Clay Aiken makes his Broadway debut next week in "Spamalot." Although he didn't win "American Idol"--he finished second place on the second season of the show--he's among the show's most successful contestants (his debut CD, "Measure of a Man," sold more than 600,000 copies in a single week). And his groupies are so loyal, they've banded together online and call themselves the Claymates. In person, Aiken is chatty and witty, until you start asking him questions about his personal life, including his fight last year with Kelly Ripa while he was a guest host on "Regis and Kelly." As a joke, Aiken covered Ripa's mouth with his hand to quiet her, prompting Ripa to make a joke ("I don't know where that hand's been, honey!") that Rosie O'Donnell called homophobic--a strange thing to say, since Aiken says he's straight. Aiken spoke to NEWSWEEK's Ramin Setoodeh. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: How's the "Spamalot" rehearsing going?
Clay Aiken: I'm sore. I couldn't even get off the toilet the other day. It hurts so bad. I don't know if it's I'm not coordinated or using muscles I never had to use before.
My legs. Having to remember three, four, five [taps feet]. I can't move and think at the same time.
Did you know your socks don't match?
I have a bunch of striped socks. It's too difficult to match them, so now I just pick up two in the morning. Even if I wear a tux to an awards show, the socks never match.
Stay away from Joan Rivers.
Well, she probably doesn't like me. I don't have style.
Who helps you?
It's a team of highly trained professionals [who] make me look halfway decent every day. It's pretty sad I can't dress myself still at 30 years old.
Is that really how old you are?
No, I'm 29. But I feel old enough to call myself 30.
Did you ever do musical theater?
I was cut from my high-school musical, "Guys and Dolls."
Anything. Dancing bush would've been fine. But I didn't even get it.
Why did you decide to do Broadway?
I'd been asked a number of times to do this show or that show. A lot of people saw it as a good match--I'm starting to realize maybe it wasn't--and I always had something else to do. I think the thing that attracted me to this show is how different it was and anti-Broadway it is. I barely sing. They've written some new parts for me to sing a little. But it gives me the opportunity to try different things.
Have you seen "Spamalot"?
The first time I saw it I thought it was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen in my entire life. My tour drummer is the "Spamalot" drummer, and [he] said you've got to see it again.
Are you a Python fan?
I thought Monty Python was a person until three months ago.
Do you think the Claymates will come see you?
They'll be there in full force. I hope they behave.
Are they rowdy?
Sometimes. They scare me every once in a while.
Do women throw their underwear on stage?
In Minneapolis, we had a lady throw her panties in the middle of "Silent Night." I'm like, Are you kidding me? We've had ladies throw Depends that say, "Your older fans love you, too."
How did you get into a fight with that lady on a plane?
I'm not going to talk about it.
I was just curious because you've never talked about it.
I did talk about it.
What about the Kelly Ripa thing?
I'm not going to discuss it.
Did you think it was homophobic?
I'm not going to discuss it.
What do you want to talk about?
I think we're done.
Can we talk about something fun?
No, we're done. I thought NEWSWEEK would be more reputable. I'm surprised.
But I think people are curious about it.
It was a year ago. This is NEWSWEEK. It's not the National Enquirer. I'd hate to have a job where I had to be rude to people.
We're just having a conversation.
Change the subject! I'd never take a job where I had to do something that I didn't want to do.
What about all those Ford commercials on "American Idol"?
That wasn't a job.
It was part of your job.
It wasn't a Ford commercial. It was a music video. It was a completely different thing.
I'll change the subject. What do you do for fun?
I watch the news. I read news magazines, but I'm reconsidering that now.
Are you going to watch "Idol"?
I haven't watched since season four. I compare it to high-school football--if it weren't for high school, we wouldn't be successful, but I don't need to keep going to the football games.