Clay Aiken says Donald Trump didn’t do the firing on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’

Clay Aiken on President Donald Trump

Video: Clay Aiken shares insights into his time working with Donald Trump on The Apprentice television show during an interview at the News & Observer on Friday, July 7, 2017.
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Video: Clay Aiken shares insights into his time working with Donald Trump on The Apprentice television show during an interview at the News & Observer on Friday, July 7, 2017.

Regardless of what Americans might think of President Trump, it’s fair to say his career on NBC’s “The Apprentice” helped cement his rep as a no-nonsense businessman.

But onetime “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Clay Aiken says not all was as it seemed.

In an interview with Domecast, a podcast hosted by North Carolina’s News & Observer, Aiken said the current president wasn’t the one making the calls when he was on the show.

“Trump didn’t decide who got fired on ‘The Apprentice,’” he said. “NBC made those decisions.”

Aiken said producers fed Trump lines and notes during the show’s taping.

“There used to be a little thing right on his desk that looked like a phone — he pretended it was a phone — but it was actually a teleprompter where the producers were sending him notes,” Aiken said. “He didn’t know people were getting in fights during the week while we were doing these tasks. The producers did. And they’d send him notes and he’d say, ‘Oh you two didn’t get along.’ He didn’t know.”

Aiken, the runner-up in Season 2 of “Idol,” said Trump epitomized the old cliche of “I’m not a businessman, but I play one on TV.” Aiken said Trump would show up for the task delivery and the boardroom, and the Trump children showed up during the contestants’ work from time to time.

“(Trump was) told by the producers ‘Here’s what happened, here’s who should win,’” he said. “He’d go back in the back, real quick, and they’d say, ‘This is who has the lower Q score, this is who gets the least ratings for us, fire them.’ And that’s what they would do. And he’d come out and do it. He did make the decision on the very last night, and it didn’t work for me again. But he doesn’t run it.”

Aiken said several times during the interview that Trump was a “nice guy,” but he said he suspects the president is leading the country much in the same way he saw him on “Apprentice.”

“The image that sticks with me of him more than anything over the past year was when he walked out on stage after he had won,” Aiken said. “And I know him well enough to recognize that face as, ‘Oh, (expletive). I didn’t think I was going to win.’ He knows there’s a lot on his plate and he’s not sure. He doesn’t seem like he’s willing to do the work and the research to find out what’s going on.”

This isn’t the first time Aiken has said Trump wasn’t who appeared to be on the show. In an interview on Fox Business during the presidential campaign, Aiken said much the same thing.

“He has played this character on ‘Apprentice,’” he said in 2016. “I believe he’s a lot more liberal than people in the primary believed he was.”

New York mag’s entertainment blog Vulture reported that it had reached out to MGM, which owns a majority stake in Mark Burnett Productions, but had not received a comment.

Aiken, a Democrat, ran for North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional seat in 2014 but lost to Renee Elmers.

Aiken said he thinks Democrats should lie low for a bit and quit saying the sky is falling, especially on health care. He said they only hurt themselves more.

“My family voted for Trump and my family still supports Trump,” he said. “And I have found that it’s better for me to just let them do that instead of trying to change their mind. It doesn’t help change anybody’s mind to tell them they’re wrong. Because they think I’m wrong, too.”

David Frese: 816-234-4463, @DavidFrese