'American Idol' Clay Aiken looks for the next Idol in Philadelphia

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Clay Aiken on 'American Idol:' It Was About The Kid Next Door Making It Big

When thousands of aspiring vocalists lined up for their last chance at becoming the 15th and final American Idol in Philadelphia, they got encouragement from one of the franchise's biggest stars: Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken.

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Aiken was on hand to work at one of the judges' table and lend his ears to the process of discovering the last ever Idol winner. Singers selected at the Saturday, Aug. 1, auditions will get the opportunity to advance and perform in front of Idol judges Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban at a later round.

"It is very full in here," Aiken told Billboard. "I'm a little nervous. This is a big deal in the life of everybody in this room."

Aiken tried to put everyone at ease, but gave them a good pep talk. "You have to be yourself," he told the crowd.

See photos from American Idol's season 14:

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'American Idol' Clay Aiken looks for the next Idol in Philadelphia
From left, judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. participate in FOX's "American Idol XIII" panel at the FOX Winter TCA Press Tour, on Monday, January 13, 2014 at the Langham Huntington, in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision for FOX/AP Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 06: Contestant Clark Beckham performs onstage at FOX's 'American Idol XIV' Top 3 Revealed on May 6, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Becker/FOX via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 06: (L-R) Contestants Rayvon Owen, Clark Beckham and Jax onstage at FOX's 'American Idol XIV' Top 3 Revealed on May 6, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Becker/FOX via Getty Images)
Jax arrives at the "American Idol XIV" finalists party at The District by Hannah An on Wednesday, Mar. 11th in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Clark Beckham arrives at the "American Idol XIV" finalists party at The District by Hannah An on Wednesday, Mar. 11th in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 11: (L-R) Musician Keith Urban, singer/actress Jennifer Lopez and musician Harry Connick Jr. arrive at Fox TV's 'American Idol XIV' finalist party at The District on March 11, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 29: (L-R) Top 5 contestants Jax, Nick Fradiani, Clark Beckham, Tyanna Jones and Rayvon Owen onstage at FOX's 'American Idol XIV' Top 4 Revealed on April 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Becker/FOX via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 06: (L-R) Judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. onstage at FOX's 'American Idol XIV' Top 3 Revealed on May 6, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Becker/FOX via Getty Images)
EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - MAY 01: 'American Idol' finalist Jax performs at her homecoming on May 1, 2015 on May 1, 2015 in East Brunswick, New Jersey. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images)
GUILFORD, CT - MAY 01: 'American Idol' finalist Nick Fradiani performs at his homecoming on May 1, 2015 in Guilford, Connecticut. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
RICHMOND, VA - MAY 01: Rayvon Adams visits Henrico High School during his American Idol homecoming visit on May 1, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 11: (L-R) Top 12 contestants Daniel Seavey, Nick Fradiani, Sarina-Joi Crowe, Clark Beckham, Maddie Walker, Jax, Qaasim Middleton, Adanna Duru, Quentin Alexander, Joey Cook, Rayvon Owen and Tyanna Jones onstage at FOX's 'American Idol XIV' Top 12 Revealed on March 11, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 06: Contestant Nick Fradiani performs onstage at FOX's 'American Idol XIV' Top 3 Revealed on May 6, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Becker/FOX via Getty Images)
Tyanna Jones arrives at the "American Idol XIV" finalists party at The District by Hannah An on Wednesday, Mar. 11th in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Joey Cook arrives at the "American Idol XIV" finalists party at The District by Hannah An on Wednesday, Mar. 11th in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 06: Judge Keith Urban onstage at FOX's 'American Idol XIV' Top 3 Revealed on May 6, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Becker/FOX via Getty Images)
The final 12 (back row, l-r), Quentin Alexander, Maddie Walker, Adanna Duru, Clark Beckham, Sarina-Joi Crowe, Joey Cook and Tyanna Jones, (front row, l-r) Nick Fradiani, Jax, Daniel Speavey and Rayvon Owen arrive at the "American Idol XIV" finalists party at The District by Hannah An on Wednesday, Mar. 11th in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Maddie Walker arrives at the "American Idol XIV" finalists party at The District by Hannah An on Wednesday, Mar. 11th in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Sarina-Joi Crowe arrives at the "American Idol XIV" finalists party at The District by Hannah An on Wednesday, Mar. 11th in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Harry Connick Jr. attends FOX's "American Idol XIII" finalists party at Fig & Olive Melrose Place on February 20, 2014 in West Hollywood, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
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Clay Aiken: I Haven't Watched 'American Idol' in 10 Years

He said the more successful people off the show did not come in "pretending they knew what a pop star was."

"None of them came in fabricating a personae," he said. "I certainly didn't. Ruben Studdard didn't. Kelly Clarkson didn't. Carrie Underwood didn't. They all came in and were themselves. A lot of people walk up to these tables dressed up and think they know what a pop star is, and that's the death knell in some ways."

Surveying the faces in the room at Philadelphia's Liacouras Center brought back memories of his audition 13 years ago, he said.

"I didn't know then how big of a deal it would be for me," he said. "I didn't know 13 years ago on the streets of Atlanta how life changing it would be. The people in this room have seen this show for 15 years. They know how big of a deal it is, and I think that's a big difference."

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Aiken -- who recently ran for Congress in North Carolina and chronicled the whole process in the Esquire series, The Runner-Up -- said that hopefuls having seen Clarkson, Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino and Underwood come off the show and having something "really big happen to them on the back of this show" heightens anxiety.

"I was nervous myself, but these folks are going to be even more nervous because they know what at stake," Aiken said.

He added that the stakes are high for the producers on the floor, too.

"One producer every year can claim that they are the one that is the first person who puts the winner through," the 36-year old alum said. "The person who put me through still works on the show. The person who put Fantasia through still works on the show. And they get to have bragging rights."

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That said: Aiken said he wants to be the one to have that honor, and is in a friendly competition with Season 2 winner Studdard, who was on hand putting talent through on the floor at the auditions in Savannah, Georgia.

"As if we hadn't competed enough already," he laughed. "He and I are competing with each other. We are both insistent that we are going to be the ones that find the next American Idol. I am looking forward to finding that 15th Idol at my table this year."

And what would it take to catch Aiken's ear?

"I like all different kinds of voices," he said. "There is a little bit of a spark in people who have great talent and don't realize it. They have a little bit of quiet confidence within them, but aren't trying. That is what is attractive to me. I personally gravitate and audiences gravitate towards people who are slightly more humble with their talent. I am hoping for someone who is great and doesn't really know it."

When asked if the ending of American Idol is bittersweet, the Broadway star couldn't help quoting the show Pippen, saying "everything has its season."

"In 15 years they have discovered people who are going to be around far longer than the show will, and no other show on television can say that," he said. "I don't believe that The Voice can say that. I don't believe America's Got Talent can say that. I don't believe The Last Comic Standing can't say that. But you certainly have Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood who are going to carry the mantle of American Idol for decades. The fact that the show is going off the air will not diminish its power in American history."

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