Kate's Notes

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Clay Aiken

Clay Aiken

Clay Aiken (born Clayton Holmes Grissom on November 30, 1978) is most famous for being the little "American Idol" contestant that could. Far from the ideal American pop star, Aiken came off as a shy, socially awkward boy in initial audition. His average relatability soon worked its way into the viewers’ hearts, and their votes took him from long-shot, to runner up on the second season of the show. In 2003 RCA Records offered him a recording contract and his debut album Measure of a Man was released in October 2003; based album sales, he has become the most successful second-place finisher in that show's history.

Early Years

Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, Aiken sang in the Raleigh Boychoir as a boy and then went on to continue his passion singing in the local Raleigh band, Just By Chance. Aiken attended Raleigh's Leesville Road High School and directed YMCA children's camps as a teenager, and at age 19 he served as a substitute teacher for a classroom of students with autism at Brentwood Elementary School.

While attending University of North Carolina at Charlotte he took a part-time job as an assistant to a boy with autism, and it was this child's mother, Diane Bubel, who urged him to audition for American Idol. He took a short break from his scolastic career to pursue his American Idol dreams, before he graduated with a bachelor's degree in special education in December of 2003.

American Idol

The road to his finishing place in "American Idol" was not a smooth one. Inititally, the judges, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, were hesitant to give Aiken a favorable review due to his nerdy appearance, and meek demeaner. However, when he began to sing Heatwave's "Always and Forever," the judges were blown away by his performance and confidence: the clip of the judges' surprise during this audition performance was replayed many times over the course of the competition.

Aiken made it to the round-of-32, but was cut on his first try. However, during the "wild card" round, Aiken's well-received performance of Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" propelled him into the final 12. The "American Idol" producers gave Aiken a makeover, and in the first few shows of the final competitions, Aiken and Ruben Studdard emerged as the clear favorites with both the judges and the fans. Aiken became a soft rock and pop vehicle, known for his ballads, such as his rendition of Neil Sedaka's "Solitaire", and his upbeat performances, including The Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup".

Aiken made it all the way to the final round, and might have one: literally. On 21 May 2003, the final talley in "American Idol" was cast and there were so many votes that many complained the call-in voting system was flawed and did not account for all the callers. Studdard won by a narrow margin--just over 130,000 votes out of more than 24,000,000 votes cast. A contraversy insued, with some saying because Idol's voting system was incapable of handling the number of attempted calls, that many of the calls for Aiken did not go through. In an interview prior to the start of the fifth season of "American Idol," Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe revealed for the first time that Aiken had led the fan voting every week from the Wild Card week onward until the finale, when the possibly-random voting result gave Studdard the win. Though officially Aiken was the show's "first runner-up," he has since gone on to be the second season's best-selling star, by far outselling Studdard as a pop star.

Aiken’s single "Bridge over Troubled Water / This Is the Night,” released June 10, 2003, was RIAA certified platinum on July 15, 2003. Debuting at #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot 100 Single Sales Chart, it was the fastest-selling single since Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997" and the best-selling single of 2003. It was the first CD single to go platinum since 2002, when Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance" sold a million copies after being released for over a year. The single also topped the charts in New Zealand where it was certified platinum, and went six times platinum in Canada.

Aiken’s Recording Career

2003-2005: Measure of a Man

Aiken first solo album, Measure of a Man, was released on October 14, 2003, and debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. With 613,000 copies sold in its first week, it was the highest-selling debut for a solo artist in 10 years, and to date the highest debut of any "American Idol" contenstant. The album received RIAA Double Platinum certification November 17, 2003 (a Double Platinum plaque was presented to Aiken by Clive Davis on October 21, 2003, during "Good Morning America") and has sold more than 2,750,000 units to date. The album spawned both the hit single "Invisible" and his first hit song, "This Is the Night" (both co-written by Chris Braide). Later that year, Aiken won the Fan's Choice Award at the American Music Awards ceremony, and his CD single "This Is the Night/Bridge Over Troubled Water" won the Billboard award for the Best-Selling Single of 2003.

Aiken appeared in numerous television specials during the winter of 2003, including Disney's Christmas Day Parade and the Nick At Nite Holiday Special, where he sang a duet with Bing Crosby via special effects. The song was "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth", which was originally sung by Crosby and David Bowie on a 1977 Christmas special.

From February to April 2004, Aiken embarked on the "Independent Tour" with Kelly Clarkson, winner of the first "American Idol" contest. He was also scheduled for only a few summer tour dates, but high demand ultimately led to the booking of fifty dates across the United States, culminating in what many fans called the "Not-a-Tour."

In November 2004, Aiken launched his third tour of the year, "The Joyful Noise Tour," sponsored by Ronald McDonald House Charities, featured a conductor and a 30-piece orchestra. In some cities, Aiken was supported by the local philharmonic or symphony, such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Local choirs from high schools and elementary schools participated at each concert.

That same month, Aiken also released a holiday album entitled Merry Christmas With Love, which set a new record for fastest-selling holiday album in the Soundscan era (since 1991). The album debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200. Merry Christmas With Love sold over 1,000,000 copies retail in 6 weeks and was the best-selling holiday album of 2004, receiving RIAA Platinum certification on Jan. 6, 2005. At the same time Aiken made the New York Times Best Seller List, debuting at #2, with his "inspirational memoir" entitled Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life, written with Allison Glock, published by Random House. In December 2004, Aiken starred in his first TV special, titled A Clay Aiken Christmas, with special guests Barry Manilow, Yolanda Adams, and Megan Mullally. He was also Executive Producer for the Christmas special, which was released on DVD later that month.

In February 2005, Aiken played the role of Kenny, a cafeteria worker whose job was in jeopardy, on the sitcom "Scrubs." In May, he helped Oprah Winfrey fulfill the "Wildest Dreams" of Nebraska twins with learning disabilities headed for college and appeared on an episode of Dr. Phil concerning bullying among teens. During the summer of 2005, Aiken, along with a seven-piece band and three back-up singers, toured part of North America with the Jukebox Tour, performing songs of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, as well as a few favorites from Measure of a Man. He also performed a few new songs for the album that was in production.

In September 2005, Aiken was a celebrity guest of designer Kenneth Cole during the Fashion Week shows in New York City. Cole provided a tuxedo and accessories for Aiken to wear during his appearance as a guest reporter for "The Insider" later that month at the 2005 Emmy Awards. The outfit was then donated, along with a number of other items worn by celebrities at the Emmys, to the Clothes Off Our Back charity auction, where the tuxedo, cufflinks, and shoes sold for a combined total of $27,250. The Emmy appearance with "The Insider" was followed by several more guest reporting stints on the show.

In early November 2005, Aiken launched his second Christmas tour. The 2005 Joyful Noise Tour featured a series of vignettes, written by Aiken, which told the story of an older woman who has lost the Christmas spirit and a young boy who helps her find it again. A cast of actors, dancers and back-up singers traveled with the tour, and members of local theater groups were added in each venue for smaller, non-speaking roles and crowd scenes. The tour opened in Vancouver, Canada, on November 2, and ended in Clearwater, Florida on December 30.

2006: A Thousand Different Ways

In the Season 5 of "American Idol," Aiken made a surprise appearence. Failed auditioner Michael Sandecki returned to the show to receive a "Golden Idol" award for Best Impersonator for his Clay Aiken-like appearance, and during the middle of his victory serenade, Aiken walked out, debuting a new look with longer darker hair, joining him in "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." The entrance brought the crowd to their feet, and shocked Sandecky to the point of giddy speachlessness.

Aiken's third album, A Thousand Different Ways, was released September 19, 2006. He worked on the album under the guidance of Canadian producer and A&R executive Jaymes Foster. The album contains ten cover songs, and four new songs, one which Aiken co-wrote. Debuting at #2 on the Billboard chart, it made Aiken the 4th artist ever to have his first 3 albums debut in the Top 5 and scan over 200,000 in the first week.

Controversies & Media Focus

Since his inception into the limelight, Aiken has been an odd target for contreversy. Probably, because he skyrocketed to fame so easily, his private life has become the center of much speculation. For years, he was asked if he was gay; a rumor which he has persistently either denied, or avoided all together.

Aiken has been the subject of gay jokes by Conan O'Brien, Kathy Griffin, and Mad TV, among others. In an interview with Rolling Stone in July 2003 Aiken stated that he is not gay. When he appeared as the musical guest on "Saturday Night Live" on February 7, 2004, he lampooned such speculation in the opening monologue, which featured him as a member of a gay men's chorus. Aiken has also been the subject of tabloid speculation and in early 2006, The National Enquirer launched a new series of tabloid stories alleging proof of a liaison with another man. Aiken describes the jokes and gossip as "...like having a gnat in your nose. You just want to kill it. It becomes unfortunately a negative part of what you do, and you need to kind of live with it. But if you could get up your nose and kill it, you would do it."

In September 2006 Aiken sat down for televised interviews with Diane Sawyer of "Good Morning America," Lara Spencer of "The Insider," Larry King, and spoke to People magazine (October 2, 2006 issue) to discuss the rumors about his sexuality.

When Sawyer asked if he was ready to come out he laughed and said that would not make any sense as it was preposterous for him to do that. He also told Sawyer that he was done answering questions, it was no one's business and those were the type questions he thought were rude. When Sawyer asked him about the "prurient stuff" on the Internet purporting to be from him, he said, "Even though stuff I read about me in the magazines isn't true... it still makes me lose sleep." He said he hurts, not just for his mother, and he doesn't know why people are offensive.

In his televised sit-down with Lara Spencer she asked if he was ready to set the record straight about his sexuality. Aiken replied, "I'm just not commenting anymore." Aiken told People, "It doesn't matter what I say. People are going to believe what they want. I don't like having crap spread about me to everybody. But I've kind of unfortunately come to know that it's part of what I'm doing." Discussing the tabloid stories with Larry King, Aiken said the people who know him know the stories are not true.

On November 17, 2006, Aiken was a stand-in guest host on "Live with Regis and Kelly." During an interview Aiken covered Kelly Ripa's mouth with his hand. The incident caused considerable reaction, and Kelly Ripa responded by saying, “I don’t know where that hand has been.” Aiken made fun of the controversy on the 2006 American Music Awards a few days later with Tori Spelling. However, the incident was highlighted when Rosie O’Donnell, one of the four women that hosts "The View," went on the program and spoke out against Ripa’s comment, saying it was homophobic, inadvertently outing Aiken as a homosexual. However, contrary to many gossip outlets on the internet, such as Perez Hilton’s website, Aiken still vehemently denies this claim, saying that the people who know him, know the truth, and that he will not respond to any further questioning on the topic.


Some of Aiken's fans have been referred to as "Claymates," a name that originated on the message boards during the second season of "American Idol." However, the term is not embraced by all within the fandom (although Aiken has trademarked the term). These fans, usually women, will stand in line for hours to get a glimps of their idol; some where tee-shirts with his picture, or even home made tee-shirts. One woman wore a tee shirt that read “Clay Aiken shakes my ovaries, A Thousand Different Ways.”

Some subgroups within Aiken's fans have informally named themselves; many Canadian fans are "Claynadians.”

Some portion of the group has been criticized at times as being obsessive, both in the media and by Aiken himself. On the September 27, 2006 "Jimmy Kimmel Live" talk show, Jimmy Kimmel said to Aiken that his fans were "crazy". Aiken corrected him saying they were "enthusiastic". Later, during a November appearance on the The Megan Mullally Show, Aiken told Mullally his fans were wonderful.

In February 2006, in a People magazine poll readers voted Aiken their "Favorite American Idol".

Charitable Work

Apart from his music career, Aiken has been dedicated to advocating for education and for children's causes. His interest in autism issues led him to found the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, which supports the integration of children with disabilities into the life environment of their non-disabled peers. The BAF runs summer camps which reflect this mission, and also presents Able to Serve awards to support the volunteer efforts of children with physical and mental disabilities. The BAF was presented with a $500,000 grant from the US government to develop a curriculum for inclusion to be used in schools across the country. In addition State Farm has granted $1.5 million dollars to the Bubel/Aiken Foundation to help develop a primary education curriculum focused on teaching social and life skills through service to children of all levels of ability.

In 2004, he was appointed a United States Fund for UNICEF National Ambassador, with a mission to help ensure that children everywhere are afforded a primary education. Through his work with UNICEF, he participated in the NBC4 telethon, which raised over $10 million, and recorded public service announcements in support of South Asian tsunami relief. He later recorded a video, featuring the song "Give a Little Bit", to be used as a public service announcement (PSA) to raise money for tsunami victims.

In March 2005, UNICEF sent Aiken to the tsunami-stricken Banda Aceh area to raise awareness of the need to restore education quickly to the children who survived this disaster, in order to provide stability in a time of great loss. In April 2005, on behalf of UNICEF, he appeared before the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs of the Committee on Appropriations. In May 2005, UNICEF sent Aiken on another mission, to northern Uganda, to witness the plight of children called "night commuters", who flee the villages each night to sleep in streets and shelters in hopes of avoiding being kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army.

Aiken was the 2005 spokesperson for the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF drive. In May 2006 he visited Middlesex Middle School in Darien, Connecticut, the number one school fundraiser in the country, accepting a check on behalf of UNICEF and to thank the students for their efforts.
In September 2006 Aiken was appointed to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. The Committee acts in an advisory capacity to the President and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on matters relating to programs and services for persons with intellectual disabilities. Appointees serve a two-year term, and Aiken was sworn in September 14, 2006 by HHS Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Wade F. Horn.


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