Charlotte Observer - May 23, 2003 - www.charlotte.com/mld/cha...925966.htm
Aiken unfazed by No. 2 status
Some fans cry foul, blaming busy signals; Clay focuses on future
LOS ANGELES - For North Carolina's Clay Aiken, Thursday was much like every other day of the past several weeks, filled with autograph seekers and reporters hanging on his every word.
The fact that the night before had changed him from an "American Idol" finalist to a runner-up by the thinnest of voting margins hadn't seemed to sink in yet.
"Nothing's changed," the Raleigh native and former UNC Charlotte student said as he sat on a sofa munching a sausage biscuit behind the Universal Amphitheatre. "The only difference is I don't have to practice and do another song."
More than 33.7 million people -- more than the audience for this year's Oscars -- watched Wednesday night as the "American Idol" finale crowned Alabama's Ruben Studdard the winner by a margin of less than 1 percent of public votes logged on toll-free phone lines Tuesday. Of more than 24 million votes during the three-hour window, only 130,000 separated them.
Aiken had 39 messages on his cell phone when he arrived for his flurry of morning television interviews Thursday -- almost all of them a variation on "Clay, you're still my idol."
"Don't they realize how many times I've heard that by now?" he said, shaking his head and smiling.
Aiken left Los Angeles Thursday afternoon for a week in New York, where his upcoming stops include appearances on MTV's "TRL" Monday and the "Regis and Kelly" show Wednesday. He also hoped to snag tickets to see former "Idol" finalist Frenchie Davis appear on Broadway in "Rent."
Aiken's ardent fans were crying foul after the show's finale, suggesting the bad luck of telephone busy signals caused the slim difference in voting totals for Aiken and Studdard.
Aiken's mother, Faye Parker, said she doesn't believe her son really lost in public sentiment. "I know if more people could have gotten through on their phones, he would have won," she said.
But Aiken was at peace with the outcome.
"It's not frustrating at all," he said. "It was exactly what this show has built up to. It proves what a tough season it was."
Aiken's future is almost as bright as Studdard's. Both are assured of record contracts, and both have singles set for release on June 10.
Aiken said his single may change from the original song he performed Tuesday, "This Is the Night," to his well-received rendition of the Simon and Garfunkel tune "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
Aiken's and Studdard's singles were still listed Thursday for pre-orders on Amazon.com with their originally scheduled release date of June 3. Aiken's remained at the No. 1 sales rank; Studdard's was at No. 2.
Both expect to release albums about the same time, with their managers hoping for an August date.
Aiken said his album will have a focus on classic pop songs, and his rendition of "Solitaire," performed earlier in the competition, is likely to be on it. He doesn't expect to write any songs himself, he said.
The two finalists are also hoping for a movie deal -- last year's winner and runner-up, Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini, have a film, "From Justin to Kelly," scheduled for a June release.
The potential movie is perhaps what Aiken is looking forward to the most about his upcoming opportunities, he said. "I want to work with Ruben as much as I can," he said.
What he'll miss the most about his "Idol" run: "The Tuesday nights on the stage, and performing live with however many millions of people watching," he said.
"I don't think I'll ever be a part of anything as big again," he added. "I don't know if this is the pinnacle, but this is the biggest jumping-off point anybody could ever have."