There are times in a person’s career that become obvious benchmark events. Some of these events are built up to be career-changing, but some just happen. Most people believe that March 17, 2004 was a defining moment in the career of Clay Aiken.
Season 3 of American Idol was in full swing. The final group of 12 contestants had performed on the first elimination show one night before. Each singer had tried to impress America by singing a song for “Soul Night.”
But March 17th was Results Night and American Idol had invited Clay Aiken, the runner up of Season 2, as their special musical guest.
According to reports at the time, there were many fans who arrived very early in the morning for the 5pm taping. A reporter from KIIS FM came by the line at about 9am to do a man-on-the-street interview with the line-sitters. Someone had called Rick Dees for an on-air contest and they were intrigued that there were so many people lined up so early. They wanted to know what AI3 finalist the people were there to see. They were completely shocked to learn that most of the fans were there for Clay.
At about the half-way mark of the show, Ryan Seacrest announced Clay. He strode onto the stage in a commanding way. He was wearing a black turtleneck and a suit. Instead of standing in front of the judges table, Clay chose to perform at the side of the stage. Clay chose to sing Solitaire as it was being pushed as his new single.
The audience in the studio and watching at home were treated to a wonderful performance. Not only did Clay sing well, he was able to connect with the audience with his eye contact and emotional lyrics. And I doubt anyone will forget the surreal “glory note.”
It was reported that Debra Byrd was monitoring the show on a TV screen at the front of the audience. As Clay was singing, she smiled widely and seemed very proud. Fred Bronson and Julia DeMato were both a part of the audience that night.
All three of the regular judges were there. One fan reported: “During Clay’s song, all three judges seemed to not be paying any attention whatsoever. They were talking among themselves. There was not one minute of interaction between Clay and those judges the entire time Clay was on the stage – not before, during, or after the song.”
After his performance, Clay chatted a bit with Ryan Seacrest. Clay said he got a little nervous being in the studio again. He also said that the tour with Kelly was going well. Ryan made sure that the audience knew that Clay’s album had gone triple platinum.
The contestants had a chance to ask Clay some questions. The audience laughed when Matt said he was having nightmares about Simon and wanted to know how Clay dealt with that. His response was to focus on the goal and to not let anything get in the way. He also commented that fame is hard when Fantasia asked him if people treated him differently.
At the commercial break, Clay went over to where the contestants were sitting and shook hands and hugged every one of them. Someone from the audience threw up some panties and also a bear for him. It was reported that Clay calmly picked up the panties and casually threw them over to Simon.
“My impression of the whole experience was that Clay is the real superstar here – he is just so far beyond American Idol,” reported a fan that was a part of the live audience that night.
It was certainly a night to remember and the entire audience was on their feet and applauding loudly for Clay Aiken, the new pop star.
The following is a video of Clay performing Solitaire on American Idol in March, 2004.