Now he is releasing his very first album, "Measure of a Man." He sang some selections from it - "Invisible" and "I Will Carry You" - on The Early Show.
"Last year at this time, (I was) a student at UNC-Charlotte wondering if I had enough money to go get the bread at the grocery store," he tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler. "Now I eat out - a completely different lifestyle. I'm in L.A. I'm busy all of the time, not knowing where I'm going to be the next day. So it's definitely a change."
Aiken is now renting a four-bedroom home with "Idol's" second runner-up Kimberly Locke.
And he is not anonymous any more, he says referring to the screaming fans who often follow him on the road. "We went through Raleigh as a station tour and pulled up to a waffle house in our big black car and people were saying, 'We thought you were going to be Clay Aiken.' It was such a big deal for them."
His fans around the world are called Claymantes, Clay Maniacs, or AmerAikens. About his fame, he says he takes the good with the bad. And the downside for Aiken is, "I want to run in and grab the milk and run out. I'm on a schedule," he says. "I definitely owe a lot to the people who put me where I am today, so I want to make sure that I'm honoring that and, at the same time, honoring my need for a little bit of free time."
Aiken underwent a major transformation while on "American Idol." He changed his hair color from red to brown, shed his eyeglasses and updated his wardrobe. He is now blonde. But he says, "I feel geeky every day. I wake up and I'm proud of it. Who cares?"
Besides his music, what he cares about is the Bubel/Aiken Foundation to develop programs for autistic children. The special education major used to work with the Community Alternatives Program for Persons with Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities in North Carolina. And now he has made a foundation to help fund staffing needs for children with disabilities with Diane Bubel, the mother of an autistic boy Aiken worked with when he was studying to be a special-ed teacher.
Aiken's single, "This Is the Night," made an historical debut at No. 1 on The Billboard Hot 100. More than 392,000 copies were sold the first week, the highest one-week total of any single since Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" in 1997. Aiken also charted on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart with his version of Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
What is exciting for him now, he says, is singing for the World Series, Game 1 on Saturday.
Some Facts About Clay Aiken