Clay Aiken (born Clayton Holmes Grissom; November 30, 1978) is an American singer, songwriter, television personality, actor, author, politician and activist. Aiken was the 2014 Democratic nominee in the North Carolina 2nd congressional district election.
Aiken began his rise to fame placing second on the second season of the television program American Idol in 2003. He and the 2003 Winner Ruben Studdard were both offered recording contracts by RCA Records, 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 (2004), A Thousand Different Ways (2006), and the Christmas EP, All is Well (2006). 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.
After the release of On My Way Here, Aiken left RCA and later signed with Decca Records. His first album with Decca, Tried and True, was released June 1, 2010, and his second Steadfast, was released March 26, 2012.
In the years following his American Idol appearance, Aiken has launched eleven 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 and his televised live concert special in 2010 on PBS Tried & True Live!. 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, Drop Dead Diva, 30 Rock and participated in comedy skits on numerous other shows. He also competed in the fifth season of The Celebrity Apprentice and placed second in the finals to Arsenio Hall.
Aiken created the National Inclusion Project (formerly the Bubel/Aiken Foundation) in 2003, accepted a UNICEF ambassadorship in 2004, a position he held for 9 1/2 years until 2013 when he gave it up in order to run for Congress. He was the “UNICEF Ambassador of Education for All Children Worldwide”; he traveled extensively on their behalf in this role. 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.
In 2014, Aiken announced his intentions to run for Congress in North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district. He won the Democratic primary held on May 6, 2014, but lost to Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers in the general election on November 4, 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, co-hosting and performing 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 IceCaps and the Carolina Hurricanes hockey teams, and performed it at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game at the RBC Center in Raleigh. 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). Estranged from his abusive birth father Vernon Grissom and with his mother’s and grandfather Alvis Aiken’s permission, at the age of 19 he legally changed his surname from Grissom to his mother Faye’s maiden name, 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. In 1995, Clay started working at the YMCA. Still in high school, Clay learned quickly that he could make a difference in the lives of young people. 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. It was during that experience that he decided to finish college and become a special education teacher. 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.
On August 8, 2008, Aiken announced, on his personal blog, the birth of his son in North Carolina: “My dear friend, Jaymes, and I are so excited to announce the birth of Parker Foster Aiken.” The child’s mother, Jaymes Foster, is the sister of record producer David Foster, Executive Producer of Aiken’s last three albums on the RCA label. “The little man is healthy, happy, and as loud as his daddy,” Aiken wrote. “Mama Jaymes is doing quite well also.” In his book, Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life, Aiken said, “It’s a Southern tradition to be given your first name from your grandmama’s maiden name.” Aiken’s middle name came from his paternal grandmother’s maiden name; he and Foster used the married surnames of their mothers to name their son.
After several years of public speculation, Aiken came out as gay in a September 2008 interview with People magazine. In April 2009, Aiken was honored by the Family Equality Council advocacy group at its annual benefit dinner in New York City.
On November 18, 2010, Aiken went to Washington, D.C., on behalf of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) at a Capitol Hill briefing talking about anti-gay bullying.
Faith and philosophy
Aiken was born into a Baptist family. As a toddler, in 1980, he attended Leesville Baptist Church every week. According to his book, Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life, he was involved in Bible school, choir,and the youth group. The book made The New York Times Best Seller List in 2004, debuted at number two. It was written with Allison Glock and published by Random House. Barely mentioning American Idol, Aiken 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. He describes himself as a proud Southern Baptist who journeyed away from those roots in his late teens in search of a religion with more liberal social policies. He 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.”
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.
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