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Oct 22 04 1:10 PM
Clay Aiken -- Idol to Icon
by Sherry Sochacka -- 05/29/2003
Sherry Sochacka attempts to understand why Clay Aiken is receiving such continued adulation, even after the show has ended. To do this, she zones in on two situations involving Clay.
The phenomenon that is Clay Aiken transcends age, country, class, gender, religion, culture, and probably color. People are staggered by the way that he has touched their lives and their hearts.
I know because I have had the pleasure of receiving lots of emails from them. People are using words like ï¿½magnetism,ï¿½ ï¿½charisma,ï¿½ ï¿½magical,ï¿½ ï¿½intriguing,ï¿½ ï¿½that special something,ï¿½ ï¿½enchanting,ï¿½ ï¿½infectious smile,ï¿½ ï¿½truly unique person,ï¿½ ï¿½a boy with charm and character,ï¿½ ï¿½endearing,ï¿½ ï¿½extremely special young man,ï¿½ ï¿½stunned and delighted by this talent,ï¿½ ï¿½the most genuine, sincere smile I have ever seen,ï¿½ and ï¿½a burst of sunï¿½ during ï¿½dark days.ï¿½
At the least, Clay is fervently admired. But more than this, young and old are amazed to discover that they love again, sometimes after many years.
After writing Clay's X-Factor, I became aware that I still hadnï¿½t fully captured that ï¿½indefinable somethingï¿½ that Clay was doing for the world. I had gotten near it, but realized that there was something more.
My mind began to dwell on two events in particular. One, the way Clay handled the whole ï¿½Vincentï¿½ incident. And two, the way Clay handled Ruben Studdard winning, amongst accusations that the judges were biased (especially Simon Cowell), and that the phone lines were jammed all evening so many people couldnï¿½t vote.
Letï¿½s start with ï¿½Vincent.ï¿½ It has been reported that the producers added in extra words to the song just before the show, to supposedly make it longer. This must have been confusing and unsettling to Clay, who as a consummate professional always knew his words inside out. It led to his missing a few lines, although he covered it up incredibly well, like the professional that he is, so that people who didnï¿½t know the song wouldnï¿½t have necessarily noticed it until Paula mentioned it. It was then apparently reported to the studio audience that the words had been changed at the last minute. But the TV show never mentioned it.
And nor did Clay. Now, a lesser mortal would have started protesting their innocence. I would have. I would have made sure the TV audience knew it wasnï¿½t my fault. But not Clay. He just stood there and took the flak from the judges. When Paula said that his nerves were getting the better of him, he just opened his eyes wider, as if in acknowledgment.
To me it demands someone special to do that. Most people would not have held their counsel in that way. Instead, Clay just blithely announced later that he would ï¿½Bring it next time,ï¿½ to make up for it.
Clay didnï¿½t store that event up as resentment towards Ruben, or against the producers, or anyone. Nor did he store up anger from learning that many of his fans had not been able to get through to vote. He didn't store up anger against the judges, particularly Simon Cowell, for disparaging his fabulous voice as ï¿½Broadwayï¿½ or ï¿½American Idol the Musical.ï¿½ He didnï¿½t store up anger about the final showï¿½s evident manipulation of signs and symbols, intentional or not, such as Ruben punching out Clay, super-smooth Ruben ordering around Clay as ï¿½geek,ï¿½ or Rubenï¿½s dark, majestic dressing room as opposed to Clayï¿½s pink and flowery one.
No, when the result was announced, Clay seemed incredibly pleased that Ruben had won, and just grinned at him with that infectious smile full of love and affection. Okay, so Clay said that he had an idea beforehand that it could have been Ruben, because heï¿½d glanced at the results card, and the name on it seemed longer than his. That would have averted a surprised or shocked reaction from him, but even so, he seemed genuinely happy about Ruben winning and went on to make an affectionate congratulatory speech.
First off, as soon as the result was announced, he gave Ruben a hug and started chanting ï¿½Ru-ben, Ru-ben,ï¿½ acknowledging him as the winner. What a generous thing to do! He then proceeded to make an amazing speech, which I would like to quote because it moved me so much.
Ryan: ï¿½How are you?ï¿½ Clay: ï¿½Oh Iï¿½m doing great. You know what? One of the most talented people I know, one of the best friends I have, Iï¿½m so proud of him. So proud of everybody on this stage ... I couldnï¿½t ... I couldnï¿½t be in a better ... I couldnï¿½t have had a better experience than this, I am so proud of everybody up here, myself too, hey.ï¿½ Ryan: ï¿½So no hard feelings between to two of you?ï¿½ Clay: ï¿½Absolutely not! Absolutely. Iï¿½m gonna beat him up later, for stealing my title!ï¿½ (Laughs, and play-fights with Ruben) Ruben: ï¿½I love you man.ï¿½ (Puts his arm around Clay). Clay: ï¿½I love you.ï¿½ And then: Clay: ï¿½You know what? Weï¿½ll compete again later, on the charts or something!ï¿½ (Laughs, and they playfully push each other).
Two words spring to mind ï¿½ grace and dignity. Clay was dignified and gracious in defeat. Yes I know he hasnï¿½t really lost and heï¿½s got a recording contract too, but it was still something heï¿½d hoped for and dreamed about, worked for over six months, lived and breathed, and put himself through hell for ï¿½ and Ruben got it instead.
He could have been upset, angry, resentful, and he wasnï¿½t. Instead, he was laughing and joking, and saying how wonderful Ruben was. He must have been disappointed, I imagine, deep down, but he showed no sign of it. Then he went around all the people on stage ï¿½ his family, Rubenï¿½s family, and gave them a hug or a handshake.
This young man, only 24 years old, has a maturity far beyond his years, and beyond what many people ever attain. He has a myriad of wonderful qualities. He also has a wonderful infectious smile ï¿½ it lights up his whole face and makes others want to smile right back. He has an incredible voice which touches hearts. He exudes love when he is on stage, and gets it back a thousand times over.
His vastly improved appearance is an integral part of that love. I wish I could say it wasnï¿½t, but it is. Human beings can be fickle, fallible creatures, and are more likely to love someone if they look cute and vulnerable.
I think Clay finds this difficult to come to terms with. In an interview, he said, ï¿½Iï¿½m no different. Iï¿½m not different at all. The wrapping is different ï¿½ the gift is the same.ï¿½ He must wonder why we all suddenly adore him, when we didnï¿½t before. He may even be quite distrusting of the adulation, for that very reason, or even be scared by it. But the wrapping is needed to deliver the gift.
His gorgeous, cute, expressive face beams out love to others, and elicits it in return. His voice comes from Paradise and sings of love and passion. Yet we have also seen him scared, vulnerable, and at the mercy of the voters every week. It is a heady mix.
Clay Aiken has achieved the impossible. He has opened peopleï¿½s hearts to love. He is loved by a lot of people. In loving him, these people have opened their hearts. They have become people who love, and who in turn want to spread that love to others. He has become a major force for love in America, and beyond.
Not only this, I would argue that Clay Aiken elicits all sorts of other qualities from people too. In watching his grace and dignity, they discover their own grace and dignity, and become graceful and dignified. They watch his generosity of spirit, and become more generous and more spiritual. They watch his ability to risk being himself and being seen, and they start to risk letting themselves be seen too. He brings forth humankindï¿½s best and noblest qualities.
Clay Aiken has become an idol, crowned or not. He has also been called an American icon. For example, Alexandra Corbin, in a letter in the NY Times, ï¿½Why Clay Will Always Win,ï¿½ calls him ï¿½a vital and enjoyable representation of America in an exhilarating story of pure will and a willingness to change.ï¿½
I believe the word ï¿½iconï¿½ to be a fitting one for him. I think he has achieved that global stature. He himself may be bewildered by it, but that is part of his charm. Just by being himself, he has had an incredible influence on an awful lot of people.
Through him, their lives have been changed for the better, and they have become better people. As one fan sums it up: ï¿½It may sound silly to somebody who does not know about Clay or the show but he makes me want to become a better person.ï¿½ Clay Aiken has shown us how to love each other again. He is an inspiration to millions.
Barbara Fox goes one step further and observes: ï¿½Clay (unknowingly) has taken what our pop culture has vilified and exulted and placed it back into its rightful place. Clay has taken LOVE ï¿½ its purity, its depth, its transforming power, its physical manifestations from pop cultureï¿½s idolatrous ï¿½animal instinctï¿½ and brought it back into the true ï¿½human experience.ï¿½ Clay is eliciting in each of us the need to experience love in the purest sense.ï¿½
ï¿½Clayniacsï¿½ are not experiencing Clay mania for no reason. ï¿½Shakinï¿½ Aikenï¿½ has touched peopleï¿½s lives in a way that has not been experienced since the days of the Beatles or Princess Diana. What do icons do? They engender mass adulation and passion. They fulfill a need in human hearts. Perhaps human beings in this uncertain post-secular age need someone to worship ï¿½ and at the moment, Clay is it.
The final results show was watched by millions of people across America. It had become a national obsession. It was also watched in diluted form by many in other countries. It is said that it was watched by an incredible half of American teenage girls. Last week, fan-mail was already five feet high.
Sure, the Clay Aiken image has not only been engendered by his personal qualities and gifts. It was also created by the instigator of American Idol (Simon Fuller), 19 Entertainment, Fox TV network, financiers, producers, directors, cable TV, amazingly gifted songwriters, all the thousands of contestants, voice coaches, studio audio and visual technicians, the judges, venue managers, makeover artists, contact-lens manufacturers, musicians, stylists, the voters, the audience, phone companies, the media, clothes designers and makers, people who ran the catering and the house, etc.
No human endeavor of any import is made in isolation. Yes, Clay Aikenï¿½s image depended on these people. The phenomenon that he became could not have existed without them.
The age he lives in has also played its part. People perhaps needed a ï¿½saviorï¿½ ï¿½ a force for the good.
But his image also could not have existed without him. The winner of the parallel show in Britain last year, Will Young, had a similarly heavenly voice and a lovely personality. Yet he didnï¿½t rise to icon status.
Clay Aiken did. And he did it on his own merit, with all the support mentioned above. He overcame adversity, and won peopleï¿½s hearts in the process.
Clay himself said that whatever happened in the results show, there would be a rhyme or reason to it in the greater scheme of things.
I believe that Clayï¿½s iconic status is the greater for not winning. I believe that Rubenï¿½s is the greater for having won. But that is another story, and one that I donï¿½t have the knowledge to tell.
Will it last? Only time, CD sales, and show bookings will tell. The American Idol 2 show has fallen silent. The lights have gone out, the people all gone. America is mourning its passing. What is certain is that Clay Aiken has touched peopleï¿½s lives in a way they will never forget, leaving the world a better place.
Oct 22 04 1:14 PM
Quote:'IDOL' HATE STUNS STAR
By MICHAEL STARR
May 29, 2003 -- 'THE View" co-host Star Jones says she's received hundreds of hateful e-mails for her on-air support of "American Idol 2" winner Ruben Studdard.
"I have to tell you, being on this show six years, I have never received such vicious e-mails . . . 'Take Ruben and go back to Africa,' vicious things," Jones said on "The View" yesterday to gasps from the audience.
"I'm shocked at the level of acrimony, at the viciousness," Jones told The Post. "I'm used to people coming after me - I'm on TV and it's my job to express my opinion.
"But to take my true excitement over ['American Idol'] and match it with a young man who won and to make it a race issue is disheartening more than anything.
"I'm more offended that in this day and age I'd get such racist and hateful e-mail."
Jones said that "about 10 percent" of the 5,000-plus e-mails she received over the course of discussing "American Idol" have been nasty.
"I was such a big Gore supporter and was pretty verbal in my support of the Democrats in the last election . . . and I got a lot of mail saying, 'You're a liberal b**ch,' " Jones said. "But I didn't get the level of racist anger I've received over this.
"It's really sad that some people took a wonderful way for people to have their dreams come true and turn it into a lesson on race relations."
Throughout the run of "AI2," Jones had been a big booster of Studdard, the soft-spoken "velvet teddy bear" from Birmingham, Ala. who eventually won the contest, barely beating runner-up Clay Aiken.
Oct 22 04 1:19 PM
Quote:What's Next for Clay Aiken? Finalist Makes Return Visit to WRAL
What's Next For Clay Aiken? 'Idol' Finalist Makes Return Visit To WRAL
Aiken Set To Start Recording Album In L.A.
POSTED: 2:00 p.m. EDT May 30, 2003
UPDATED: 3:50 p.m. EDT May 30, 2003
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The frenzy over "American Idol" is not about to slow down anytime soon for Raleigh's Clay Aiken.
"I'm perfectly happy with the outcome. I've turned out OK myself," Aiken said of finishing second in the "American Idol" competition.
After making the rounds in New York for a week, Aiken is back in town and stopped by the WRAL Studios to say thanks to his fans and clear up the controversy over the final "American Idol" vote.
"It really hasn't slowed down yet. I think we've been been busier since the show's been over than I think when we were doing it," he said.
Aiken finished second in the television singing competition to Ruben Studdard of Birmingham, Ala.
Since the "American Idol" finale on May 21, Aiken has been in the Big Apple, making appearances on numerous television programs, including the "CBS Early Show," "Regis and Kelly" and "Larry King Live."
So what has Aiken to say about the controversy over phone voting?
"The controversy concerns me, because being part of the show for as long as I was, I'm very aware of how difficult it was for people to get through, but that's because so many people were voting. People were voting for Ruben, too, and I'm 100 percent confident -- 115 percent confident -- that everything was done fairly. Ruben got 130,000 more votes than me and that's perfectly understandable. It was hard to get through in Raleigh because, hopefully, most of Raleigh was voting for me," he said with a big smile.
Hundreds of well wishes sent in to WRAL.com's Clay Aiken Fan Forum were printed and presented to Clay during his visit. He thanked everyone who took time to write and said he and his mother will enjoy reading them.
What he has trouble believing is all the support has -- from the 8,000 fans who watched the final show at the RBC Center -- "I was completely blown away" -- to the hundreds of well-wishes sent in to WRAL.com.
So what is next?
Aiken is headed back to New York City where he and Studdard will perform at Giants Stadium Sunday. Then the duo is off to Toronto to help promote the Canadian version of "Idol." Then they head back to Los Angeles to start recording their respective albums, which are scheduled for release in August or September.
Aiken and Studdard each have a CD single coming out June 10.
"It was going to be "This is the Night," then the response was so good for "Bridge Over Troubled Water" that we decided to change it," he said.
Aiken and Studdard became close friends during the competition and that friendhip continues to strengthen despite their busy schedules.
"I talk to him every day," Aiken said. "I talked to him last night as I was headed to a movie and I said, 'I called you this afternoon and you didn't call me back.'"
Aiken returns to Raleigh August 6 with Studdard and other "Idol" finalists for the sold out "American Idols Live!" tour at the RBC Center.
Not bad for a guy who did not win the title, but ended up with a whole lot more.
"I'm perfectly happy with the outcome. I've turned out OK myself," he said.
Oct 22 04 1:22 PM
Quote:Clay and Ruben Save the Universe
by Carolyn Gray -- 05/30/2003
As Carolyn watched American Idol progress, she became convinced that it is more than just a TV show about singing. Ruben and Clay provide good role models and people have come out in huge numbers to support them.
For the past three months I have watched American Idol and become more and more convinced that we have been witnessing something more than a television show about a singing competition. I began to watch it because my son, who is 10, loved it and it is one of the few things he still wants to do with me.
As the weeks went by I started to be very glad that my son was seeing role models like Clay and Ruben. My son is intelligent, creative, compassionate, and not tremendously athletic. I tremble to think what he will go through as a teenager in a world that tries to push men into a very narrow image of what a man should be. Yet, here, on our very own television, were two men who kept getting millions of votes every week by being intelligent, creative, compassionate, and not tremendously athletic. Better yet, they are both proud of who they are and have no intentions of changing for anyone. Both Clay and Ruben are the best role models for young men on television I can think of.
As the weeks went on, an amazing thing happened. A nation that is fed images of men that are all about violence and indifference to others began to vote for Ruben and Clay by the millions. Over the years, I have come to believe that "what the world really needs now" are people who are comfortable balancing the male and female qualities that we all have.
It is not either men or women who have created the disastrous environmental and hate-ridden situation in which we all find ourselves. It is the lack of respect for those positive qualities of compassion, relationship, creativity, and nurturing that are inherent in both men and women but which so many people of both genders have trouble expressing that is at the root of much suffering. Conversely, out-of-control competition, greed, and the love of power are leading to catastrophe. Many of us believe that the world is in a time when a balance is being achieved, but sometimes it seems so slow as to be invisible. Rarely do I see any evidence of real change.
So, imagine my surprise when I saw millions of people vote for Clay and Ruben, who are about as close to the ideal of positive male energy as you can get, week after week. Imagine my astonishment when, even as the producers were pumping up the competition and trying to turn the show into a showdown, Clay and Ruben were saying that they would be happy no matter who won and hugging each other with remarkable frequency. They cried. They said "I love you" to one another. They embraced not only their own mothers, but each other's mothers. They proved that not only were the judges wrong about what America's real idols look like, but also that America values the quality of balance that Clay and Ruben so genuinely possess.
The recent past has not been a hopeful time. However much I try to believe that the world is going in the right direction, most of the time I worry that my son will not grow up in a world that anyone would want to live in. Who would have thought my faith in our future would be reborn on the Fox network with two guys who can really sing?
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