Clay Aiken (born Clayton Holmes Grissom on November 30, 1978) is an American pop singer who began his rise to fame on the second season of the television program American Idol in 2003. Based on album sales surpassed only by Idol winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, Aiken has become the most successful male and the most successful runner-up in that show's history.
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, appeared as a guest star on Scrubs, participated in comedy skits on Kimmel and Saturday Night Live, and made his Broadway debut playing the role of Sir Robin in Monty Python's Spamalot in January 2008. He rejoined the cast as Sir Robin on September 19 and is scheduled to remain through January 4, 2009.
Aiken created the Bubel/Aiken Foundation in 2003, accepted a UNICEF ambassadorship in 2004, and in 2006 was appointed for a two-year term by President George W. Bush to a committee that 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.
Aiken released a new studio album (the first album of original material since 2003's Measure of A Man), entitled On My Way Here on May 6, 2008. This is his fourth full length studio album, including a Christmas album, and an album of covers. He has also released one EP.
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.
Clay 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 th
eir 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 (note, the format of this round has changed drastically since Aiken's season); 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 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.
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 has 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."
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 of the American Idol Rewind series.
On October 14, 2003, Aiken released his first solo album, Measure of a Man, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 and was, with 613,000 copies sold in its first week, the highest-selling debut for a solo artist in 10 years, and to date the highest debut of any Idol. The album received RIAA Double Platinum certification on November 17, 2003 (a Double Platinum plaque was presented to Aiken by Clive Davis on October 22, 2003, during Good Morning America). The album spawned both the hit single "Invisible" and his first hit song, "This Is the Night" (both co-written by British songwriter 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.
On November 16, 2004, Aiken released a holiday album titled 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 and tied Céline Dion's record for the highest debut by a holiday album in the history of Billboard magazine. 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.
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 of which Aiken co-wrote. Clive Davis is credited with the cover concept. One additional song, "Lover All Alone", written by Aiken and David Foster, is included with the album on iTunes. Debuting at #2 on the Billboard chart, A Thousand Different Ways made Aiken the fourth artist ever to have his first three albums debut in the Top 5 and scan over 200,000 in the first week.
Aiken's fourth album, All Is Well (an EP of four Christmas songs), was released exclusively to Walmart on November 28, 2006, and was released to iTunes as a digital download in December 2007.
Aiken stated in an April 2007 interview with People that he was looking at making a new album soon, and during his May 2007 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, he mentioned that he was in Los Angeles interviewing producers for the new album. Aiken found a song, "On My Way Here", written by OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, that struck a chord with him and became the inspiration for the album's theme in addition to the album title. On My Way Here was released May 6, 2008 on the RCA label. Mark 'Kipper' Eldridge is the producer.
On January 18, 2008, Aiken made his Broadway debut when he joined the cast of Monty Python's Spamalot for a four-month run, ending on May 4, 2008. He played Sir Robin, in the Tony Award-winning musical directed by Mike Nichols. In addition to Sir Robin, Aiken played the 1st Sentry, the 1st Guard and the Brother Maynard roles. On August 12, 2008, it was announced that Aiken would resume his role as Sir Robin beginning on September 19 and ending on January 4, 2009.
Aiken has made many television appearances. He sang The Star-Spangled Banner on opening night of the 2003 World Series and 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 the "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" with Bing Crosby via special effects. Aiken starred in and executive produced his first TV special (December 2004), titled A Clay Aiken Christmas, with special guests Barry Manilow, Yolanda Adams, and Megan Mullally; the special was released on DVD later that month. On July 4, 2004, Aiken was one of the performers in the A Capitol Fourth concert in Washington, D.C. and performed in the Good Morning America Summer Concert Series in 2004 and 2005.
Aiken was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in 2004 and participated in several skits. He has appeared multiple times on The Tonight Show, interviewing with Jay Leno as a guest in addition to singing, and has become a regular guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live. The Kimmel appearances often feature skits: in one, Jimmy Kimmel's then girlfriend Sarah Silverman confessed to an affair with Aiken, and in another, Aiken expressed his distaste for Kimmel's jokes about him by beating him up. In May 2007, he spent the first half of his interview on horseback while talking about his recent UNICEF trip to Afghanistan. A few weeks later he appeared as a spokesperson for "Guillermo's Mustache" in Kimmel's fictional DVD informercial shown on the Dancing With the Stars finale. Aiken made his acting debut on Ed in early 2004, playing himself, and in 2005, he was interviewed by Erica Kane on All My Children. He played the role of cafeteria worker Kenny on the Scrubs episode "My Life in Four Cameras". In December 2006, he made an appearance as himself on Days of our Lives.
After hosting and performing in the American Idol Christmas special in 2003, Aiken has had several subsequent hosting jobs. He was a special correspondent for The Insider for the 2005 Emmy Awards, and on the sets of the sitcom Reba with Reba McEntire and Dancing With the Stars. He co-hosted The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet in 2006, and on November 17, 2006, filled in for Regis Philbin as guest host on Live with Regis and Kelly. During an interview, Aiken covered Kelly Ripa's mouth with his hand. The incident drew considerable media reaction after Ripa complained at length about the incident on her show the following Monday. Aiken made fun of the controversy on the 2006 American Music Awards the next night with Tori Spelling. On the The Tyra Banks Show in 2006, filmed before the Ripa incident, Aiken mentioned wanting to have his own talk show someday, and Banks switched seats with him and let him interview her for one segment of the show.
In November 2007, Aiken was a contestant on a celebrity edition of the game show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?. Playing for his charity, the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, he chose to drop out after the ninth question with $300,000, despite having a copy and a save from a very smart 5th grader at his disposal. If he had played the tenth question, he would have won $500,000; Aiken and the 5th grader both had the correct answer.
From February through April 2004, Aiken and Kelly Clarkson embarked on the "Independent Tour" as co-headliners. Following this tour, he was scheduled for a few summer solo tour dates, but demand ultimately led to the booking of 50 dates across the United States, resulting in what many fans called the "Not-a-Tour". Disney was the exclusive sponsor of this summer tour, promoting their Aladdin Special Edition 2-Disc DVD with a preview of Aiken's rendition of "Proud of Your Boy", a song originally intended for the first release of the film but cut when the Aladdin storyline changed during production. A music video featuring Aiken is on the Aladdin Special Edition DVD. On this tour, he also performed a duet, "Without You," which was released on Kimberley Locke's 2004 debut album One Love.
In November 2004, Aiken launched his third tour of the year, which revolved around a Christmas theme. "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 also participated at each concert.
During the summer of 2005, Aiken, with a seven-piece band and three back-up singers, toured 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 being considered for his next album.
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 had 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, British Columbia, on November 2, and ended in Clearwater, Florida on December 30. According to Pollstar, Aiken's first five tours grossed $28 million dollars.
In December 2006, Aiken began his third Christmas tour, comprised of performances in 18 Midwest and East Coast cities. Aiken was supported by local orchestras, which also opened the concerts with a program of seasonal music.
A 23-date tour in support of his third album, A Thousand Different Ways, began on July 4, 2007 and ended in Orlando, Florida on August 19. On this tour Aiken hired local symphonies to back him, along with tour regulars Jesse Vargas, pianist, conductor and arranger; Sean McDaniel, drummer; and Quiana Parler and Angela Fisher, backup singers. Three days into the tour, Aiken and a woman were involved in an in-flight altercation in which she allegedly shoved him. As a result of the scuffle, Aiken and the woman were later questioned by the FBI. Aiken told ET that he had been sleeping when the incident occurred.
His fourth annual Christmas tour, "Christmas in the Heartland," began on November 26, 2007 in Wichita, Kansas. That 21-date tour ended on December 22, 2007 in Merrillville, Indiana.
Faith and Philosophy
In 2004 Aiken made the New York Times Best Seller List, debuting at #2, with his "inspirational memoir" titled Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life, written with Allison Glock, and published by Random House. Barely mentioning American Idol, in the book he instead turned his focus to the people who had the most influence in his life — his mother, grandparents, siblings, teachers, and friends — and to the importance of religion in his life.
While not self-identified as a Christian music artist, Aiken was featured in Christian Music Planet as an "American Idol Christian" in 2004, and in a cover story, "Clay Aiken's Balancing Act," in the January/February 2005 issue. His pre-Idol demo albums included several selections of contemporary Christian music (or CCM) and gospel songs. A performance of the Commodores' "Jesus is Love" at the American Music Awards in 2003 earned Aiken and Ruben Studdard a standing ovation. Aiken has sung a few CCM songs at his pop concerts, and has made Christmas albums, Christmas television specials and performances, and Christmas tours essential elements of his career.
He described himself in Learning to Sing as a proud Southern Baptist who had journeyed away from those roots in his late teens in search of a religion with more liberal social policies, and then returned to that church because of family and social ties although he remains at odds with the church on some issues. When asked in a PBS Kids interview to name his idols, he responded, "When people ask me what three people I’d like to have dinner with, living or dead, I say Jesus Christ, Mr. Rogers, and Jimmy Carter."
Aiken makes it clear that he is aware not everyone shares his religious beliefs and it is not his intention to press these beliefs on others. When he worked as a camp counselor at the YMCA, he challenged other camp faculty by insisting that singing "overtly Christian songs" was inappropriate, as some of the kids were Jewish. "I stood firm... no child is going to have a spiritual crisis on my watch." His public philosophy, geared towards inclusion and service to others, reflects his stance that decisions about religion should be made at home.
Aiken has donated his time and his voice to multiple benefit events and concerts, including the 2004 Rosalynn Carter Benefit, the America's Promise Benefit, and Heather Headley's Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS benefit, "Home," where he sang a duet with Headley. He was one of the celebrity readers for the Arthur Celebrity Audiobook (Stories for Heroes Series), which benefits the Bubel/Aiken Foundation and other charities, and served as spokesperson for the series. He was also a spokesperson for the 2004 Toys for Tots drive, and is an ambassador for the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
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; Aiken was sworn in September 14, 2006 by HHS Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Wade F. Horn, Ph.D. In April 2008, Aiken told People Magazine that he was too busy to do as much as he would like, but "If there's something I can do remotely, I would've been happy to do it."
The Bubel/Aiken Foundation
Aiken has been a dedicated advocate for education and for children's causes. His interest in autism issues led him, along with Diane Bubel (whose son Michael is diagnosed with autism and was tutored by Aiken), 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 its mission, and also presents Able to Serve awards to support the volunteer efforts of children with physical and mental disabilities. In July 2005, Raleigh's WRAL-TV reported on an internet campaign mounted by critics questioning how Aiken's foundation used its money. WRAL news hired an independent accountant who reported that program services totaled $920,000 in 2004—around 85 cents on every dollar donated—which is considered a solid percentage compared to other charities. CNN picked up the story, and Aiken appeared on Showbiz Tonight to provide details about the Foundation's programs. In late 2004, the BAF was awarded a $500,000 grant by the US government to develop a K-12 model for inclusion in community service projects to be used in schools across the country. In addition, State Farm 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. A fund-raising gala held in Raleigh at the end of March 2007 netted over $330,000 to fund BAF programs and in June, the Executive Director announced a goal of supporting 100 "Let's ALL Play" camps in 2008.
In November 2004, Aiken was appointed a U.S. Fund for UNICEF National Ambassador, with a mission to help ensure that children everywhere are afforded a primary education. After the tsunami at the end of 2004, 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 to raise money for tsunami victims. He was the 2005 spokesperson for the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF drive.
Aiken has made five trips for UNICEF. In March 2005, he went to the tsunami-stricken Banda Aceh area to raise awareness of the need to restore education quickly to the children who survived this disaster. UNICEF sent Aiken on another mission in May 2005, 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. UNICEF sent him to Kabul and Bamyan in Afghanistan in April 2007, where he was able to spend time with children in their classrooms; he also visited a health center for women and children where he administered oral polio vaccinations to babies. He observed that Afghani children, after being forbidden for so many years by the Taliban regime to attend school, are eager to return to school now that they are once again allowed to receive an education. Aiken spent his 2007 Christmas in Mexico with the children affected by the floods in the states of Chiapas and Tabasco. In late June and early July 2008, UNICEF sent Aiken to Somalia and Kenya.
Aiken was voted the Favorite Reality Star of 2003 by TV Guide readers and “the most-loved reality star of all time” in a TV Guide poll conducted in the summer of 2005. In February 2006, People magazine readers voted Aiken their "Favorite American Idol".
No one is quite sure where the term "Claymates" originated, but Aiken has trademarked the term. While in Los Angeles in September 2006 for a CD signing and appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Aiken talked with Jann Carl of Entertainment Tonight about the names various sub-groups have given themselves: "Claysians" (Asian fans), "Claynadians" (Canadian fans), "Clayropeans" (European fans) and "Claydawgs" (male fans). She then teased him about having his own "Clay Nation". At the CD signing, two young fans asked Clay to autograph their shoulderblades and then went to the local tattoo parlor to make them permanent; later that day on Jimmy Kimmel Live they were brought on stage to show the tattoos. Although some of his fans have been criticized at times by the media as being obsessive, he defends the group as a whole. When Kimmel said to Aiken that his fans were "crazy", Aiken stated that they were merely "enthusiastic". In 2003, in anticipation of the release of Measure of a Man, fans all over the country decided to get together and hold parties to celebrate the release of the CD and purchase copies at midnight. In 2006, for the release of A Thousand Different Ways, release parties were held in more than 80 cities in the United States, Canada, and Singapore.
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