Clay Aiken (born Clayton Holmes Grissom on November 30, 1978) is an American pop singer and political candidate who began his rise to fame on the second season of the television program American Idol in 2003. RCA Records offered him a recording contract, and his multi-platinum debut album Measure of a Man was released in October 2003. He released four more albums on the RCA label: Merry Christmas with Love, A Thousand Different Ways, and the Christmas EP, All is Well. His fourth studio album (the first album of original material since 2003's Measure of a Man), On My Way Here was released on May 6, 2008. His most recent album, Tried & True, was released on June 1, 2010 on Decca Records.
In the years following his American Idol appearance, Aiken has launched eight tours, authored a New York Times best-selling book Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life with Allison Glock, and was the executive producer for a 2004 televised Christmas special, A Clay Aiken Christmas. He has been a frequent talk show guest, particularly on The Tonight Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live. He appeared as a guest star on Scrubs and participated in comedy skits on Kimmel and Saturday Night Live.
Aiken created the Bubel/Aiken Foundation (now the National Inclusion Project) in 2003, accepted a UNICEF ambassadorship in 2004, and in 2006 was appointed for a two-year term to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.
Aiken made his Broadway debut playing the role of Sir Robin in Monty Python's Spamalot in January 2008. His run ended in May but he rejoined the cast as Sir Robin in September and remained through January 4, 2009.
Aiken later ran for Congress in 2014.
Clay Aiken was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a young boy, Aiken sang in the Raleigh Boychoir, and as a teenager, he sang in school choirs, church choir, musicals and local theatre productions. After high school, he sang lead with a local band, Just By Chance, and cohosted and performed with the band at "Just by Chance and Friends" shows in Dunn, North Carolina. He was also MC and performer at the Johnston Community College Country Showcase in Smithfield, and at the North Carolina Music Connection and Hometown Music Connection shows in Garner and Benson. He performed the national anthem numerous times for the Raleigh Ice Caps and the Carolina Hurricanes. He also legally changed his last name from Grissom to Aiken. Three demo albums of Aiken's vocals were created before American Idol with the aid of studio time given as a birthday gift by his mother: a cassette called Look What Love Has Done (by Clayton Grissom), a cassette and CD entitled Redefined (by Clayton Aiken), and a CD that combined some songs from each of the previous demos: "Look What Love Has Done, Vol 2" (by Clay Aiken).
Aiken attended Raleigh's Leesville Road High School and took courses at Campbell University before enrolling at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He found his interest in special education while directing 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 in Raleigh. While attending college in 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. Although his American Idol activities temporarily delayed his academic pursuits, Aiken completed his course work while on tour and graduated with a bachelor's degree in special education in December 2003.
Fatherhood and coming outEdit
Aiken announced on his personal blog: "My dear friend, Jaymes, and I are so excited to announce the birth of Parker Foster Aiken" Aiken's son was born August 8, 2008 in North Carolina. The child's mother is Jaymes Foster, the sister of record producer David Foster. She has been the executive producer of Aiken's last three albums. "The little man is healthy, happy, and as loud as his daddy," Aiken wrote. "Mama Jaymes is doing quite well also." Aiken said in his book, Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life, that "It's a Southern tradition to be given your first name from your grandmama's maiden name." His middle name came from his paternal grandmother's maiden name; using instead the married surnames of their mothers, he and Foster followed that tradition in choosing their son's name.
After several years of public speculation, Aiken confirmed that he is gay in a September 2008 interview with People magazine.
Aiken had filled out an application to participate in the reality show Amazing Race when a friend of his insisted that he try out for American Idol instead. Television viewers first glimpsed Aiken during the audition episodes at the beginning of American Idol's second season. The show's judges first saw Aiken as a nerdy type unlikely to be any kind of idol, but after hearing him sing Heatwave's "Always and Forever" decided to advance him to the next round. 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 before being cut from the show, but he was invited to return for the "Wild Card" round; his performance of Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" sent him on to the final 12 as the viewer's choice. While noted for his performance of ballads, such as Neil Sedaka's "Solitaire", his upbeat performances, including The Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup", were also appreciated. Aiken received enough votes every week to keep him out of the bottom three. Part of his appeal was his "geek to chic" transformation in appearance. "I looked like Opie," Aiken said to People magazine regarding his appearance at his American Idol audition in 2002. He replaced his glasses with contact lenses and agreed to let the show's stylists change his hair style. With longer, flat ironed, spiky hair and a penchant for wearing striped shirts, Aiken had established a trademark look by the final American Idol season 2 show.
On May 21, 2003, Aiken came in a close second to Ruben Studdard, who won the contest by 134,000 votes out of more than 24,000,000 votes cast. The result was controversial, as some hypothesized that Idol's voting system was incapable of handling the number of attempted calls. 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 to 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.
American Idol season 2 performances and resultsEdit
|Audition||Free Choice||"Always And Forever"||Heatwave||N/A||Advanced|
Semifinal Group 2
|Free Choice||"Open Arms"||Journey||1||Top 3|
|Wild Card||Free Choice||"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me"||Elton John||2||Selected|
|Top 12||Motown||"I Can't Help Myself "||Four Tops||7||Safe|
|Top 11||Movie Soundtracks||"Somewhere Out There"||Linda Ronstadt|
|Top 10||Country Rock||"Someone Else's Star"||Bryan White||10||Safe|
|Top 8||Disco||"Everlasting Love"||Carl Carlton||4||Safe|
|Top 8||Billboard #1||"At This Moment"||Billy Vera||1||Safe|
|Top 7||Billy Joel||"Tell Her About It"||Billy Joel||7||Safe|
|Top 6||Diane Warren||"I Could Not Ask For More"||Edwin McCain||2||Safe|
|"Build Me Up Buttercup"|
|Top 4||Bee Gees||"To Love Somebody"|
|Top 3||Random Choice|
"Mack The Knife"
The Righteous Brothers
|Top 2||Finale||"This Is the Night"|
"Here, There And Everywhere"
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"
Simon & Garfunkel
Rolling Stone featured Aiken on the cover of their July 2003 issue. In the cover article Aiken said, "One thing I've found of people in the public eye, either you're a womanizer or you've got to be gay. Since I'm neither one of those, people are completely concerned about me." In subsequent interviews he expressed frustration over continued questions about his sexual orientation, telling People magazine in 2006, "It doesn't matter what I say. People are going to believe what they want."
In 2004 Aiken published a book, Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life, co-written with Allison Glock, which debuted at #2 on the New York Times best-seller list. In the book Aiken focuses on his faith, his family, & the impact various people from his mother to his grandmother to even teachers have had on his life.
Aiken made a surprise appearance on the final show of American Idol season 5, when failed auditioner Michael Sandecki returned to the show to receive a "Golden Idol" award for Best Impersonator for his Clay Aiken-like appearance. Aiken appeared without introduction in a well-tailored designer suit and longer, darker hair with bangs, looking so different that many did not recognize him until he began to sing "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."
Aiken provided the narration for the second season (2007) of the American Idol Rewind series.
In 2010 Aiken went on the road with his friend, season 2 winner Ruben Studdard, for the Timeless tour, which ran from July 23 to August 14, 2010.
Aiken announced on July 30, 2010 that he will be touring in February and March, 2011 in conjunction with PBS to support his album Tried and True and accompanying live DVD Clay Aiken: Tried and True - Live. Aiken later released a single, "Bring Back My Love", on December 20, 2011 on Decca. HIs next album, Steadfast, was released on March 27, 2012.
Return to IdolEdit
Aiken returned to American Idol on April 18, 2013 and performed "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel, which many consider to be his defining moment during his time on the show.
In 2014, rumors surfaced about Aiken possibly running for the U.S House of Representives, possibly representing his home state of North Carolina as a Democrat. Aiken later confirmed those rumors when he announced that he would be running for Congress on February 5, 2014. North Carolina's Democratic primary, held on May 6, 2014, was declared too close to call despite Aiken holding on to a very slim lead over his opponent, former North Carolina commerce secretary Keith Crisco. However, Aiken suspended his campaign in the wake of Crisco's death on May 12, 2014 from injuries sustained in a fall at his home in Asheboro, North Carolina. Aiken won the primary the following day. He was defeated by incumbent Republican Renee Ellmers in the general election that took place on November 4, 2014.
New reality seriesEdit
During his time on the campaign trail, a camera crew from the Esquire network followed Aiken as he worked on his campaign. The documentry-style series will air on Esquire in early 2015.
In 2012, Aiken joined a cast of fellow celebrities, including Arsenio Hall, Aubrey O'Day, and Cheryl Tiegs, for the fifth season of Celebrity Apprentice. Despite putting in good efforts week after week, Aiken finished second to Hall on May 20, 2012.
- Measure of A Man (2003)
- Merry Christmas with Love (2004)
- A Thousand Different Ways (2006)
- On My Way Here (2008)
- Tried and True (2010)
- Steadfast (2012)
- All is Well (2006)
- "Bring Back My Love" (2011) (non-album single)