Turtles Music Store on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh claim their store carries more of Aiken's albums than any other local store. With 600 CDs, the employees guess that their stock will run out by the end of the week.
Aiken's album will only be available through a limited release. Once the stock from this release has been sold, no additional albums are slated for production.
Oct 28 04 10:57 PM
'Idol' pair are
now single guys
By JIM FARBER
DAILY NEWS MUSIC CRITIC
Ruben beat Clay on the finale of "American Idol," but the duel continues today when each releases a debut single.
Now it gets serious.
Clay Aiken is No. 1 - ahead of albums by Led Zeppelin, Radiohead and Annie Lennox - and Ruben Studdard is ninth on the Amazon.com list of top sellers, based on advance orders. The singles are $4.49 each.
The singles are sure to sell swimmingly at a time when Clay vs. Ruben pushes almost as many emotional buttons as Gore vs. Bush, if not Mets vs. Yankees.
But a more proper comparison would be Burger King vs. McDonald's.
Both chains - and singers - offer very popular, cut-rate, empty products that, ultimately, may kill you.
Each single features two songs: a cover of a famous tune and a lesser-known piece of dross.
Fans of the show will recognized the covers. Studdard warbles Leon Russell's "Superstar." Aiken oversings Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
Was Studdard aware that the lyrics of "Superstar" express the point of view of a female groupie pining for a wayward rock star? Either way, it's a dispiriting recording, more for the soggy arrangement than the mediocre singing. The slowed-up rhythm and drenching string section kill any edge the song once had.
Studdard's other cut, "Living Without Wings," is a typically bland piece of bourgeois R&B. But it's a competent vocal reading, with the American Idol sounding like Brian McKnight minus the sex appeal.
Aiken continues to baffle as a contemporary pop contender. He sounds like someone who should be understudying for Mandy Patinkin. His take on the Paul Simon classic sounds whiny rather than rousing. The cheesy horns don't help.
Aiken's lesser-known cut, "This Is the Night," isn't done any favors by his overarticulated reading.
Then again, what these singers sell isn't great recording techniques but eager-to-please personalities and athletic instruments.
Regardless of who outshoots whom at the cash registers, then, both are drawing blanks so far as creative artists.
Oct 28 04 10:59 PM
Clay Aiken Fans Donate More Than $21,000 To Local Groups
Autism Society Of North Carolina, A.E. Finley YMCA Benefit
POSTED: 11:39 a.m. EDT June 10, 2003
UPDATED: 12:14 p.m. EDT June 10, 2003
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Fans of "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken continue to show their support for the Raleigh singer with contributions to two local organizations in which he had been involved.
Donations from fans and profits from Clay Aiken t-shirt sales have benefitted two Raleigh nonprofits.
A total of $21,580 has been raised for the benefit of The Autism Society of North Carolina and the A.E. Finley YMCA, both Raleigh-based nonprofits.
The money came through direct donations made in honor of Aiken. An additional $10,880 has been raised from sale of Clay Aiken T-shirts by the Claymates, Aiken's official fan club. Profits from the sales of all T-shirts will be distributed evenly between the ASNC and the YMCA, spokesman Tommy Austin said.
Fans from all over the world have contributed, according to the organizations.
At the Autism Society of North Carolina, contributions have come from all 50 states, Canada and Singapore. In addition, the organization raised money by auctioning two Clay Aiken banners and sponsored an event last month at Triangle Town Center where fans were invited to record video greetings for Aiken prior to his last competition on the show. According to David Laxton, ASNC's director of communications, a total of $7,200 has been raised for his organization.
The A.E. Finley YMCA estimates it has received approximately $3,500 in contributions honoring Aiken, said Tim O'Connell, branch director.
Aiken was a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte working on a degree in special education when he -- along with 70,000 others -- auditioned to become a contestant on FOX-TVs "American Idol." He ended the series as first runner-up, but during the run of the show, Aiken used his stage to raise awareness of the good work done by both the YMCA and the Autism Society of North Carolina.
Oct 28 04 11:00 PM
IDOLS' EARLY DEBUT: Street date violations, which occur when retail outlets sell records before their release dates, result in "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken and winner Ruben Studdard debuting prematurely on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Sales chart. The amounts sold of Aiken's "This Is the Night" (RCA) and Studdard's "Flying Without Wings" / "Superstar" (J) were too small to bring the songs onto the main Hot 100, but Aiken's single enters the sales chart at No. 19 and Studdard's single opens at No. 22.
Both Idols' singles had official release dates of June 10 and will make their debuts on the Hot 100 next week. Both singles are expected to sell between 200,000 and 300,000 copies each, which would be enough to bring them on to the chart at No. 1 and No. 2, the highest debuts since current chart policies were set in December 1998. It would be the first time that new entries would occupy the top two positions on the Hot 100.
Studdard debuts on two other Billboard charts this week. "Flying Without Wings" is a new entry at No. 30 on the Adult Contemporary tally. That's just one slot below the No. 29 debut of labelmate Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father." On the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, "Superstar" has more cumulative airplay and opens at No. 61. Sales could push "Superstar" to No. 1 on next week's R&B chart.
Because both of Studdard's songs are charting, on Hot 100 Singles Sales his single is listed as "Flying Without Wings" / "Superstar." While "Bridge Over Troubled Water" also appears on Aiken's single, "This Is the Night" has the most cumulative airplay and is the sole title listed on the sales chart.
Oct 28 04 11:04 PM
ONE-DAY SALES: NEW ALBUMS, SINGLES STIR IT UP!
Luther, Radiohead Going Fast; American Idol Singles Kicking Major Booty
June 11, 2003
A note to our reader: Some days, there's just so much actual information to convey that there's no time for needless hooey, silliness or other fiddle-faddle.
This is one of those days, so here goes (we're sure you're shocked):
R&B superstar Luther Vandross, still critically ill after suffering a major stroke, is very evidently on the minds of his many fans, as his Dance With My Father (J Records), released yesterday, is selling at a rapid clip.
The album should end up selling over 300k for the week, according to early reports from national accounts, and could go as high as 330k. A tribute to Vandross on Oprah airing Thursday could potentially push sales even higher.
J had shipped nearly 700k copies of Dance... prior to Tuesday, and shipped another 300k in reorders yesterday.
The album's big start means it could quite possibly contend for #1 on next week's chart, depending on how Metallica's St. Anger (Elektra) holds up as it completes its first full week of sales. Some accounts are predicting that it will fall by 30%, which would put Vandross within striking distance, but at this point it's still too early to tell.
Meanwhile, Radiohead's much-anticipated Hail to the Thief (Capitol) is having a great first week by any account. After one day of sales, the album looks like it will approach 250k for the week, with plenty of stock in the marketplace.
Other albums making a splash after being released yesterday include Joe Budden's eponymous collection on Def Jam, which appears headed for a 100k week and could go as high as 125k. George Strait's rack-driven Honkytonkville (MCA Nashville), meanwhile, could go as high as 150k.
But albums aren't the only things cranking up the sales this week: Two new American Idol singles are clicking like crazy with record buyers.
Idol winner Ruben Studdard's "Flying Without Wings" b/w "Superstar" (J) is on track to approach 250k units for the week.
Keep in mind that the #1 single in the nation usually sells about 4k to 5k in a week.
But the big surprise is runner-up Clay Aiken's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" b/w "This Is the Night" (RCA), which is shredding even winner Studdard's numbers and looks like it will sell 250k and possibly go as high as 300k.
For reference, Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This" sold 236k in its first week.
Looks like Idol worship is alive and well.
Oct 28 04 11:05 PM
Idols Clay and Ruben are poised to outsell Kelly. An industry website says they'll each sell more than 200,000 copies by Brian Hiatt
"American Idol'' fans have been anything but idle this week, snapping up copies of new singles by both Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. The singers are each looking at first-week sales of over 200,000 copies, according to estimates compiled by music-industry website Hitsdailydouble.com. What's more, show runner-up Aiken is outselling the velvet teddy bear who bested him; Aiken's ''Bridge Over Troubled Water/This Is The Night'' is likely to sell between 250,000 and 300,000 units, while Studdard's ''Flying Without Wings/ Superstar'' is set to do no more than 250,000. Hitsdailydouble.com compiled the numbers based on early estimates from retail chains (the singers' label, RCA, couldn't confirm the estimates).
Those numbers -- already extraordinary compared the usually minuscule sales for CD singles -- would surpass the first-week sales of Kelly Clarkson's debut single, ''A Moment Like This,'' which sold 236,000 copies. Meanwhile, there's no word on sales of the self-titled debut album from last season's ''Idol'' runner-up, Justin Guarini. But since he's up against the likes of Luther Vandross, Metallica, and Radiohead -- and it's been months since his second-place finish -- even making the top 10 could be difficult.
Oct 28 04 11:07 PM
Claymania Continues With Release Of CD Single
Aiken CD Sells Out In Some Stores
POSTED: 7:52 a.m. EDT June 10, 2003
UPDATED: 9:08 a.m. EDT June 11, 2003
RALEIGH, N.C. -- This is the day Clayniacs have been waiting for.
Clay Aiken's CD single hits store shelves Tuesday.
The CD features "This is the Night" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
The Raleigh native may not have won the "American Idol" title, but the runner-up is winning the sales race. The CD has topped Amazon.com's pre-order list for weeks.
Several Triangle stores were open late for the midnight release of the CD.
"Probably 60 to 100 people were here last night during our midnight sale," said Ric Culross of SchoolKids Records. It's the best midnight sale we've had in years."
Aiken's CD flew off store shelves across the Triangle -- several stores even sold out.
"My sister went somewhere and tried to buy them today and all the CDs were sold out. So I'm on the official run to get Clay's CD and we're very happy to find it," Martha Grindle said.
Wal-Mart stores in Cary and Fuquay-Varina did not get their shipments of the CD. A sign tells customers there was a distribution problem. The Cary store expects its shipment by Wednesday.
"Idol" winner Ruben Studdard's CD single was also released Tuesday. The CD features "Flying Without Wings" and "Superstar."
Many fans, like Emily Comer, said both CDs are worth buying.
"I got both of them because Clay Aiken -- I really like the way he sings, and Ruben has a beautiful voice," she said.
"I came today for my grandmother," said Nicole Poehlman. "She was looking for Clay and Ruben singles so that's the only reason I'm here today.
Reporter: Valonda Calloway
OnLine Producer: Michelle Singer
Oct 28 04 11:10 PM
Quote: 'Idol' runner-up is now No. 1
By Fred Bronson
LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - It was only 12 weeks ago that Clay Aiken joined five of his fellow contestants from American Idol at Billboard's office in Los Angeles to find out how The Billboard Hot 100 single chart is compiled and how someone can achieve a No. 1 hit.
If that lesson seemed abstract then, it's now a reality for the 24-year-old Raleigh, N.C., native, as his debut single, "This Is the Night" (RCA), enters the chart in pole position, a feat considered almost impossible under current chart policies.
Aiken's single is the first to debut at No. 1 since chart rules were changed in December 1998 to allow airplay-only tracks onto the Hot 100. That made it possible for songs to enter the survey in the lower rungs as soon as they had enough airplay.
Aiken was the runner-up in the second season of American Idol, and much will be made of the fact that winner Ruben Studdard debuts behind Aiken at No. 2 with his first single, "Flying Without Wings" (J). That shouldn't distract from the fact that Aiken and Studdard make chart history: This is the first time since the Hot 100 was introduced in August 1958 that the top two spots are held by new entries. It almost happened the week of Feb. 28, 1998, when Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" debuted at No. 1 and Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" opened at No. 3.
"This Is the Night" is the first pop song to top the Hot 100 in 2003, and it is the first since "A Moment Like This" by Kelly Clarkson, the winner of the first season of American Idol, reigned for two weeks in October 2002.
Aiken is the first solo male vocalist to top the Hot 100 without also appearing on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks since Enrique Iglesias, who ruled with "Be With You" in June 2000.
"This Is the Night" is the 60th No. 1 single of the rock era for RCA. Aiken is the 11th solo male vocalist on RCA to reach the top of the pop singles chart; he joins Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Neil Sedaka, Lorne Greene, S/Sgt. Barry Sadler, Nilsson, John Denver, David Bowie, Rick Springfield, and Rick Astley. Sedaka and Aiken met when the former was a celebrity judge on American Idol.
Aiken isn't the only one having his first No. 1 hit with "This Is the Night." It's the first chart-topper for songwriters Aldo Nova, Gary Burr, and Chris Braide.
Studdard is No. 1 on another Billboard chart. His version of "Superstar/Flying Without Wings" heads up Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Sales. On the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles and Tracks chart, "Superstar" leaps 61-2, runner-up to labelmate Monica's "So Gone." It's the biggest move into the top five since the chart has been compiled with Nielsen SoundScan and Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems information.
Oct 28 04 11:11 PM
by Fred Bronson
STUDDARD & AIKEN: AMERICAN IDOLS
Over the last six months, Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard have become two of the most-talked about, most-recognized people in America, thanks to the phenomenal ratings success of the "American Idol" TV series.
This week, runner-up Aiken and winner Studdard make historical debuts at No. 1 and No. 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 with their respective singles. It's the first time in the 45-year history of the chart that the top two songs are new entries. Aiken's "This Is the Night" (RCA) is the second No. 1 single by an "American Idol" contestant (following Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This" from October 2002). Studdard's "Flying Without Wings" is the pop hit, while his remake of "Superstar" leaps 61-2 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.
Aiken's single sold almost 393,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, the highest one-week sales total for a single since Elton John's "Candle In the Wind 1997." Studdard's single sold nearly 286,000 copies. Except for Aiken's sales figure, that's the highest one-week sales total in five years, since Brandy & Monica's "The Boy Is Mine." On Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Sales chart, "This Is the Night" / "Bridge Over Troubled Water" soars 19-1 and "Flying Without Wings" / "Superstar" sails 22-2.
"Chart Beat" columnist Fred Bronson, who appeared on the "American Idol" episode devoted to Billboard's No. 1 hits, interviewed Aiken and Studdard about their personal histories, experiences on the series, and current recording activities.
Q&A With Clay Aiken
Did you know you share Dick Clark's birthday?
I do. And Winston Churchill's birthday.
I figured you would know that. You were born on Nov. 30.
Nov. 30, 1978. I was born in Raleigh. Spent my whole life in Raleigh. Never left Raleigh until I did this show. Well, that's a little exaggerated.
When did music come into your life?
I'd sing at home and my mom would try to convince me to sing at church. She worked at Sears for a long time and there was a big family environment there. They would pay me a dollar to stand up on the carpet samples and sing a song.
How old were you?
Maybe three. When I was five, there was a high school in the area that did a winter dance, and they had a mascot every year who would sing. It was 1984. I sang "Islands In the Stream," a big No. 1 hit, and won. I remember being up there and everybody was laughing at me and I said, "Mom, they're laughing at me," and she said, "No, they think you're cute."
How did people know when you were three to ask you to sing?
It wasn't that I could sing really well. It was just that I would do it. Some kids are shy and I was never very shy. So it was not, "Oh, he's so talented" at three years old. It was just, "He'll make a fool of himself on the carpet samples, so let's let him do it." At five, I had shown that I could stay on pitch.
Were you listening to the radio at that age? Were you buying records?
I was listening to the radio, whatever my mom played, which was the oldies station or the country station. I saw one of those magazines that said "12 for the price of one." Back then they were LPs. I don't know how I was smart enough at seven years old to put it in the mail and order the 12. The only one I can remember was a Crystal Gayle album. My mom was furious with the company for allowing a seven-year-old to do that. But all I had to do was tape a penny to that little piece of cardboard and send it in.
Did you add to your repertoire?
There was a song called "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On." We were at the beach and there was a Christian puppet show. They asked for anybody who wanted to sing to come up. My mom was so afraid that I was going to sing "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On." I sang "Kumbaya," so I knew what the audience wanted even then.
What kind of encouragement did you get from your family?
When I was a kid, my mom let me try everything. She'd drive me to play soccer, play baseball, and I did T-ball for a long time until she realized, "he can't even run. That's how unathletic he is." So she said, "You know what? Let's just let him sing. That's all he wants to do."
There was a boys choir in Raleigh. It was not the type of music I liked but it let me sing. My mom supported me in doing that type of thing. She was never a stage mommy, just drove me to things and if somebody needed help to fundraise, she'd work the ticket booth. When I was in high school, choir wasn't enough, so I did some musicals.
Did you ever have a private vocal coach?
I took piano lessons for about four months, and that was too much. And then I took singing lessons for about two months and that was too much.
What were your career plans at that time?
Every time I'd do a play, I said, "This is what I want to do for the rest of my life." Every time I'd sing in choir, "This is what I want to do for the rest of my life." And then I got out of high school and I realized, "I don't think this is what I want to do." I thought about going to school for music and I said, no, I'm not sure that I want to be a musician. I'm so not big on instability and I did not want to knock on doors for the rest of my life and hope somebody would hear me.
So you didn't pursue a music degree, but you enrolled in college. What did you study?
Special education. I fell in love with working with individuals with autism and I planned my life out. I was going to teach for six years and then I wanted to go to William & Mary to get my Masters in administration. I still would love to. At the same time I wanted to become a principal. [That's how] I saw myself at 50 years old. My life was totally planned out and now I've taken a fork in the road and I have zero plans, like the road is not even built yet. I don't even know what's going to happen next week. You know, people could stop buying the record today. People could take it back into the stores.
Don't worry, most stores won't take back singles. But seriously, you were taking care of an autistic child. Tell me how you met the family.
I worked in an autism classroom in an elementary school in Raleigh for two years while going to school part time. [Then] an agency set me up with a family with a 17-year-old. I worked with them for about a year. I went home from school for the summer, came back and was placed with Mike Bubel and worked with him for a year, then went home for the summer and my dad passed away. I didn't watch "American Idol" at all. I went back with the Bubels and Diane, the mother, said I had to audition for "American Idol."
You had not seen the show at this point?
I remember seeing someone sing "My Girl" and I changed the channel. I guess you've got to hear [notoriously critical judge] Simon [Cowell] speak before you get hooked. You're thinking, "He's so mean! What is he going to say to the next one?" When I got back home I watched the episode where Tamyra [Gray] got kicked off, and I thought, "What a crappy show! She was so good!" Diane said, "You've got to audition for this." And I said, "No, I want to be on 'The Amazing Race.'"
So you liked "The Amazing Race?"
Are you kidding me? I was addicted to it. It's such a good show. I had the application ready to send in and my roommate Amy was going to go with me. I was going to send it in with another person, just in case that team didn't work. But Diane said, "No, you've got to audition for 'American Idol.'" She kept bugging me. I said, "Fine. I'll do it if you stop nagging me."
How did Diane know that you had vocal talent?
I was with them for a year and a half, so I just sang around the house.
On the Internet, there are MP3 files of you singing "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" and some other songs.
My mother gave me some studio time as a graduation gift and we made a tape of some songs that she liked to hear me sing. "Dream Lover" is on there, and "Unchained Melody" and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me."
Did you try to do anything with those recordings?
If I sang somewhere, we'd try to sell them, but they just sat around.
You didn't send them to record companies?
No. I was totally content with my life and thought this would be a good hobby. Then Diane convinced me and I went down to Atlanta, and sat in line for two days.
First you auditioned at the Fox affiliate in Charlotte.
In a lot of cities, the local Fox affiliate would have a competition and the one winner from that competition didn't have to wait in line in Atlanta or in whatever city. The Charlotte audition was exactly seven days before the Atlanta audition, which was on Oct. 21, 2002.
You didn't win, but you still went to Atlanta.
Diane said, "That's not fair. You go anyway." I said, "I'll go down to Atlanta if it'll keep you quiet." The first audition was probably the most nerve-wracking because I didn't want to get cut on Sunday and have to drive back on Monday and have everybody say, "I thought you were going to be gone for auditions."
Patrick Lynn was the producer who picked me and I was the only person of his who made the top 12. But they lost people left and right.
What did you sing for Patrick?
I didn't know what I was going to sing, even up to the last minute. I thought "Unchained Melody" was too slow. Right before I went in, I decided I'll do "Always And Forever." I stepped forward and what comes out of my mouth, I'm not kidding you, the theme song to "Perfect Strangers," the T.V. show. He dismissed everybody else and said, "Sing something else. That was a little stagy." No kidding! Then finally I sang "Always And Forever" and I stuck with that.
When did you audition again?
On Wednesday [I auditioned for co-executive producer] Nigel [Lythgoe]. Nigel scared me to death because he said, "I don't care how good you can sing. I don't care if you're the worst person in the world. I'm looking for someone that I can put on a TV show. I'm looking for someone with personality." Well, that scared me, because I didn't really have one. So I was very nervous. I sang "Always And Forever" and he said, "You're a crooner. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I'll let you through. When you sing tomorrow, I want you to really sing it to Paula."
So the next day, what judge is not there? Paula. I said I'm just going to go in and have a good time. There's no way I'm going to make it. I might as well enjoy myself.
Simon and Randy seemed puzzled about what to do with you. Was there anything cut from your audition that we didn't see on the air?
The only thing that was cut was when Simon said, "The girl who came in before you looks like a pop star, but she has nowhere near the voice you have. We're looking for a pop star, but you have a great voice. What do we do?" And then I said, "Put me through and let America decide," which I'm glad they cut because I would have sounded like an idiot.
Looking back on it I think, how many times did I deserve to get cut? Or how many times was I right on the line? That first day, there were 7,000 people in that room. They could have just said, "We've got too many today. We're going to let him go," or "The person who comes in next might be better." There was a guy in my group of five who was just as good as me, and he didn't make it through. Nigel could have let me go because he didn't think I had enough personality. Simon clearly had reservations, but he let me through anyway.
Yet you seemed to exude confidence. When Simon asked, "Why are you here?" and you said, "Because I am the 'American Idol.'"
When we were waiting to audition, Simon came out and said, "If we ask you if you're the 'American Idol,' you better not say, 'I hope so.' You better not say, 'I think so.' You better say 'Yes.'" He wanted confidence and so I came in and I said it. I didn't necessarily believe it, but I had to say it because I was afraid that's what I needed to get through.
You displayed a powerful voice right from the beginning and then you started adding more emotion in later shows. Do you analyze the songs?
I do occasionally, like "Solitaire" for example. I loved that song from high school. I wanted to sing it but I had just done a slow song the week before. Everybody thinks I can only do ballads, but I alternated every week and I never did two ballads in a row. Well, I'm sorry, I did. At the last minute, we had to change to country and I had to do two slow songs in a row. That's what pigeonholed me. So I didn't want to do "Solitaire" because I had just done "I Could Not Ask for More" by Diane Warren.
When you were deciding which Diane Warren song to perform, you asked me if you should sing Edwin McCain's "I Could Not Ask For More" or Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" and I said my personal favorite was the Starship song.
That was the hardest decision for me to make really, but [the Edwin McCain song] turned out to be my favorite performance.
"Solitaire" was one of your best performances.
It was possibly because of the lighting. I wore all black. I called Neil Sedaka and said, "I want to know exactly what this man's thinking. Did he commit suicide or something at the end of the song?" I wasn't exactly sure what the motivation was. I wanted to know.
"Tell Her About It" was a fast song but it was still a Billy Joel song and I didn't want to be too outlandish because Billy Joel's got some New York class, so that's why I wore the pinstripe suit with the T-shirt. People pay more attention to what I'm wearing than anybody else because I'm the makeover boy.
That was a big issue in the second season of "American Idol," appearance and image.
I think there's a difference between appearance and image. An image is not how you look. It's what you do. It's what you portray. Your personality, the example you set, and that's huge for me. I don't have a problem with my image if that's the definition of it, because I think that certain people out there who have the best attire, who have nothing but style, have a bad image. I wouldn't want my kids watching them, no matter how great their voice is or how nicely dressed they are; they don't set the best example.
But appearance -- I never really considered that to be a problem. I've never seen a pop star wear glasses, so I had to get rid of them. I thought that was it. Apparently I was a lot uglier to start with. You grow up in Raleigh, you don't have Dolce & Gabbana everywhere. You don't have Prada and all that stuff. So I was wearing some Express clothes and I had some khaki pants on and I thought I was looking O.K.
Did they suggest changes in your hair and clothes?
They just said, "You need some help." I'm very irreverent with my hair. It's not sacred to me. So I said, "Do whatever looks good. Just make my ears look small."
But I was really hesitant with clothes because there were certain things I'm not comfortable with. I don't like wearing T-shirts. It took me a little longer to warm up to [wardrobe supervisor] Miles [Siggins]. I didn't let him do anything on that first top-32 show. I came in dressed how I wanted to dress and then on the wild card show, I let him help me a little bit more and then the rest of the show, I finally gave up. "Miles, I trust you completely. Go ahead and do what you want to do." He picked every outfit for me until I told him what I wanted to wear for the last show.
When I first met you, my impression was that you are someone who knows what they want. Is that accurate?
I've learned to trust my gut. I don't second-guess myself. I think the only time I really second-guessed myself and had a hard time picking a song was that Diane Warren week. But I definitely like to trust my instincts. "At This Moment" was probably the worst song selection I made. I picked that song because I love it and not because it would sound good on me. But on "Build Me Up Buttercup," my gut said, sing it. My gut said sing "Grease." Oops!
I don't think people realized how much freedom all of you had in deciding what to sing. A lot of people assumed the show assigned you songs.
No, no, no. We got the theme and the only restriction we had within that theme was whether or not the song could be cleared. The executive producer would say, "I don't like that song. I think you're making a bad choice. I really think you're making a bad choice."
For example, during movie week, I wanted to sing "Unchained Melody" because I was nervous about getting through in those early stages and I thought I need some bang. And [Nigel said], "I don't like that song. I don't think you should sing it." And they always said, "Ultimately, it is your decision." Because of course, they don't want to pick a song for someone and then later, I get cut and I can blame them for picking it. "You made me sing that song."
And even Byrd and Michael Orland, when it came down to three songs, they wouldn't tell us which one they liked better. They would say, "This is what's good about this one. This is what's bad."
You've mentioned three key people who were involved with music: vocal coach Debra Byrd, pianist/arranger Michael Orland, and music supervisor Susan Slamer. What kind of support did you get from them?
If I had a question, I could call Byrd at home. I could ask this and that, and then she'd come in and we'd rehearse it. She would have me rehearse with a Dasani water bottle in front of her in a room downstairs in the mansion. For "Grease," she said, "I want to see you do the whole thing." For "Build Me Up Buttercup," "I want to see you walk this song and sing it. I want to see the performance." And she'd critique everything, which was good. That's what I liked.
Michael Orland is a "music king." He was often the person whose opinion I sought when making a final decision on which song to sing. He really served as a parental figure throughout the season. He was always one of the most supportive of all in terms of providing encouragement and keeping things light hearted. He's one of the funniest people I know.
Susan Slamer, I think, has the entire catalogue of every songwriter in the world in her head. I can't think of a better person for the job that she has. Not only does she have an amazing knowledge of music, but she has a visible and contagious love for it. She also played the role of "house mom" a lot. She was probably the easiest person to tell your frustrations to, and she gave so selflessly of her time even outside of normal work hours. She was probably the hardest-working person on the show in terms of the amount of sweat and tears she put in to the show and the contestants.
We can't talk about "American Idol" without discussing Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. What impact did the judges have on you?
Randy and Paula told you when they thought something was wrong. They didn't have any problems being constructively critical, but they were very supportive backstage. They were thrilled to see you and would give you a hug or talk to you and they were very honest. But they tempered it in a way that a family member would. "I'm telling you this because I love you. That was not that great. You could have done better. You should have moved more."
And you want that.
Right. Simon was like the wicked stepbrother. He's an honest guy. He realizes he's the reason this show is so popular, but he doesn't take his persona too seriously. He doesn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. That's not his intention. He's going to tell the honest truth, and I think for that reason, Simon scared me while I was on the show.
Simon probably made me work harder than anybody else, because I was never really worried about what Randy and Paula were going to say. I wouldn't second-guess myself, but I tried to second-guess Simon. Sometimes he'd give criticism that I could do something with. He's the one you don't want to tick off, but he's the one you want to make happy, then you work on it.
If you were executive producer of "American Idol," what changes would you make in season three?
Ken [Warwick] and Nigel, they're amazing. They know exactly what to do and when to do it. I cannot think of anything that they did as executive producers that made me think, "I wouldn't do that." Those two guys are on their game. They know exactly how to make a hit show and they've clearly proven that.
Were you happy with the themes, and the celebrity judges?
As much as I love him, Neil Sedaka initially was not a choice that anybody would think would go over really well.
It turned out to be one of the best shows. Fox has sent the Neil Sedaka show to members of the Television Academy for Emmy consideration.
[Neil Sedaka] is not a name most teenagers have heard. Even some of the contestants had never heard of him. However, you're right. Neil Sedaka was the best theme and I think part of that reason was because Nigel and Ken made a concerted effort to bring back some things that had not been heard in a while and to expose this [music to] teenagers because they knew they were going to watch no matter what the theme was. So it gave them a history lesson and they brought back some really amazing songs.
If Ken and Nigel asked you to give advice to the contestants for season three, what would you tell them?
I would advise them to enjoy themselves, but make sure they get their rest and to be ready for more work than they could imagine. All of us came into this realizing we're going to have to work hard; this is not going to be an easy thing. We had no idea we were never going to sit down for a minute. And understand they need to be prepared it, because a lot of us came into it thinking, "We're going to have to work about 40 or 50 hours a week, then we're going to have a break." You really don't have any time off.
Your single "This Is the Night" makes a spectacular debut at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 this week. When did you first hear the song?
Josh Gracin, Kim Locke, Ruben and myself went to see Clive Davis at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He told us there were going to be two different singles. Instead of both finalists singing the same song [like on the first season], they were going to have one finalist sing one song and one finalist sing the other song. One of the reasons they did that was because two people could have a single and the other reason was that way you could really match each person's style. Clive said, "I'm going to play two songs for you and then I'm going to tell you who they're assigned to." He said, "For example, if Ruben and Kim make the final, then they will sing one song and we've got another song that we think would be good for Josh and Clay."
Clive played "This Is the Night" first and I got chills. We're realizing this song is going to be the "A Moment Like This" of this year. It was such an amazing song. Then he played "Flying Without Wings" and I loved it, but it didn't do what "This Is the Night" did for me.
And then he said, "'This Is The Night,' the first song I played, I'm going to assign..." and I had my fingers crossed, "Please God, let it be me," he said, "That's the song for Clay and Josh." Yes! And then he said the other one was for Ruben and Kim and then he explained how they were going to be presented and how they were going to be orchestrated and arranged. It just excited us so much. And to be honest with you now, Ruben's song gives me chills just because of the way he does it. It's a lot different from the way we heard it on the demo.
What was the next step?
The top three went into the studio, after Josh had been voted off. I went into Westlake Audio with Steve Mac. He happens to be the person who wrote Ruben's song. Steve Mac produced mine.
What do you remember about the recording session?
Clive Davis is very particular, so we made a number of changes the next day and that was it. We did all the harmonies on the day that we did the fixes. This particular song was tough. We did two full passes on the song and then cut in a few times for a few parts.
When did you know you would get a recording contract?
That night, the finale night, when Simon told the country that our albums were going to come out on the same day. That's the first time I knew about it. So I knew that I was going to be signed to RCA. I was told right then.
I officially signed with RCA five minutes after you left yesterday [June 12].
You've been busy recording your album and promoting your single, and now you've got an extensive tour that kicks off July 8 in St. Paul, Mo. When will you have time to rehearse?
The rehearsals for the tour will start in late June in St. Paul. During rehearsals, Ruben and I will be alternating rehearsing and recording. The same will likely take place throughout the tour.
Have you been in touch with the other contestants since the finale? Will the rehearsals for the tour be the first time you've seen each other since that last show?
I talk to Ruben every day, because we know each other's schedules pretty well. I try to talk to Kim Locke once a week if possible. It will be the first time we have seen each other since the finale!
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