Not that he became bored on last year's Joyful Noise Tour, but Clay Aiken made a discovery during his 2004 holiday outing that he hopes has improved this year's seasonal run, which visits Portland, Or

Not that he became bored on last year's Joyful Noise Tour, but Clay Aiken made a discovery during his 2004 holiday outing that he hopes has improved this year's seasonal run, which visits Portland, Ore., tonight (Nov. 3).

"As you begin to do 20 or 30 shows, they start to become rote in a way and you're able to step out of your body sometimes and take a look," Aiken tells Billboard.com. "And I thought, 'This is beautiful but it's Christmas music. What are we going to do with Christmas music that is original?' So [then] I thought, 'What if we can figure out a way to make all of these songs mean something?'"

Aiken's show remains the same as last year's run in support of the RCA album "Merry Christmas with Love," in the sense it is divided between secular material in the first half and religious songs in the second. But this year, the 2003 "American Idol" runner-up decided to replace the full orchestra with actors and dancers performing a holiday narrative during the first portion. He even hired his former high school choir teacher, Alison Lawrence, to play the lead role.

Once the holiday tour wraps up, the 26-year-old artist will finish up recording the follow-up to his multi-platinum 2003 debut disc, "Measure of a Man." With some songs already recorded, "Just You" and "Back for More" were previewed by Aiken during his summer tour. He says the new album should be out in the first half of 2006.

"The first album was really rushed," he says. "[That was] not really anybody's fault, but it was kind of intended to be because of the nature of what it was. And this time, we've had extra time to try to make sure we find the right songs. We're in position now where we have a lot of good stuff and we're going to get a chance to pick the best of the best."

Aiken admits that while he's been encouraged to do a little songwriting on his own, he's conflicted with the entire process.

"I feel differently about it than I think most people do," Aiken says. "Honestly, a lot of artists that you see -- I'm going to get people mad at me but I've been doing that a lot lately so I might as well keep on -- who have written songs on their album, the truth is they probably just went in changed a word here or there. And if they are big enough artists, they get credit for writing the song. I'm not going to do that. If you see my name on it, I've had at least some type of real role in writing it."

He adds, "And that said, I'm not as good at writing songs as Alicia Keys or those people who are just really great at doing that. So, why not take advantage of what they do and really just get really great songs from people who can write for me?"

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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