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Taking the 'Measure' of Clay Aiken

'American Idol' runner-up aims for pop stardom with first album

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Clay Aiken

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(CNN) -- Swooning fans? Check. Heartfelt ballads? Check. Midnight record store sales? Check.

Here comes Clay Aiken.

The latest entry in the music industry's pinup parade released his first album, "Measure of a Man" (RCA), on Tuesday. But Aiken, who finished a narrow second to Ruben Studdard on last spring's edition of "American Idol," has limits on how much he's going to let the business mold him into a star.

"I don't know why people relate to me," he told Time magazine, "but my guess is that they're tired of beautiful, cookie-cutter pop stars. They don't believe them, and they don't trust them."

Aiken may have a point. His first single, "This Is the Night," became the biggest-selling song since Elton John's 1997 version of "Candle in the Wind," overwhelming Studdard's debut single -- released around the same time -- in the process.

And fan clubs, with a good deal of success, organized more than 120 pre-release parties for Aiken at record stores nationwide in an attempt to make "Measure of a Man" the first album to sell 1 million copies in a single day.

Aiken is modest about the attention, giving credit to his audience.

"The public -- honest to God -- put me here because they voted for me," he told CNN.

Supportive fans, scathing reviews

Still, holding on to success -- and keeping some of the star-making machinery at bay -- may be a lot for Aiken to handle.

Early reviews of the album have ranged from lukewarm to downright scathing. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution gave the album a D-plus, calling it "a soulless piece of studio hatchetry that robs Aiken of whatever charisma he may possess."

The New York Daily News noted, "Aiken's Broadway-like demeanor and mushy music offer a refuge for the deeply out-of-it -- who apparently number in the millions."

Supportive fans, scathing reviews

Indeed, his fans have been supportive -- though even some of them seem slightly disappointed.

Amid a handful of five-star Amazon reviews was a four-star note from Sabrina Parnell of Seattle, Washington. "I was really hoping for Clay's version of some older classics," she writes. "That incredible voice still shines through. I just was expecting something less trendy."

Aiken's label and managers, though, aren't going to take a chance on having Aiken sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" or "Night and Day." Clive Davis, the head of the RCA music group, paired the singer with hit-making writers and performers and made sure the album's production hit every hook as hard as possible.

"You can't be paralyzed by what the public expects of you," Davis told Time. "We're now competing against Justin [Timberlake] and Christina [Aguilera] and Avril [Lavigne] and Pink, and if you allow the television audience to program your music, you will not be on radio and won't make MTV. And then where are you?"

Struggling in the spotlight

But Aiken's had a couple of victories. He refused to go along with one concept for the "This Is the Night" video, and it was his idea to call the album "Measure of a Man," though Davis hated the title.

Aiken's struggled some with the spotlight, however. A Rolling Stone cover story revealed a strained relationship with a biological father who allegedly drank and beat his mother.

start quoteI just was expecting something less trendy.end quote
-- An Aiken fan on Amazon.com

"Is it America's business? No. Is it understandable they're curious? Yeah," the singer said.

Still, Aiken knows he's come a long way. A year ago, he was a bespectacled special-education teacher in Raleigh, North Carolina, who thought little of his chances in the looks department: "I knew I wasn't going to win no model search," he said.

Today he's a national name and idol to millions. It may be the start of a long career; he may be back in Raleigh by the end of 2004.

He shrugs when asked about his chances.

"Is it going to be a flash in the pan? I just don't know," he said.

Denise Quan of Daily News from Entertainment Weekly contributed to this report.


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