Clay Aiken (born Clayton Holmes Grissom on November 30, 1978) is an American popular music singer who rose to fame on the American Idol television program, and who has become the most successful second-place finisher in that show's history.
Aiken, who changed his last name from Grissom to his mother's maiden name, was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. He attended Raleigh's Leesville Road High School before enrolling at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Although his American Idol activities temporarily delayed his academic pursuits, Aiken graduated with a bachelor's degree in special education in December of 2003. He found his interest in special education while directing YMCA childrens' camps as a teenager; at age 19 he served as a substitute teacher for a classroom of students with autism at Brentwood Elementary School. 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.
Television viewers' first glimpse of Aiken came 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 they were immediately impressed once he began singing Heatwave's "Always and Forever." 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 from the show on his first try, a performance of Journey's "Open Arms." He finished third in his semifinal group of eight behind eventual winner Ruben Studdard and eventual third-place finisher Kimberley Locke. 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. Within the first few weeks, he (aided by a makeover from the show's producers), and Studdard emerged as the clear favorites of both the judges and the fans. While Aiken was especially noted for his performance of ballads, such as the dramatically-lit rendition of Neil Sedaka's "Solitaire," his upbeat performances, including The Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup," were also met with considerable enthusiasm from the voters.
In the end, Aiken came in a close second in the contest, with Studdard winning by a narrow margin. (The result was somewhat controversial as some hypothesized that Idol's voting system was incapable of handling the number of attempted calls, thereby possibly yielding a random result.) Though the show's "first runner-up," he has since gone on to be the second season's best-selling star.
The single "Bridge Over Troubled Water"/This Is the Night," released June 10, 2003, has gone platinum. 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 single to go platinum since 2002, when Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance" sold a million copies after being out for over a year.
In October of 2003 Aiken released his first solo album, Measure of a Man, which debuted at #1 on the "Billboard 200" and was, with over 600,000 copies sold in its first week, the fastest-selling debut for a solo artist in 10 years. The album eventually was certified double platinum and is believed to have shipped the necessary units to be certified triple platinum but that award has never been issued. The album did spawn the hit single "Invisible." The album also contained Aiken's first hit song, "This Is the Night," which had debuted at #1 on both the "Billboard Hot 100" and the Hot 100 Single Sales Chart. 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.
Due to speculation within American popular culture that he is gay, Aiken has been the subject of gay jokes by Conan O'Brien, Kathy Griffin, Saturday Night Live, and Mad TV, among others. While there are a few communities  among his many internet fan sites that speculate about his sexual orientation, the majority do not. Aiken denied he was gay in a Rolling Stone interview in June, 2003, and, in fact, he good-naturedly lampooned such speculation in the opening monologue featuring him as a member of a gay men's chorus when he appeared as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live's February 7, 2004 show .
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 a few summer tour dates, but high demand ultimately led to the booking of over 50 dates across the United States, culminating in what many fans called the "Not-a-Tour." Disney's Aladdin Special Edition 2-Disc DVD was the exclusive sponsor of Clay's Summer Concert Tour. Each concert previewed Aiken's rendition of "Proud of Your Boy," a song originally intended for the film but cut when the Aladdin storyline changed during production. The entire music video performed by Aiken is presented on the Aladdin Special Edition 2-Disc DVD.
In November 2004, Aiken launched his third tour of the year, which revolved around a Christmas theme. "The Joyful Noise Tour" 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. "The Joyful Noise Tour" was well received by fans, with sellouts or near-sellouts at every venue. "The Joyful Noise Tour"'s official sponsor was Ronald McDonald House Charities.
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" and tied Céline Dion's record for the highest debut by a holiday album in the history of Billboard magazine. The album went platinum in 6 weeks and was the best-selling holiday album of 2004. 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 of 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 tested a few songs which may appear on the next album. As of September 2005, he is working on the new album, tentatively scheduled for release early in 2006. The Executive Producer of the album is Jaymes Foster-Levy. Aiken will be touring North America with his second "Joyful Noise Tour" in November/December 2005. A paperback edition of Learning to Sing is to be released in November.
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 has led to a recurring guest reporting position on the show.
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 recently presented with a $500,000 grant from the US government to develop a curriculum for inclusion to be used in schools across the country.
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 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (where he sung a duet with Heather Headley). He was one of the celebrity readers for the "Arthur Celebrity Audiobook (Stories for Heroes Series)," which benefits the BAF 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® (RMHC®).
In 2004, he was appointed U.S. 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 for 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 Uganda, to raise awareness for the plight of children in this civil-war torn country.
Aiken is the 2005 spokesperson for the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF drive.
Some of Aiken's fans have been fondly 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 and the group as a whole has been seen and criticized at times as being obsessive, both in the media and by Aiken himself. Another variation for Canadian fans is "Claynadians." The umbrella name including all of his many fan groups is "The Clay Nation." The fandom includes a wide range of ages. Entire families can be seen enjoying themselves at Aiken's concerts.
2003: The American Idol Tour
- 40-City U.S. Tour (June - August 2003)
- Two-month arena tour starring American Idol 2 finalists.
2004: The Independent Tour, co-headlining with Kelly Clarkson
- 40-City U.S. Tour (February - April 2004)
- Kelly and Clay alternated who opened and who closed the concert. Each concert ended with a duet of "Open Arms".
- The opening act was the Beu Sisters.
2004: The Not a Tour 2004 Summer Solo Tour
- 50-City 2 hour U.S. Tour (July - September 2005)
- The "2004 Summer Tour"'s official sponsor was Disney, marking their very first agreement to sponsor a concert tour.
- The concert included a showing of the "Proud of Your Boy" video that Clay did for Disney and was included in the "Aladdin" release.
- Opening acts were Cherie for the first half and Ben Jelen for the second half.
2004: The Joyful Noise Tour
- 28-City Holiday concert 2 hour concert (November - December 2004)
- Used 30 piece Orchestras and both adult and childrens choirs invited from each host city
- The "Joyful Noise Tour"'s official sponsor was Ronald McDonald House Charities.
2005: The JukeBox Tour
- 40-City tour of cities mostly in the east and Toronto (July - September 2005)
- 2 1/2 hour show including music from each decade from the 50's to the 2000's including some current releases and future releases planned by Clay.
- Over 70 songs were included in this concert, some incorporated as melodies from each decade.
- There was no opening act, however each of the 3 backup singers contributed a solo and some spotlight segments to the concert.
2005: The Joyful Noise 2005 Tour
- 40-concert U.S. and Canada tour (November - December 2005)
- The concert includes a supporting cast recruited from each host city, to perform the theatrical component that tells the story that threads the music together.
- The opening act and contributing musician is pop-classical pianist William Joseph
Awards and nominations
- 2003: Won - Fan's Choice Award
- 2003: Nominated - Favorite Male Artist - Pop or Rock
- 2003: Won - Best Selling Single of 2003
- 2004: Won - Top40 Male Artist of the Year
American Christian Music Awards
- 2005: Won - Outstanding Yule CD - Merry Christmas With Love
- Measure of a Man (10-2003) 2.7 million copies sold in the USA #1 US (Debut)
- Merry Christmas With Love (11-2004) 1 million copies sold in the USA #4 US (Debut)
Singles released to retail
- "Bridge Over Troubled Water / This Is The Night" (6-2003) certified platinum 7/13/03 #1 US (Debut)
- "The Way / Solitaire" (3-2004) - 322,000 sold in the US as of 9/26/04 #4 US (Debut)
Singles charting on radio
- 2003 "This Is The Night"
- 2003 "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
- 2003 "Invisible"
- 2003 "The First Noel"
- 2003 "Silver Bells" featuring Kimberley Locke
- 2004 "The Way"
- 2004 "I Will Carry You"
- 2004 "Solitaire"
- 2004 "Winter Wonderland"
- 2004 "Hark the Herald Angels Sing / O Come All Ye Faithful"
- 2004 "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
- 2004 "Mary, Did You Know?"
- 2004 "O Holy Night"