Considered one of the most successful runner-ups in history, Clay Aiken outshines the winner of the second season of “American Idol,” Ruben Studdard. He became a best-selling artist with singles like “Bridge over Troubled Water/This Is the Night,” “Invisible” and “The Way.” His three albums, Measure of a Man (2003), Merry Christmas with Love (2004) and the recently released A Thousand Different Ways (2006), received a good response from critics and fans.
In 2004, Aiken launched his memoir, “Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life” (co-written with Allison Glock), which debuted at No.2 on the “New York Times Best Seller List.” As a humanitarian, the singer founded the Bubel/Aiken Foundation (named after a mother of a child with autism who persuaded him to audition for American Idol) to help children with neurological disabilities integrate with common children. In addition, he was named the United States Fund for UNICEF National Ambassador (2004) and was asked to help ensure that children throughout the world receive a primary education. Aiken was recently appointed to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (September 2006), in which he will serve a two-year term.
However, the pop idol is scrutinized for rumors about his sexual orientation. Although at first vehemently denying that he was gay, Aiken now prefers a no-comment statement. In a recent interview, he said, “What I do in my private life is nobody’s business anymore, period. You know, it’s one thing to try to be open and talk to people and try to share as much as I can. And, of course, I want to do that. But, at some point, it just becomes really rude. You know what, I’m not spending my time with this anymore. This is a waste of my time.”
Childhood and Family:
A son of Vernon Grissom (died on February 27, 2004) and Faye Aiken, Clayton Holmes Grissom (later famous as Clay Aiken) was born on November 30, 1978, in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a collapsed lung. A year after his birth, his violent alcoholic father abandoned the family. Mother Faye was then married to Ray Parker (died in July 2002), who Clay considers his real father. Clay dropped “Grissom” from his surname and adopted his mother’s to his.
By age five, Clay had already performed in front of people singing Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers’ classic “Islands in the Stream” at a local high school dance. He was a regular member of the Raleigh Boys Choir as a teen and took part in several stage plays.
Clay also developed an interest in special education after directing YMCA children’s camps and serving as a substitute teacher for a group of autistic students. He decided to study Special Education at the University of North Carolina, during which he also auditioned for a spot in the second season of the talent search contest “American Idol.” Clay graduated with a bachelor’s degree in December 2003. Now, the singer resides in his home state of North Carolina.
Bridge Over Troubled Water
As an “American Idol” contestant, Clay Aiken was at first criticized for his modest look, but then received good reviews from the judges after crooning Heatwave’s “Always and Forever.” Gradually, Aiken stole hearts with his rendition of Neil Sedaka’s “Solitaire,” The Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup” and some other songs. He finally finished in second place, losing to Ruben Studdard, but became the second season’s best-selling star. Additionally, the new pop idol earned a Teen Choice nomination for Male TV Reality/Variety Star.
Aiken’s first official single, “Bridge Over Troubled Water/This Is the Night,” was released on June 10, 2003, and received RIAA platinum certification a month later. The single eventually garnered him a Billboard award for Best Selling Single of 2003 and became the fastest-selling single since Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” (1997).
The success was ensued by the solo album debut Measure of a Man (2003), which debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200 chart and went double platinum. The best-selling recording set off the hit single “Invisible,” “This Is the Night,” “The Way” and “I Will Carry You.” At the 2003 American Music Award ceremony, Aiken won the Fan’s Choice award and was nominated for the Favorite Male Artist (Pop or Rock). Embarking on major tours, Aiken co-headlined the “Independent Tour” with Kelly Clarkson, appeared in the summer tour “Not-a-Tour” and launched the Christmas-themed “The Joyful Noise Tour,” sponsored by Ronald McDonald House Charities.
In November 2004, the new idol issued the platinum holiday album Merry Christmas with Love, which collected two Billboard awards and an American Christian Music award. Accompanying the recording, Aiken performed with Barry Manilow and Yolanda Adams in his self-executive produced special music program A Clay Aiken Christmas (2004, TV).
Aiken, whose songs appeared in Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004, “The Way”) and Without a Paddle (2004, “Invisible”), tried acting with the role of Kenny, a cafeteria worker whose job was in jeopardy, in an episode of the sitcom “Scrubs” (2005). After performing 1950s-1990s hit songs in his “Jukebox Tour” in the summer of 2005, the singer launched his second “Joyful Noise” seasonal tour.
The 2004 New Music Weekly’s “Top 40 Male Artist of the Year” resumed his previous victories with the third studio album A Thousand Different Ways, released on September 19, 2006. The recording debuted at the second spot on the Billboard chart for selling over 205,000 copies in its first week of release. Produced by Jaymes Foster, A Thousand Different Ways offered ten cover songs and four original songs, one of which was co-written by Aiken.
“These are songs I heard growing up. I loved them then and I still love them today, but I sing them a little differently. They have new arrangements and I put my own singing style on some of them.” Clay Aiken on his album A Thousand Different Ways (2006)