Clay Aiken, the most famous "American Idol" runner-up, returns to the Twin Cities this week on his annual Christmas tour. We talked to him about his holiday plans, his Broadway debut in "Spamalot" in January and his "Idol" buddy, Ruben Studdard.

Q Minneapolis is the only city where you are doing two shows. Why are we so lucky?

A We couldn't stuff enough love into one day for Minneapolis. Hee-hee-hee. I really don't know. I don't make the tour; I go where they tell me to go. I like it up there. We're lucky enough to have a day off in Minneapolis on the 18th, and I think my mother's coming up from Raleigh [N.C.] and she's going to be at the Mall of America for the very first time.

Q You brought your holiday show to Minneapolis in 2005. How is this one different?

A In 2005, we did kind of a dramatic take on the holiday. This year, we've had the music be a soundtrack to people's holiday stories. We put out a call two or three months ago for people to submit their favorite Christmas story to our website. We've gotten in 1,600, 1,700 stories, which I personally read every one of them. I'm not making that up. I choose four every night, and four individuals come onstage and share their stories with the audience. We have some poignant stories, some funny ones, some sad ones, some nostalgic ones. They all get woven into a musical symphony.

Q This is your fourth Christmas tour. What appeals to you about doing Christmas tours?

A It's become our holiday tradition. There's something different about the music and the season. When you think of "Bootylicious" or "I'm N Luv With a Stripper," they don't necessarily invoke warm and fuzzy feelings. But songs like these do.

Q What are your plans for Christmas?

A My mother and I are going to do a UNICEF trip to Mexico in the aftermath of the flood. I've done UNICEF trips to Uganda, Indonesia and Afghanistan. Possibly my brother, too. We may all spend our family holiday on a UNICEF field visit in Mexico this year. It'll be the first time that we've not done the same old thing for the holidays.

Q What's the best Christmas present you've ever received?

A I don't know. I can tell you the funniest one. I must have been 11 or 12, my mother gave me a do-it-yourself model of the space shuttle or something like that. I said "Thank you" and put it in the closet. The next year for Christmas, I opened up this model of the spaceship and I said, "Mom you gave me the same thing last year." And she said, "No, no, no. I gave you that last year; you never touched it, you never opened it." So she'd gone in my closet and wrapped it again.

Q How did your role as Sir Robin in "Spamalot" on Broadway come about?

A They started asking me last year if I'd consider "Spamalot," and I didn't know anything about it. So I got tickets to see it in November of last year, and I thought this is the stupidest thing I've ever seen in my entire life. We were busy at the time so I didn't have the ability to do anything with them. So they asked again this summer, and I went and saw it again and I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen in my life. It's not traditional Broadway at all, which is why I think people enjoy it. That's why we decided to give it a shot; it's something completely different than anything that I've done or people would expect us to do. We're excited about it.

Q What's with your new look with the long bangs and darker hair? You look more emo than elfin.

A Oh, my goodness. I've actually had that since 2006. It was just an idea that it was a time to change. We were putting an album out in 2006, and I don't know why people want to change stuff. The idea was to make me look older and more mature, I think, with darker, non-spikey hair. And now I'm almost 30 years old and I really don't want to be older and more mature. I think I need to go back somehow.

Q When was the last time you talked with Ruben Studdard?

A Last week. We keep in touch quite a bit. He's one of my best friends. Just last night, he did me a favor and performed at the UNICEF Snowflake Ball fundraiser in Los Angeles. I was on tour this year and couldn't perform so I called him up and asked him if he would.

Q There was a rumor that you are going to tour together.

A He and I were both surprised by that rumor. He's quite busy with his things, and I'm busy with mine. We're keeping our friendship alive and our business relationships don't cross paths very often.

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719