Nice guy Clay Aiken wins first place in fans’ hearts

Photo Credit: Eric Ogden

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
March 22, 2004

Let’s face it. We’re not a society that recognizes No. 2 — except when it comes to Clay Aiken.

The runner up in last year’s “American Idol” contest has proved to be the little Southern boy who could. His debut album, “Measure of a Man,” easily outsold first-place winner Ruben Studdard’s effort. And Aiken’s the one headlining a tour with Kelly Clarkson, the first “American Idol” winner.

Quick — who was Clarkson’s runner-up? Exactly.

“Everyone would like to believe Ruben and Kelly and I hate each other, but that’s not the case,” says Aiken, phoning from Columbus, Ohio. “We’re very different people, which is why we do get along. We also all went through that trial by fire with the show and that’s a pretty unique experience. There’s plenty of room for everyone.”

Well, not everyone. Aiken may be one of the nicest guys in pop music, but he can get territorial when he needs to be.

“Fantasia [Barrino] who came out of that first group is amazing,” says Aiken. “But she’s from North Carolina, too, so I told her she can’t do better than third place. I can’t have her beating me. I want to be the most popular one from North Carolina.”

Laughing, he adds, “I’m kidding. But she did stand out. There are some [contestants] who are so bad that my jaw just dropped. I’m hoping that the talent pool dries up. I don’t need the competition.”

It’s a difficult concept for Aiken to grasp that less than two years ago, no one knew who he was. Now, his publicists are setting up so many interviews for him that each is limited to just 10 minutes. That’s in the same league as Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and the boys in ‘N Sync.

Speaking of ‘N Sync, J.C. Chasez was quoted recently saying that while he liked Aiken, he was tired of all the media attention Aiken was receiving. When this bit of gossip is relayed to Aiken, the singer doesn’t let on if the comment irks him.

“I can’t blame him,” he says. “Those guys worked for years touring and recording before they got famous. Then I come out of nowhere and I’m everywhere. I would be tired of me, too, if I wasn’t me and saw as much of me as everyone else. I’ve been very blessed to have gotten so much publicity from the show for having done such a little amount of work comparatively. All [of us contestants] are.”

While Clarkson is spending her off hours modeling for Candies shoes, Aiken swears a fashion line is most likely not in his future. But given the right opportunity, he’d like to give acting a shot.

“I want to be careful,” he says. “I don’t want to take a movie role just for the sake of doing a movie. I would really want to pick the right role. It’s that important to me.”

Perhaps he’s learned a thing or two from Clarkson’s rushed acting debut in the insta-flop “From Justin to Kelly.”

But for now, Aiken is concentrating on the tour and supporting the current crop of “American Idol” candidates, including Chicago’s Jennifer Hudson.

“Jennifer actually is my pick to win this year,” he says. “She’s got a wonderful personality, this great presence and a killer voice. I think she’s going to go all the way.”

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