Interview with Clay Aiken by Chet Cooper
In a day of reality-show instant celebrities, still only a select few
know the exhilarating adventure of being plucked out of anonymity and
thrown into the proverbial fishbowl of super-stardom. These men and women
are members of a club that share the virtues of grit, determination and
raw talent. Membership in this club grants fame, fortune and opportunity,
and to each of these Aiken is now privy.
For weeks Aiken sang, danced and withstood disparagement from the shows
most critical judge, Simon Cowell. Despite Cowells criticism of
his non-pop star image, Aikens success is a nod that true talent
still prevails. With a change of hair color and a few minor wardrobe adjustments,
Aiken has morphed into a real-life pop star. While Aiken may have acquiesced
to a few minor alterations, he has stayed true to himself and his passion,
using the stage of American Idol as a platform to raise awareness and
money for children with disabilities.
In 1978, Clayton Aiken was born thousands of miles from Tinseltown in
Raleigh, North Carolina. By age three, his talent and love of performing
had become apparent. Standing on carpet samples at the local Sears where
his mother worked, Aiken would sing for the reward of a dollar per song.
As a child, his musical inspirations came from listening to country radio
stations. The first single he ever bought was Meet Me in Montana
by Marie Osmond. Aiken later sang in the Raleigh Boys Choir and appeared
in high school productions of Oklahoma! and The Music Man. Soon thereafter
he did a dinner theatre stint of The Sound of Music. It was not long after
graduating from high school that Aiken discovered he had a talent for
more than singing and actinghe loved to teach.
North Carolina has one of the most progressive programs in the country
for teaching children with developmental disabilities, known as the Community
Alternatives Program for persons with mental retardation/developmental
disabilities (CAP MR/DD). While Aiken was working for CAP, one of his
students, Mike Bubel, relentlessly encouraged him to audition for American
Idol. In appreciation for Bubels faith in him, Aiken has set up
the Bubel-Aiken Foundation, which breaks down the barriers that prevent
families from obtaining the services and financial assistance they need.
The Bubel-Aiken Foundation will also focus on the integration and full
inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in educational, employment
and recreational settings.
Prior to competing in American Idol, Aikens career goals had nothing
to do with entertaining. I decided to study special education and
fell in love with working with individuals with autism. Thats what
I planned to do with my life, he explained. In fact, Aiken envisioned
himself as a high school principal by age 50. The transition in goals
from high school principal to pop star is a radical contrast.
These days Aiken is enjoying phenomenal success after touring with American
Idols Live! His album, Measure of a Man, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard
charts and he made a historical debut with his single, This Is the
Night, which also charted No. 1 on Billboards Hot 100an
accomplishment which hasnt been done since Elton Johns tribute
to Princess Diana, Candle in the Wind, 1997.
ABILITYs Chet Cooper and Jennifer Melendres recently sat down
with Clay Aiken and discussed his sudden success and the future of the
Chet Cooper: I had an opportunity to view your schedule and youre
doing one interview after another. How are you holding up?
Clay Aiken: Im pretty used to it at this point. I havent
even seen a schedule for today. I dont know what Im doing.
(laughs) I sometimes think I might be autistic because I like to knowI
need to knowmy beginnings and my ends. I dont have to be in
control of it, but I need to know whats going on.
CC: Youre scheduled to be taping several shows. How do you feel
about being in the spotlight?
CC: Did you ever imagine yourself in this position?
CA: God, no. I auditioned just for fun. I thought about that the other
day after I went to the grocery store and had to sign fifteen autographs
before leaving. On one hand, its just so flattering. On the other
hand, sometimes it would be nice to get the bread and leave, you know?
CC: You mean get your paycheck? (laughs)
CA: (laughs) No, get the loaf of bread and leave. Somebody once said,
You asked for it. And I thought, Did I really ask for
it? When I auditioned for this thing, I never for a second believed
that I was going to be here today. I never thought I was going to be in
Jennifer Melendres: Of course, you hoped you might.
CA: I think I probably hoped for it a little bit, but Im not an
optimist. Im a realist
or maybe even a pessimist.
CC: Is the glass half empty?
CA: The glass has water in it; thats all I know. (laughs) I didnt
think Id ever make it. Seventy thousand people. Six thousand people
in line in Atlanta. I was not expecting to make it through that line of
six thousand, much less go to Hollywood. It gives me the chills to even
think about it. It really does. I just thought, Lets go out
and spend a weekend in Atlanta and audition.
JM: How do you like your new look?
CA: I got rid of my glasses and they changed my hair. Thats really
all they did. They went shopping for me, so the clothes are different
too. It wasnt like Extreme Makeover where I got a nose job or anything.
I went into it initially saying, If Im going to lose this,
Im going to lose it on my terms. I dont want anybody messing
with me. Im going to dress the way I want to dress. And then
I lost it on my own terms, and when I came back for the wild card show
I said, Okay, do whatever you want to do with my hair. Thats
fine. (laughs). I still wore what I wanted to wear and I made it
through. Once I made it to the top twelve I thought, Well, Im
going any week now, so I might as well let them do whatever they want.
Somebody asked me, Arent you offended when they say you look
nerdy? Im not, because I dont put any emphasis or stock
in that. I dont care. I dont judge a person by how they look
so it doesnt matter. As long as I dont change [in my heart
and in my head] then Im the same person. Its just a different
CC: As you continue to grow in popularity, do you see yourself putting
up a wall to maintain your own sanity?
CA: Realistically, theres a good possibility that might happen. If Im signing autographs and I see one hundred people in a line Ive got to remind myself, That person is one one-hundredth of my day, but to them Im their day. You know what I mean? Unless they meet J.Lo later on.
Read more in ABILITY Magazine...... subscribe!
|HOME | PAST ISSUES | SUBSCRIPTIONS | LINKS | ADA INFO | CONTACT US | SEARCH|