By Richard Schultz, December 2016 Issue.

As part of its Classic Entertainment Series the Chandler Center for the Arts presents Christmas with Clay Aiken – an Arizona exclusive.

While the American Idol finalist has not performed in a concert setting since 2013, he said “Why not?” when approached with the opportunity.

As a result, Aiken will sing holiday classics accompanied by a 22-piece orchestra.

In a recent interview with Echo, Aiken, 38, acknowledgement that he has been selective in his performances the past few years. So much so that he’s encouraging local fans to catch his Dec.16 show because it may be a very long time before he tours again – if ever.

“I toured in the past. It was lots of fun and work,” he said. “ … I so love performing Christmas songs, especially ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel.’ I have all sorts of sheet music in storage, but didn’t have that one. We looked around and found it. It’s by far my favorite carol especially when backed by such a great orchestra.”

Since placing second, runner-up to Ruben Studdard, during the second season of American Idol in 2003, Aiken’s journey has been truly diverse.

His first single made him the first artist in history to debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. He’s sold six million albums and sold out 11 nationwide concert tours. His 2004 memoir, Learning To Sing: Hearing The Music in Your Life was a New York Times Best Seller, and his run on Broadway in Monty Python’s Spamalot was a critical and box office success.

Photo courtesy of Chandler Center for the Arts.

Yet, his greatest impact has often been off the stage.

Aiken started the National Inclusion Project, which is now recognized nationwide as the leading voice in the social inclusion of children with disabilities. He served for nine years as UNICEF Ambassador for education and child protection, traveling the world to educate Americans on the plight of children in Indonesia, Uganda, Afghanistan and Somalia. His work with UNICEF raised awareness of and funding for the organization's work around the world. He’s advocated for LGBTQ rights and teamed up with such organizations as GLSEN, who work to curb the negative effects of discrimination against LGBTQ youth.

In 2014, Aiken ran against U.S. Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, a Republican who was the incumbent in North Carolina’s second district. Aiken knew what he was up against and recognized that he was running in a Republican stronghold. Yet, he was disenchanted with Ellmers not doing her job and representing her constituency fully.

“There were times you got caught up in the bubble, ‘Hey, I could win this.’ Politicians must believe their own hype. They surround themselves with supporters. I expected to lose [but] I wanted the voters to look at Renee Ellmers who was terrible at representing her district,” he said. “She may have won that election, but lost her recent primary this year. I believe my campaign played a role in that. So, in a way, I did win in the long run.”

In assessing the recent Presidential election, Aiken, like most of the country, acknowledged that the most exciting part of this campaign will be when it is over.

“I support Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump was nice to me when I was on ‘The Apprentice.’ I respected him at times back then, but certainly not in the past year.”

What’s most concerning to Aiken, though is the vast divide in this country.

“The bottom line is that 50 percent of the country is going to be unhappy with the winner,” he said. “We have to figure out why we are so polarized. I’m curious to investigate this divide.”

Regarding the strides made by the LGBTQ community, Aiken is equally concerned.

“Since we attained marriage equality, change has not always been beneficial. Let’s face it; we got our dessert first with marriage equality. It was the flashy goal. It was the marquee,” he said. “Yet, there are a lot of other issues out there. Since we got the marque, people stopped paying attention to the other issues like discrimination in housing and employment. There are 22 states where you can be fired for being LGBT[Q].”

Today, Aiken insists that the greatest challenge facing the LGBTQ community is rampant complacency.

“The struggle for LGBT[Q] rights continues,” he said. “For our community, we need to realize how much is going on out there. Our advocates need to see that there are still obstacles to overcome. I was down in Orlando after that tragedy. The loss was terrible. It was a hate crime. We also have to remember that everyone who died there could have been fired from work that next Monday for being LGBT[Q].”

When the conversation shifted to his personal life, Aiken acknowledged that he doesn’t usually talk about his son, but added with a smile in his voice, “Fatherhood is great and my son is great.”

As for returning to Phoenix, Aiken said he’s looking forward to the concert since it is the only one he is performing this holiday season.

“You might want to come now and strike when the iron is hot,” was his message to his fans. “Who knows when I will be back?”

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