By Jay Cridlin
Times Staff Writer
You think your holidays are hectic? Try spending the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas on the road. Then see how much shopping you manage to get done.
"God bless Amazon, is all I can say," laughs Clay Aiken, who this weekend kicks off his fifth holiday tour, his first since 2007, in Florida. "It's saved my life quite a bit."
Ever since Aiken placed second on American Idol's second season in 2003, his holiday music has been a big part of his career. 2004's Merry Christmas With Love has sold more than 1.4 million copies. And while his "Claymates" have turned out for every one of his projects — solo pop artist, Broadway star (Monty Python's Spamalot), TV gigs ranging from 30 Rock to Celebrity Apprentice — he says his Christmas tours are "always where I've been the most comfortable."
Aiken plays Clearwater's Capitol Theatre on Sunday. Calling from New York, he talked about holiday songs, reality success and whether Donald Trump is a bully. Here are excerpts.
I'm a little nervous interviewing you, because your fans are some of the most fiercely protective of almost any artist recording today.
Oh, what are you trying to say? Are you going to be mean?
I was afraid that if I ask one wrong question, I'd get hate-commented right off the Internet.
Oh, you will! They'll tear you up, and I'll tell 'em to! (laughs)
Are your fans overly defensive?
They can be, can't they? Yeah. And how do you get upset about something like that? You can't. You can't be upset about someone for being supportive. But sometimes I think to myself, "I'm 34 years old now. I'm a big boy. I can handle it." Sometimes I feel like I have a million moms. (laughs)
What's your process for picking a new Christmas song for your show?
Sometimes if I know I'm doing a Christmas tour, I'll start listening to Christmas songs in May or June. I'm not a real big fan of Christmas songs that sound like pop songs. You've got people that put out Christmas albums and it clearly sounds like they have just taken a pop song and put some sleigh bells in the production.
You've been active in social causes since Idol. What was your biggest takeaway from Election 2012?
I'll tell you what it was: I don't want to be living in a swing state anymore. I've lived my entire life in North Carolina, and we've never been a swing state. I was in New York during the election in 2008, doing Broadway, and never saw a political ad. This year, oh my god, I feel so sorry for Florida.
One of the causes you've lent your name to is GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), and one of their missions is to eliminate bullying. You're in unique position to answer this, which is something I heard a lot during the campaign: Is Donald Trump a bully?
Oh, gosh. It's hard to answer that, knowing him. To me, he has become sort of like an uncle who you really wish would be quiet when you're around strangers. He's somebody that I know to be a gracious and kind person, and I like him as a person. But then I get home, and he's spouting all this nonsense. I really did feel sad when I got back from taping Apprentice, and he got on TV and started talking about politics. I'm like, (in cringing voice) "Oh my god, please just shut up! You're making people hate you in a way that you don't deserve to be hated!"
Do you watch any televised talent competitions?
I don't. I feel like once you know how the sausage is made, you don't really want to eat it.
Do you think that winning a TV talent show requires a different skill set today than it did a decade ago?
I do know that winning doesn't mean the same thing it did years ago. Even being on it doesn't mean the same as it did years ago, because the market is so saturated. . . .I think nowadays, people go on these shows thinking they know how to win — thinking they know what a pop star looks like, thinking they know how to perform. I think what made Idol so big and so entertaining in the first, second and third years was that none of us went on with any preconceived notions as to how successful we were going to be afterwards, or what a pop star looked like or sounded like or anything. It was all very organic, and I don't think it's very organic anymore.