Clay Aiken needs a little Christmas. The former “American Idol” runner up had not gone out on a holiday tour since prior to his 2008 stint in the Broadway musical, “Spamalot,” and he felt like something was missing.
“We did one every year for four years, and it was my favorite thing to do,” says Aiken, who performs his “Joyful Noise” show 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, at Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
“Christmas didn’t seem like Christmas when we didn’t do the Christmas tour,” he says.
Aiken is planning a concert format for the show, which will draw much of the material from his 2004 release, “Merry Christmas with Love” (RCA). Backing him will be a 20-plus piece orchestra mostly made up of local musicians, plus his traveling band.
“I have done modified, musical plays, or something a little more scripted,” Aiken says of previous holiday tours. “This time will be a little more free-flowing and conversational with the audience.”
However, don’t expect to hear “This Is the Night,” “Invisible” or other Aiken pop hits at the performance.
“If you sing, ‘O Holy Night,’ then ‘Invisible,’ then ‘The First Noel,’ it just doesn’t seem to fit,” Aiken says. “The idea is if you’re in the holiday spirit already, you’ll come to the show and you’ll go home and get ready to continue. If you’re not in the holiday spirit, hopefully, you’ll come to the show and then go home and decorate.”
Aiken, who is among the most well-rounded of “Idol” alumni, having branched out from music to play a role in Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva” and to compete in NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” believes in mixing things up, career-wise.
“It’s important in this business to have a little variety, to be able to continue to do what you do,” Aiken says. “If I’m just going to sing and do music, there’s an expiration date on that if you’re not Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood.”
It’s the view of Aiken — who in 2003 finished a surprising second on “Idol” to Ruben Studdard — that the reality competition offers great TV exposure, but isn’t an automatic platform for radio success.
“I think I’m relatively competent when it comes to singing, but I also realize I’m not necessarily the same genre of music as you might hear on Top 40 today,” he says. “I can either try to put a square peg in a round hole or I can try to find a square hole.
“I like to think we’ve been pretty smart about trying to find those square-shaped holes to fit in — it can be ‘Spamalot,’ which was great fun, or ‘Apprentice,’ which was not great fun, but can allow me to appear intelligent.”
For Aiken, who risked alienating his devoted “Claymates” fan base when he came out four years ago, the key is staying true to his mostly squeaky-clean image as a born-again Christian from North Carolina.
“The downfall of a lot of folks who come off shows, especially now that there are 17 different competitions, they come off it with an inflated sense of authenticity,” he says. “Being on the shows doesn’t give that to you.
“Being on ‘Idol’ is beneficial if you know how to work it. I don’t know how to work it, but have been fortunate to surround myself by people who know.”
Aiken also proved skillful at handling his coming out. Amid much speculation about his sexual orientation, he opened up about his life via a 2008 People magazine cover story.
“It took me by surprise — it took me every which way,” he says of being in the tabloid spotlight.
“I’m not necessarily a public-eye type of person. Has it gotten easier? Yes. I’ve learned to cope and adapt.
“Everybody has a job. Hopefully, you’re doing the job you enjoy. Even when you do it, there are days when you don’t want to be there. I think it’s the same for people who do what I do.”
He has since tried to walk a careful line between supporting LGBT issues, such as an anti-bullying campaign by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and maintaining his privacy as a single dad to his four-year-old son, Parker.
“There’s a difference between my personal life and talking about issues,” Aiken says. “I don’t have a problem with issues. My personal life isn’t that interesting. I have to keep some things personal.
“I’m not a different person, just a more fully realized version of myself. I’m perfectly comfortable with this version. You don’t care about who I’m dating — nobody does.”
Heartwarming A.C. memory
One of singer Clay Aiken’s fondest memories on stage happened in Atlantic City during a concert appearance in July 2004, the year after he finished runner up on “American Idol.”
The Make-a-Wish Foundation contacted Aiken to set up a meeting with one of his biggest — and youngest — fans, six-year-old John Martin of Yeadon, Pa.
Martin had watched Aiken perform his signature song, “This Is the Night,” and when he got to meet him backstage in A.C., he pointed out a quirk: Aiken always yanked the mic off the stand at the same point in the song.
Having met him backstage, Aiken asked Martin to return the next night and perform the song with him.
“He spiked his hair up, we gave him a mic stand and we both yanked the stand at the same time,” Aiken recalls. “He had dressed up like me — he was so adorable."