Clay Aiken, take heart. The first ''American Idol'' runner-up isn't stuck working at Hardees. Instead, the lady-pleasing, creamy-voiced Justin Guarini will release his self-titled debut CD June 10 (RCA), and will appear with Kelly Clarkson in the teen movie ''From Justin to Kelly'' three days later. Guarini, 24, who worked with producers including Kenneth ''Babyface'' Edmonds and Lester Mendez (Jewel, Santana), tells EW.com about stepping beyond his Mr. Smooth persona and reveals his favorite Justin joke.
What did you discover about yourself making your CD?
I discovered there are different avenues I could go down. I enjoy singing really soulful, sweet ballads so much. But I found on a lot of my tracks, there was a really gritty edge to my voice in my higher register. I explored that a lot, and people haven't seen that side of me. The album's got a good mix of soul, groove, and a little bit of edge. Not like hip-hop; more like hip-pop. And Babyface brought a real intelligence to the music with his melodies and harmonies; his tracks are like tapestries.
One of those tracks is the song you performed on ''American Idol'' last month, right?
''I Saw Your Face'' is [the kind of] sexy, sensual song that you haven't really heard out of me. There's such a squeaky-clean image that we all had on ''American Idol.'' Kelly's exploring a rock side, and she's got that edge. And on this album, I've explored more of my sensual side -- loverman soul.
Well, judging from the shrieks on ''Idol,'' women are definitely into your singing, but will this album get guys to like you, too?
You know what, I can't say who will get this. I'll just say the right people will get this. I'm just blessed to have a following, ya know? [laughs] It's cool.
You took a lot of ribbing after losing to Kelly. How did that affect you?
It inspired me to make that much better of an album. I'm all about making fun of myself. I don't mind it at all. But there is a desire to prove something with this album. It's a really good start towards what I hope to be a long career.
What was your favorite crack about you?
What made me laugh is what Craig Kilborn said: ''Kelly Clarkson's album is No. 1 in the country. And Justin Guarini has been promoted to sneeze-guard manager at Red Lobster.'' [Laughs] That was great.
To set the record straight, there's no day job, right?
Nah. Myself, Tamyra Gray -- who came in fourth! -- we both have albums coming out . ''American Idol,'' whether you came in first or tenth or 32nd, was a blessing. It really was up to us, the people who didn't come in first place, to make the best of it.
Who was your pick for this year's ''Idol'' -- Ruben or Clay?
Ruben, without a doubt. I like eveyrthing about him. He's such a cool guy. I think he has such a smooth soulful voice, and the whole energy around him is so caring and centered.
Did it give you uncomfortable flashbacks to watch the second season?
Well, you know that da-da-da judging music? I do sometimes cringe when I hear it on TV. But that's it.