Pop Culture

'Apprentice' celeb Clay Aiken respected Trump, not Cowell

Mitch Haaseth / NBC / Today

The familiar faces set to appear on the upcoming season of “Celebrity Apprentice” come from all professions and walks of life, but a handful may have a particular advantage: Namely, they’ve been on reality shows before. Teresa Guidice is on “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” Victoria Gotti on “Growing Up Gotti” and Paul Teutul Sr. has “American Chopper.”

But there is only one “American Idol” finalist – Clay Aiken, who was runner-up on that show’s second season. And now, having faced off with two of the toughest characters in reality TV, he can offer his take on what it’s like to stand in judgment before both Donald Trump and Simon Cowell.

Let’s just say that Cowell has been Trumped.

“Being in front of Trump is more intimidating than (being in front of Cowell),” Aiken told TODAY.com in an interview. “That’s because you realize his success is real outside of TV. Whereas with Cowell, I don’t deny him his value – but singing is not his expertise.”

Respect played a big factor in preferring Trump over Cowell, said Aiken. “I had a Spanish teacher in high school. I rarely got in trouble in her room because I felt I was disappointing her if I got a bad grade. That had more power over me than teachers who told me I talked too much. That level of respect I had for her made me not want to fail for her. I never had that feeling with Cowell -- but I had it with Trump.”

Yes, said Aiken, “I expected meanness from Simon, because I felt Simon’s job was to be rough and brutal, and therefore it didn’t matter as much what he said to me.”

But with Trump, he didn’t feel as though the businessman was “trying to torch each contestant to find all the things they did wrong. I really wanted to be the one person he liked, the one person who he thought, ‘Well, he’s not stupid.’”

Still, it’s more complex than just preferring one man’s style over another. Aiken knows he can sing, but working for Donald Trump was definitely outside his wheelhouse. “Singing I can do, and if Simon didn’t like it then I wouldn’t be like, ‘I can’t sing!’ With Trump, it’s not my expertise, and it is his, and so therefore I have a little more respect for him because I realize I’ve got to work harder.”

And work hard he did … but harder than on “Idol”? Absolutely, he said.

“Being on this show in general was 10 times harder than ‘Idol.’ Hands down.”

"The Celebrity Apprentice" premieres Feb. 12 on NBC.

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