CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina native and former 'American Idol' contestant Clay Aiken visited Charlotte Today Wednesday to talk about his newest album and his experiences in the public eye.
Aiken appeared on the second season of 'American Idol'. Since then he’s managed to stay true to himself while working in the music industry.
“It is a business; people have to make their money. So there have definitely been people who have wanted me to dress this way or whatnot,” Aiken admitted. “I try to equate it to when I was growing up and my mom or my teacher would try to use the slang terms that the kids were using, and it just didn’t sound right coming out of their mouth. I remember one point a record executive tried to have me in this leather jacket, and I was like, ‘really? No, that doesn’t work for me, that doesn’t look right.’ It’s much easier to be who you are. I think people see through it when you’re not really being yourself.”
When Aiken first emerged as a musician, there was a lot of speculation about his sexuality. He has been the butt of several jokes from comedians like Kathy Griffin. As his career has progressed he has figured out how to focus on the aspects of the job that he likes, such as the music, while downplaying things like the media attention and teasing he has received.
“The first year of a job you’re sort of getting used to it so initially, it did hurt my feelings at first. Then I didn’t care as much, I kind of understood it was part of the job. Then that kind of thing became a nuisance and then eight years on – I have a choice. I can go back to teaching or I can stick with it and this is something that comes with the job,” Aiken said.
He does understand the need for media attention in his industry.
“There’s also the argument that if it weren’t for this morbid and completely unwarranted fascination with me the person, I wouldn’t have the opportunities there as much. If I wasn’t so fascinating as an individual, maybe people wouldn’t want to let me keep singing,” he said with a smile. “It’s kind of a catch-22.”
But as far as the speculation into his sexual orientation, Aiken said that publicly admitting he is gay was not a relief.
“There was probably more of a feeling of animosity towards people who thought it was their business,” Aiken said.
He said his sexuality wasn’t a secret.
“I wasn’t in the closet before,” he said. “I was out to friends here in Charlotte; I was out to pretty much everyone I knew. I feel like there’s a little bit of hypocrisy there. People who are gay who live in Charlotte, who live anywhere else, they don’t have to come out to the world. And I didn’t either. People knew, I had told my family, I’d told friends, people knew but I had not told ‘you’ and it’s none of your business.”
Aiken disclosed that he is gay in a 2008 issue of People Magazine. He appeared on the cover of that issue with his infant son.
He says that fatherhood is great. Right now, while he’s on tour, his son is with his mother.
“It makes me homesick even more,” Aiken admitted.
But he is enjoying a little downtime from being a dad.
“Several people [on the tour] have kids and while we miss them, we enjoy the fact that we can sleep a little longer in the morning,” he said.
Aiken is currently touring to promote his album “Tried and True.” The album is made up of songs from the 1950s and 1960s.
“It’s songs my mom played or sang while I was growing up and that was the soundtrack to my childhood,” he explained.
Clay Aiken grew up in Raleigh and graduated from UNC Charlotte in 2003.