Clay Aiken Biography

Being number two does not always turn out to be an unsuccessful challenger and Clay Aiken has evinced it brilliantly. As the runner up of the 2003 American Idol, he has proven to score a fantastic attainment more than what the contest's winner, Ruben Studdard, has done. Perhaps all of these have never come to his mind before since he actually does not possess any intention and determination to be a famous singer. Born on November 30, 1978 in Raleigh, North Carolina, he has been named Clayton Holmes Grissom. When Clay was barely one year old, his violent and alcoholic father, Vernon Grissom deserted the family. His mother, Faye Aiken, then raised him on her own with deep affection. This strong willed woman quickly discovered that her son has talent in singing. By the age of 5, Clay was supported to perform at a local high school dance.

When Clay turned six, Faye remarried with Ray Parker. Through this man, he found out what the word "family" means. He, therefore, considered and respected him as his real father until Parker's death in July 2002. Meanwhile, Clay passed his childhood happily, along with his stepsister, Amy, stepbrother, Jeff, and half-brother, Brett. Growing up as a teenager, he joined Raleigh Boys Choir while also being involved in various musical projects, stage plays, and playhouse shows. Nevertheless, his love to teach and help children was greater so that he decided to concentrate on his study. After having been graduated from Raleigh's Leesville Road High School, he took special education major at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he later became the head of its Council of Exceptional Children. Most of his summertime was spent working at local YMCA as well as volunteering to help children with disabilities.

In the late 90s, Clay legally changed his last name to Aiken, cutting himself from all that was related to his biological father. By this time, he had carefully laid plans to establish a decent career in his life. He looked forward to earn a master degree in administration at the prestigious William & Mary College in Virginia. However, this intention apparently had to be deferred as he met Diane Bubel when he was assisting her autistic child. Bubel repeatedly prompted him to enroll in American Idol, a Fox's popular competition show which selects one's potentiality in singing and performing. Eventually giving in, he entered the Charlotte audition on October 17, 2002. Unfortunately, he failed to move forward to the next stage. This did not make him discouraged; instead he went for the second attempt by joining the Atlanta audition in November. This time being able to impress the judges, he was chosen as one of the contestants.

Having made his way to the top 32, Clay was advised by the American Idol producers to shorten his given name to "Clay" and improve his visual image since he had a bad haircut and wore funny glasses. Supported by this new look, he appeared confidently in the round-of-32. As the result was announced, he only earned third position below Ruben Studdard and Kimberley Locke. However, he was still given chance to compete in the wildcard round. Beautifully performing "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," he ultimately was chosen as the last finalist of the show. From March to May 2003, he appeared on the screen, singing various tunes while also receiving either criticism or praise from the Idol judges. The show came to its climax on May 21 with Clay and Ruben faced each other at the season finale. Clay was announced as the American Idol runner-up for he lost to Ruben by 134,400 from 24 million votes.

After the show ended its second season, Clay was extremely busy because he had a lot of interviews ahead, such as with CNN, E! News Live, and Larry King Live. Shortly thereafter, he was offered a record deal by Idol's creator, Simon Fuller, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of 19 Entertainment Limited. Fuller then signed him with RCA Records. By June 2003, Clay had launched his debut single entitled "Bridge Over Troubled Water"/"This Is the Night." To his surprise, the single rapidly sold over 390,000 copies a week after its release, amazingly broke the sales record of Elton John's 1997 version of "Candle in the Wind." Furthermore, it soared to the chart's peak of The Billboard Hot 100, reigning for 11 weeks as the number one track. The single was finally certified platinum on the next month. This was such a great achievement that could not be accomplished by other American Idol contestants by far.

During July and August 2003, Clay joined American Idol 2 Summer Concert Tour around U.S. before coming up with his first full-length album, "Measure of a Man" on October 14, 2003. Composed by the extraordinary songwriters, like Steve Mac, Desmond Child, Rick Nowels, and Enrique Iglesias, the album rose to the 1st rank of Billboard 200 Album Chart. With some hit singles, namely "Invisible" and "The Way," "Measure of a Man" reached more than 600,000 copies sale during its first week of release. The amount went hastily to 2.5 million copies in U.S. in six months only, leading Clay to be one of the best selling artists as well as to gain wide popularity and commercial success. Some of his fans even called themselves "Claymates," although the accepted term to refer to this fan group is "The Clay Nation."

Clay's star shone radiantly as he was honored to receive an American Music Award for Fan's Choice Category in November the same year. He also was involved in many special shows during December, including Disney's Christmas Day Parade and The Nick At Nite Holiday Special. In the meantime, he eventually graduated with a bachelor degree from UNCC. Clay marked the year of 2004 with commencing "Independent Tour" in late February alongside Kelly Clarkson, the American Idol 1st winner. The first destination of the tour was none other than Charlotte, his second hometown. It was a great success yet Clay's fans felt that the tour's period was too short, so they demanded more performances of him. He responded by holding a solo tour concert in July and finished it in October. It only took about a month before he embarked on another one called Joyful Noise Tour Concert.

November 2004 proved to be a busy month for Clay. Not only performed in the tour, he also published a memoir and a Christmas album at the same exact date, November 16. His book entitled "Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life," while the album was "Merry Christmas With Love." Both of them resulted very well. The book was included in New York Times Nonfiction Best Seller list for several weeks. The album even created more sensation as it reached 4th rank at Billboard 200. Moreover, it sold over one million copies no less than one and a half month, automatically gained Platinum. This glorious attainment established "Merry Christmas With Love" as the fastest selling holiday album according to Nielsen SoundScan. Clay ended the year by making his first acting performance in "A Clay Aiken Christmas," starring with Barry Manilow and Megan Mullally. As for 2005, he planned to hold another concert called Jukebox Tour which was about to start on July 28.

Clay's attention is not only focused on music, but also children and education as well. In summer 2003, he built Bubel/Aiken Foundation which is aimed to encourage and facilitate programs for children with disabilities to enter the environment where they are able to interact with normal peers. He also becomes the ambassador of Ronald McDonald House Charities. Furthermore, he has contributed his magnificent vocals to raise funds at the 2004 Rosalynn Carter Benefit and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. In the same year, he was appointed as an Ambassador of Education for All Children by UNICEF. Under this organization, he participated in doing charity for tsunami victims through his song "Give a Little Bit." In March 2005, he visited Banda Aceh to evoke people awareness of the needs for restoring education for the tsunami survivors. By May, he went to Uganda to make people of the world realized the miserable condition of the children as a result of the civil war. All of these indicate that Clay is indeed an unusual artist. He is not an American Idol, but he might be the American Icon of the 21st Century.

After all, the time has come for Clay to put his concentration back to his music career, working on his third solo outing. Such work hard in the recording studio resulted in the so-called "A Thousand Different Ways", released on September 19th, 2006 via RCA Records. The set featured 4 brand new songs by the singer himself and 10 cover versions of well-known songs from the '70s, '80s and '90s, he personally picked. As for the album's title, Clay commented "This is an album of love songs, but they are about all different kinds of love. Romantic love, Friendship, Unconditional love. There are a thousand different kinds of love; a thousand different ways to tell someone you love them. And, on top of that, since so many of these songs are covers, it's realistic to say that many of them have been or could be sung a thousand different ways." Competing with several other major new releases, "A Thousand Different Ways" amazingly sold over 211,000 copies in its first week of release, securing a No. 2 debut on the Billboard album chart. And to support the album sales even more, Clay also made multiple television appearances, including "Tonight Show With Jay Leno", 3 Days on "Good Morning America", "The View", "Jimmy Kimmel Live", "Larry King Live", "The Martha Stewart Show", and "The Tyra Banks Show".