NEW YORK (AP) -- Clay Aiken is trying to become the next American Idle.
Bravely bold Clay Aiken was at first uncertain about taking on the role of Sir Robin in "Spamalot."
The singer, who burst to fame during the second season of "American Idol," has made his Broadway debut in "Monty Python's Spamalot" -- in creator Eric Idle's old role.
"There's a lot of pressure," Aiken says. "To think about how many people dream of doing something like this and to have the opportunity is pretty humbling."
Humbling, and possibly a little bit puzzling: What's a nice North Carolina boy with scant theater background and a penchant for pop lite doing in a scatological English stage comedy?
"One of the reasons that it intrigued me was that it was so different. Nobody I think would have expected me to show up in 'Spamalot,' " he says, laughing.
"It's very irreverent. ... I mean, my character soils his pants on stage multiple times."
This also is different territory for Aiken, who hasn't really acted much and was even cut from his high school's production of "Guys and Dolls." Just nailing the stage lingo has him rattled.
"I'm having to learn a whole new language. Upstage, downstage. I'm like, 'Upstage? What's that mean? Behind? Oh, got it. Why didn't you just say behind? ...' It makes me crazier than I already am."
Aiken, 29, has taken over the role of Sir Robin, the cowardly knight that Idle once played on film and David Hyde Pierce originated when the Tony Award-winning musical debuted in 2005.
"I think I'm probably just like the character -- kind of chicken, afraid of everything and likes to sing. This particular character becomes a knight because he really just wants to sing and dance. He's so surprised when he finds out there's fighting involved. That kind of silly stupidity? -- yeah, that's me."
Aiken, a performer who has sold 6 million CDs and continues to draw fans to his concerts, confesses to being sore and exhausted as he prepares for his debut. Aiken's first performance was Friday.
"Probably more preparation has gone into this than anything I've ever done," he says. "It's not just learning music and lines and even steps. It's mentally preparing yourself to do all of it at once."
Associate director Peter Lawrence says Aiken has been no idle diva; the singer asked to be treated like any other company member and has been surprisingly fearless.
"Clay really surprised me. When you meet him, he's this sweet kid from North Carolina with an accent. And you think there's no way he can do Cambridge material. And then he does," says Lawrence.
"It's been a total delight and a surprise for me and everyone in the company to work with Clay because he can do things you'd never imagine he could do."
The show is based on the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," which came out in 1975. The film, in turn, grew out of the success of the cult BBC comedy series.
Aiken, it turns out, was a stranger to both.
"Until three months ago, I thought Monty Python was a person," he says, sheepishly.
Not surprisingly, the Python-Aiken partnership started poorly. After being courted by "Spamalot" producers a year ago, Aiken went to see the show and left befuddled.
And why not? He was expecting something like "The Phantom of the Opera" and instead saw characters slapped with fish, dancing plague corpses, a killer rabbit and cow tossing.
"It was, in my opinion, the stupidest thing ever produced," he recalls. "There's no plot."
Persuaded over the summer to return, Aiken finally got it. "It's just completely off-base. So I went in and realized that. You have to go understanding that they even advertise it as being the silliest thing ever. It really is."
That's something Python purists will be happy to hear. Even so, Aiken is bracing for criticism from die-hard fans who can be more caustic than Simon, Randy and Paula.
"I'm anticipating and expecting some sort of fallout. I think it's a little bit different when someone who's never done Broadway before, who may be more well known in the pop world, comes in to Broadway," he says.
"There's always this skepticism that they've been brought in for the wrong reasons or they didn't play their dues or they're not going to do their part well," he says.
"So I even told the choreographer and the director ahead of time, 'I don't want you to go easy on me. I want to do everything that everybody else does. Don't change things and make them easier for me,' " he adds, laughing. "I've since changed my mind."
Aiken, who got a degree in special education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was teaching grade school kids with autism before he tried out for "Idol" in Atlanta. He was a former member of the Raleigh Boys Choir, and occasionally sang at weddings and at church.
"There's not really a market in North Carolina to sing for a living. There's not that career path for people. So I never really assumed or had any dreams or aspirations to sing," he says.
That changed in the seventh grade when his mother took him and a friend to a local production of the musical "Big River," starring Martin Moran as Huckleberry Finn.
"It was the first time ever that I looked on stage and saw people -- you know, adults -- singing. And I thought, 'Wow, wait a second. You can actually sing for a living?' " he recalls. "From that point on, I kind of allowed music to be a part of my what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up scenario."
After finishing second to Ruben Studdard on "Idol," Aiken went on to release his debut CD "Measure of a Man," which went double platinum in 2003. His other albums are "Merry Christmas With Love" and "A Thousand Different Ways." He's currently working on his fourth CD, due possibly by May.
In one of the weirder twists of Aikens' Broadway debut, he looked down at the Playbill while catching a "Spamalot" performance before he officially signed on and saw a familiar name: Martin Moran as Sir Robin.
"So I'll take over Robin from the same person who you could say kind of inspired me to actually make music something that I would do," he says. "It's a very small world -- kind of a full-circle thing." E-mail to a friend
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