"American Idol's" second season runner-up Clay Aiken has his own idea of what the show should do to replace departing judge Simon Cowell.
"I've always thought it would be a great addition to the panel to have someone who's a former contestant and knows what it's like to be up on that stage and be critiqued," Aiken tells Billboard.com. So is he raising his hand? "Well, I'm so far removed from it at this point that I don't know if I remember what it's like, but who knows. I would not put myself out there to be as caustic as (Cowell) is, but if they want to call me, bring it on. We can talk."
Aiken, however, has plenty of singing to do before having that discussion. The North Carolina-based singer released his fifth album, "Tried & True," on June 1; the collection of pop standards -- including "Unchained Melody," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," "Misty," "Mack The Knife" and "Moon River" (with Vince Gill) -- marks his first release away from the "American Idol" enclave of 19 Recordings and Sony Music (he's now with Decca), and Aiken feels it shows the measure of the man better than his previous releases.
"It's what I've wanted to do for the past seven years," says Aiken, acknowledging he felt like "a square peg in a round hole" on his more contemporary pop albums. "I like songs that have incredible melodies and nice orchestrations and arrangements that are really about the voice and the melody and just being beautiful, and these songs are that. People talk about it being a big decision to change course, but I actually see it as an opportunity to kind of get back to what I've always wanted to do."
Besides the album, Aiken performed a special concert in March at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium which was taped for a PBS special that will air in August, along with an accompanying DVD. Meanwhile, Aiken is gearing up for the July 23 start of his 16-date summer tour with second-season "Idol" winner Ruben Studdard, who was one of the guests at the March concert.
"We've been talking for years about trying to do something together and had never really found the time to do it," Aiken notes. "But both of us looked at our calendars around December of last year, January of this year, and said, 'Wait a second, we don't have anything this summer we're dealing with.' He's working on an album right now, and mine will have just been released, so...'Let's just do this. It's now or never.'"
Aiken promises the shows will feature quite a bit of collaboration between he and Studdard, too. "It's kind of a musical revue of sorts -- some of the biggest hits and greatest songs -- from our point of view -- and songs that have influenced us from over the past five decades," Aiken explains. "We'll start in the 50s and do some medleys and then move on from their. We're really good friends and have a great time when we're together, so I think it's going to be a lot of fun to do a tour like this, for us and for the audiences, too."