Who can explain why a singer becomes a pop star? Sure, talent and ambition contribute to the rise of many singing sensations, but skill and drive alone do not guarantee a berth at the top of the charts. Ultimately, it is an almost inexplicable reaction between a singer and his or her audience that creates a superstar career, sparking the kind of fanatic devotion that propels a performer into the pop stratosphere.
Such was the explosive reaction when Clay Aiken burst onto the music scene. An unlikely pop star, Aiken has remained steadfast in his desire to remain true to the simple values he learned as a child in Raleigh, North Carolina. I still live in the town where I grew up, he says. I like surrounding myself with people I know and love. It is this authenticity that his millions of fans have responded to, an almost supernatural earnestness that feels unconventional in the cynical world of today.
No slave to fickle trends or fashion fads, the singer has once again listened to his heart and has come up with an album that extols the value of love in all of its myriad forms. The singers third CD, A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS, offers fans 10 cover versions of love songs spanning the last three decades, as well as four brand-new songs that are destined to become Aiken classics in their own right.This album is very different than my first, MEASURE OF A MAN, in that I had a lot more say in how I wanted things to be, says the singer. For the first album, they just gave us the songs, and I sang them. This time, Clive Davis, Jaymes Foster [the albums executive producer] and I came up with the songs together. I also felt more confident in the studio while we were recording. Before, it was all just a bunch of knobs and controls. Now, Im comfortable offering my opinion on how the arrangements and mixes should sound.
Though his fans have come to expect him to knock each song into the heavens with his transcendently powerful voicewhich he does here quite masterfully, particularly on Harry Nillsons Without You, the Bad English hit When I See You Smile (written by Diane Warren), and the Foreigner classic I Want to Know What Love Isthe new album also shows off a more mature Aiken, one who is able to add beautiful vocal nuances to such unexpected choices as Bryan Adamss Everything I Do (I Do It For You), Paul Youngs Everytime You Go Away (written by Daryl Hall), and Dolly Partons Here You Come Again (written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil).
Fans like to hear big songs, says Aiken, Thats what people have come to expect from us. I like big songs as well, but on this album, we also wanted to choose songs that expressed different parts of my voice.
To be sure, Partons peppy Here You Come Again, done on A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS as a ballad, shows off a softer, more vulnerable Aiken. I have always liked that song, he says, but I had never sung it before. Foster promised to come up with an arrangement that would suit Aikens voiceand she did. Its truly my favorite song on the album, says the singer.
With classics like Celine Dions Because You Love Me, Elton Johns Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word, and Richard Marxs Right Here Waiting also rounding out the list of covers, one has to wonder if Aiken felt at all intimidated by competing with the original versions.
I did feel a bit anxious about ‘Because You Loved Me,'” the singer offers, “not only because of Celine, but also because the original was produced by David Foster, one of the greatest producers of all time.David has heard our version, and so has Diane Warren, who wrote the song. They both approve of what weve done, and that makes me happy. (Aikens version of Because You Loved Me was produced by Eman. Other producers on the album include John Fields, Andreas Carlsson & Samuel Waermo, Adam Anders, and Russ Irwin & Charles Pettus.)
If any song made Aiken nervous, it was Adamss Everything I Do (I Do It For You). That gravelly voice is so well-known, says Aiken about Adamss iconic rasp, I didnt know if I could do the song justice. With a lovely, restrained vocaland an arrangement with a lilting Celtic feelAikens version is an undeniable highpoint of the new disc; its one of the most romantic songs the singer has ever sung.
The new songs also give Aiken the opportunity to show off his emotional growth, with each track highlighting a different facet of his personality. Everything I Have (written by Jeremy Bose) brings to mind the poignancy of an Art Garfunkel performance. The songs subtle piano and string arrangement allows Aikens naked voice to express the delicious ache of love. Every woman I have played that for absolutely loves it, says the singer. I have people telling me they want to play it at their wedding. A Thousand Days (written by Christian Leuzzi, Aldo Nova & Emanual Olsson) and These Open Arms (written by Jon Bon Jovi & Desmond Childs) are both classic Aiken, with big dramatic vocals and rousing, take-no-prisoners choruses. The fourth new track Lonely No More has a lighter, more playful pop sensibilityand the song also represents Aikens first songwriting credit (along with writers Andreas Carlson, Samuel Waermo, and Mimmi Waermo.)
Perhaps the most astonishing artistic departure for Aiken was the decision to cover the Mr. Mister hit Broken Wings as an ethereal, New Age-like track. With an otherworldly spoken word vocal by poet Erin Taylor, the song is a spectacular tour-de-force. We didnt know if it would work. We took a chance, and Im so happy with how it came out.
Covering such a varied emotional spectrum, but always staying true to the essence of who Clay Aiken is, A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS is bound to please the millions of fans who loved 2003s MEASURE OF MAN (triple platinum and counting) and 2004s platinum MERRY CHRISTMAS WITH LOVE, the best-selling holiday album of that year. (2004 also saw the release of his inspirational biography, LEARNING TO SING: HEARING THE MUSIC IN YOUR LIFE, which reached ..2 on The New York Times Bestsellers List.)
While the accolades that followed his stunningly close second-place finish on the second season of American Idol have validated him in ways that he never could have dreamed of when he was a teacher working with autistic children back in his home state of North Carolina, it is the charitable work that his musical career has enabled him to do that means more to him than anything else these days.
The singer created the Bubel/Aiken Foundation in 2003, an organization that promotes and funds educational and recreational programs for children with special needs. I worked with Mike Bubel, who has autism, when I was going to school at UNCC, says Aiken. His mother was very instrumental in encouraging me to get into this business. The Foundation remains close to the singers heart at all times. My music career has allowed me to do the same thing I was doing beforework with kids with disabilities, he says. It has given me a big stage to talk about the same things I always cared about. I dont get to be as hands-on with the kids anymore, but I do get to work toward enacting change on a much larger scale.
Also important to Aikens life as a humanitarian is his work as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Since 2005, the singer has been passionately committed to supporting the organizations education programs. Not only has Aiken testified before Congress urging the government to allocate more funds for UNICEFs global work for children, he has also traveled to Indonesia and Uganda to see the devastating conditions affecting millions of the worlds children first-handdisease, malnutrition, kidnapping, and war, chief among them. You just cannot believe how some of these kids are forced to live, says Aiken. Its truly heartbreaking, yet many people dont even know these conditions exist. I am hoping to shed light on some of these problems and so that more resources can be allocated to help make things better.
Aiken meant for the title A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS to express the many different kinds of love in the world. Surely, his charitable work expresses a deep and abiding love for his fellow man, particularly the littlest ones among us. Where did such a driving need to help others come from, one cant help but ask? Typical for Aiken, his answer is devoid of any egotism. Where did the desire to help come from? The need for help! he answers matter-of-factly. You know, my mother has always been someone who urged me to help people in need. Maybe thats it. I dont think its something you can learn. Its just something you do.