Clay Aiken was first introduced to most of the world when he appeared on FOX's American Idol in 2003, becoming that season's runner-up and, soon after, a top-selling recording artist. Since then, he's starred in the Broadway hit, Monty Python's Spamalot, has released numerous hit CDs, and is currently a contestant on NBC's reality series, The Celebrity Apprentice. In addition, Decca has just released his latest CD, Steadfast, and he will also be heard alongside Apprentice castmate Dee Snider on his CD, Dee Does Broadway, due out on May 8. TheaterMania recently spoke to Aiken about his current projects, working with Linda Eder, and a possible return to Broadway.

THEATERMANIA. Almost all of the songs on Steadfast are pop classics from before you were born, like "Misty" and "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." Why did you choose those songs?
CLAY AIKEN: Most of those songs were what my mom played in the car when I was a child and so they became ingrained in me. Some of them I had even sung on Idol. I am very comfortable with songs from the 1950s and 1960s -- I think they are the best suited for me -- but we changed the way we did them. I am never going to sound like Johnny Mathis.

TM: One of my favorite cuts is Roy Orbison's "Crying" on which you duet with Linda Eder. How did you choose her as your singing partner?
CA: In choosing both the songs and the potential duet partners, my producers and I made our own lists. And while we mostly agreed on the songs, the only name on all three of our lists was Linda. One of the first songs I did in high school was "This Is the Moment" from Jekyll & Hyde, and because of that CD, I knew her voice really well. Now, I was not intimidated by covering Roy Orbison, but I was intimidated watching Linda in a recording studio. I'm pretty fast, but she sings something one time, and then decides to change two things, and just does it! And she's one of the most relaxed and approachable and funny people I've ever met.

TM: You're also duetting with Dee Snider on "Luck Be a Lady" on his new album. How did that collaboration come about?
CA: Dee and I didn't meet each other until we started working together on The Celebrity Apprentice and we were surprised by each other. I only knew him from his Twisted Sister persona, but he's a genuinely good guy, and we got along really well. Dee was in the process of putting the CD together while we were on the show -- he had already done his duet with Patti LuPone -- and then he asked to do something with me. Even though I had heard his duet with Patti, I wasn't sure how I was going to fit in. All I can say is I'm very pleasantly surprised. It rocks! I think this CD is going to please his fans and please a Broadway audience.

Clay Aiken in Monty Python's Spamalot
(© Joan Marcus)
Clay Aiken in Monty Python's Spamalot
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: Speaking of Broadway, would you come back?
CA: I would love to come back at some point, but it would have to be in a show where I really get a chance to sing! I had the greatest time on Broadway and made friends I never expected to make!

TM: Has the Celebrity Apprentice experience been what you imagined?
CA: I expected it to be grueling, exhausting, tiring -- and it was all those things. In fact, it was five times worse than Idol when it comes to mental stress and worry. You are constantly doing things you don't know how to do and the judges are comparing everyone on the same task. Idol wasn't like that. Plus, I don't like pointing out people's flaws or worrying about who you can trust - that wasn't part of Idol either. And there were cameras on us all the time, unlike Idol. In watching some of the episodes, I've been hearing myself say things I don't remember saying! I think the microphones even picked up our whispering. It's all been very Lord of the Flies.

TM: Why did you go on the show?
CA: I went on the show because a lot of people told me this was the best way to raise money and exposure for the National Inclusion Project, which I founded in 2003, and which makes sure all children get the chance to participate in life. The thing about being on Apprentice is even if you don't win any money, the exposure people get to your organization is really incredible. We have an organization that is supported by all sorts of people once they know what they do. But if they haven't heard of us, it's harder to get any funding - especially because what we do is hard to put into a soundbite.

TM: You say you're not a very competitive person, but you do want to win, right?
CA: I don't consider myself competitive, but I did decide that if I am going to do this show, I was going to make sure I did it well. That's one of the biggest lessons I learned from being on American Idol; even when you're in a situation that's about comparing apples and oranges, you always try to be the best apple you can be. So, for me, it's not about beating Tia Carrere, but doing what I set out to do to the best of my ability.

TM: What's next for you? Another CD?
CA: My plan is to go out on the road during the year to support the CD. I really love live performing! In fact, the more we can tour, the happier I'll be.

For more information about the National Inclusion Project, visit www.inclusionproject.org.