Clay Aiken

The pop idol makes a surprising Broadway debut.

Illustration: Rob Kelly

Wholesome, God-fearing, ambiguously effete Clay Aiken unintentionally pushes more buttons than most so-called subversive artists. Just defending the 29-year-old North Carolinian, American Idol and pop phenom is likely to cause an uproar. Ask Rosie O'Donnell: Last year, she accused Kelly Ripa of being homophobic after Ripa derided Aiken for placing his hand on her mouth. ("I don't know where that hand's been, honey," Ripa fired at him.)

On the phone, though, the lightning rod sounds utterly harmless, talking a mile a minute in a Southern accent and often bursting into high-pitched laughter. Before making his Broadway debut in Spamalot this month, Aiken called TONY from a tour stop in Jersey City to gab about "Claymates" and stage crapping.

Time Out New York: So Spamalot isn't how one expects Clay Aiken to invade Broadway.
Clay Aiken: And tell me why not! [Laughs]

Time Out New York: Well, you seem like a traditional guy. It's a pretty unconventional show.
Clay Aiken: That's exactly why we chose it. If you're going to branch out into a new field, well, go whole hog—try something different.

Time Out New York: Had you seen the movie?
Clay Aiken: Never. And the first time I saw the show, I thought, This is stupid—there's no plot. What's the point?!? I had this image of Broadway having uplifting stories and melodies. But Spamalot's just silliness and irreverence raised to a completely different level. I get to soil myself onstage!

Time Out New York: What will your fans think of that?
Clay Aiken: If I've learned one thing in the past five years, it's that you'll never please everybody. But the people who've been so supportive of us, they trust us enough to have some fun here and there, and be a little irreverent. I won't be soiling myself for the rest of my life.

Time Out New York: Did you come up with the term Claymates?
Clay Aiken: No, it started when I was on American Idol. I didn't really like it at first. I was like, Oh my God, how tacky! But now I think, If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. We've fully embraced it.

Time Out New York: And there are Claysians, too.
Clay Aiken: There's also the Claynadians. In Raleigh, my hometown, there's Clayniacs. There's even a group called the Lecherous Broads for Clay Aiken! We appreciate them, but sometimes they're like that cousin you love but can't quite understand.

Time Out New York: Ever worry you'll get a limb torn off?
Clay Aiken: Maybe just squeezed to death. [Laughs] But the Claymates are just a section of the fan base. The overwhelming majority are very respectful, very protective and mothering. If I sneeze onstage one night, 15 people show up at the next tour stop with Triaminic. I've got far more mothers than I ever needed!

Time Out New York: Is it true you're allergic to nuts?
Clay Aiken: I'm allergic to a number of things: tree nuts, coffee, mints, chocolate. Some fans tried to introduce me to carob a few years ago. But it gave me the runs, so... [Laughs]

Time Out New York: Speaking of which, is it safe to say Rosie O'Donnell had diarrhea of the mouth when she called Kelly Ripa "homophobic"?
Clay Aiken: Oh, God. I think people on TV say certain things just so they can get attention. I didn't agree with Rosie. But I appreciated her trying to come to my defense, in one way or another!

Time Out New York: What do you make of people nagging you about the "gay" thing?
Clay Aiken: I think the majority of the American public cares less about it than reporters like you do.

Time Out New York: Has anyone ever confronted you about it in public?
Clay Aiken: I can't come up with any specific incidents. But I've been called everything in the book at some point or another—gay, ugly, nerdy, fat.

Time Out New York: You're not fat.
Clay Aiken: After Idol, I was. Going from living in North Carolina, where barely anyone would talk to me, to a world where everyone knew who I was—it freaked me out. So I went on antianxiety medicine and gained, like, 20 pounds in a year's time.

Time Out New York: You must be used to the attention now.
Clay Aiken: It's still odd, though. Now I just think it's funny. Like last night: I was onstage and all these people were screaming, and in the back of my head I'm thinking, Are you people crazy?!?

Clay Aiken premieres in Spamalot Fri 18.

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