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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.
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.
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 a typical pop 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 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.
Rolling Stone featured Aiken on the cover of its 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."
Aiken made a surprise appearance on the final show of the fifth season of American Idol, 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." The second season of the American Idol Rewind series (2007) was narrated by Aiken.
Clay is reportedly one of the top 10 earners of Idol, earning an estimated $1.5 million in 2010.