Fame has provided Aiken with a new platform for the kids he wants to help. In 2003, after becoming a household name to "American Idol" fans, he created the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, an integrated program for children with and without developmental disabilities.
Given Aiken's passion for teaching and community outreach, it's not surprising that one of his favorite songs serves as a reminder of the summer camp Aiken used to run.
At the summer camp Aiken ran, they'd start each morning with "A Lovely Day." It was "one of those songs that kind of gets you going in the morning" and "gets stuck in your head and stays with you all the time," Aiken said.
"That one reminds me of working with kids and working at that summer camp or working as a teacher and the likes."
Five-year-old Aiken favored "Islands in the Stream" after hearing it on the radio. It was one of the first songs he sang in public.
"I really don't have much current stuff on my iPod," Aiken said. "It's a lot of stuff that I remember or songs that have been favorites of mine."
Born in Raleigh, N.C., Aiken grew up listening to Christian music. One of the first songs he ever sang was in church was "The Great Adventure" by Steven Curtis Chapman.
"He's just one of my favorite singers, favorite artists, favorite performers of all time," Aiken said. "It was something that was easy to sing, it was fun … you know, I grew up in churches that were always singing hymns. And it was just fun and exciting, and the church allowed me to sing it and I was like, 'Yeah, OK sure. If I can sing something fun, I'll do it.'"
"Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" is especially important to Aiken, who attributes this song to his "American Idol" resurgence.
"I had sung 'Open Arms' by Journey and didn't really make it and got cut. So I came back and we were really trying hard to find a song that would make sure I had a great performance,'" Aiken said. "And we had a really tough time getting that song cleared at the time. You know, there's permissions you have to get in order to sing a song on the show. 'American Idol' was so new at the time, people didn't really want to have their songs butchered, and somebody who worked on the show actually made a phone call — was friends with Sir Elton John — and called him up and said, 'Listen, let the boy sing the song.' And so I did and that's what got in me in the top 12, and so I'm kind of nostalgic for that one."
Aiken's biggest hit, "Invisible," was also his first video, and one of Aiken's most memorable experiences. "I did and I remember actually being in New York and we got the demo for that song and everybody around me was really hooked on it and loved it," he said. "We were sitting in a hotel over near Central Park and put the CD in, and people who were with me got really excited about, you know, how great the demo was, and I was like, 'Wow, this is a good song, I actually get to sing a good song.' And it turned out being a hit for us. And so of course I'm always going to be nostalgic for 'Invisible.' I get asked to sing it all the time; I get asked to sing 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' all the time; I get asked to sing 'Solitaire' all the time but 'Invisible' is one that's still fun," he said.