Clay Aiken – Guilty Pleasure!

In September of 2003,  pictures of Clay Aiken were everywhere.  It seemed the press couldn’t get enough of his smiling face.  He was the new pop sensation in the United States and it seemed that everyone wanted all the news about the talented young man.

The September 3rd issue of Entertainment Weekly featured Clay on the cover of their magazine.  Inside, there were lots of pictures and an interview that was conducted while Clay was still on the American Idol Tour.    They labeled Clay a “guilty pleasure.”

Do you remember this article?  Did you buy the magazine?   AND, (gulp) do you still have the magazine?  (I do!!)






And The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth
Part Howdy Doody, part Davy Jones, 100% stud, America’s favorite redhead (sorry, Lucy!) dishes on Ruben, stardom, and that hair. Our heart’s Aiken for Clay!

By Dave Karger Dave Karger

Dave Karger, a senior writer at EW, also reports on box office and other movie- related matters on NBC’s ”Today”  Clay Aiken’s career is in the toilet.

”It smells like urine in here!” says the American Idol runner-up as he strides into the cavernous bathroom — complete with two stalls and a group shower — that’s serving as a makeshift office backstage at the Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. ”I bet you’ve never done an interview in one of these before!”

Yep, it’s a first on this end, but Aiken had better get used to the surroundings: Just hours before he’s to take the stage as part of this summer’s American Idols Live! concert tour, the potty is pretty much the only place he’s safe. Around the corner lurks a throng of ”Claymates,” as the most obsessed Aiken freaks call themselves — including beaming moms, screaming daughters, and one 27-year-old therapist who had ”Clay” permanently tattooed on the small of her back earlier in the day. When the arena lights go down, the 24-year-old special-ed teacher from Raleigh, N.C., is the performer who elicits the most earsplitting shrieks from the suburban crowd. As one oaktag sign in the cheap seats proclaims, ”Elvis, the Beatles, and now Clay.”

The correct progression might be more like ”The Monkees, O-Town, and now Clay,” but we get the picture. At some point since the cheesy early Guarini-esque ballads, the ubiquitous Ford Focus commercials, and the sad-sack lone dance move (you know the one, the shoulder pump crossed with the knee bend), Aiken has become one of the most natural, confident, and addictive voices in contemporary pop music. And thanks to his Queer Eye-popping physical makeover and his show-stopping vocal range, he’s emerged as the biggest star from Idol’s second season. Earlier this summer, his debut release, ”This Is the Night”/”Bridge Over Troubled Water,” shot straight to No. 1 on the Billboard charts, trounced the offering from American Idol winner Ruben Studdard by 200,000 copies, and became the fastest-selling single since Elton John’s ”Candle in the Wind 1997.” ”I was going to be a teacher or a principal,” Aiken says of his pre-Idol plans. ”Thank Jesus I came back for the wild-card show!”

We’ll give up a hallelujah as well. With the Backstreet Boys MIA and Justin Timberlake essentially an R&B artist, the world needs a new prince of pop. ”There’s a lot of singers that have incredible instruments,” says Steve Ferrera, RCA Records’ senior vice president of A&R, who, along with mogul Clive Davis and Idol creator Simon Fuller, is helping to oversee Aiken’s musical output. ”Clay is one of those rare singers who has the chops, but he’s also able to make the connection to the lyric. So when some people might be just doing vocal histrionics, he’s imbuing the lyric with passion and feeling.”

Although cuddly crooner Studdard won the right to release his CD first, the pair’s labels, RCA and J Records, have now pulled a Rehnquist and reversed America’s decision, opting to debut Aiken’s album on Oct. 14, a month before Studdard’s. ”It was with Ruben’s blessing,” insists a rep for both singers, adding that Studdard isn’t finished recording yet. ”He didn’t want to hold up Clay’s record.” That’s the noncynical take. Here’s another: Idol execs recognized they were wrong to throw so much weight behind Studdard during the competition. (Some speculated they did so because they were afraid to be put in the position of having to back Aiken, who was rumored to be gay. The singer has said he is straight.) Publicly, Idol judge Simon Cowell says marketing Aiken is a no-brainer. ”He is the clean-cut American boy, and he has the advantage of being able to appeal to 3-year-olds and 80-year-olds with pretty much pure pop music.” Aiken’s life story, which resonates with so many, is also a draw. ”If I was naming Clay’s album, I’d call it The American Dream, because he encapsulates all of that,” Cowell says. ”He is the American dream, which is the geeky little kid who went on to win over the hearts of America through a singing competition.” (Start lobbying, Simon: Aiken has yet to decide on an album title.) The goal for today’s hottest preteen pinup is to win over postpubescents who wouldn’t know how to text-message Ryan Seacrest if their lives depended on it. ”We’ve definitely tried to take it a little edgier than what he sang on the show,” says Ferrera, who connected Aiken with a posse of young, unknown songwriters. But don’t expect him to stray far from his comfort zone. ”There are no up-tempos on this album,” Ferrera says. ”But there are definitely some midtempo ballads.”

One of those, ”This Is the Night,” wasn’t exactly music to the Idol judges’ ears — when Aiken first performed the song, Cowell dismissed it as ”American Idol: The Musical.” ”I think they probably thought it sounded a little cheesy,” Aiken says now. ”Not as cheesy, I might say, as [Kelly Clarkson’s] ‘A Moment Like This.’ I don’t care what they say — I like the song.” His fans did too: ”I don’t think they went out and bought one,” says Aiken, offering an explanation for his record-breaking sales. ”I think they went out and bought 15. I don’t know what they did with them — used them as coasters, Frisbees, something.”

Cowell, of course, has a different theory. ”If Ruben had had ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ on his record, he’d have had the No. 1,” says the judge, who often saved his highest praise on the show for Studdard. ”I think that was the hit song. If you asked 100 record buyers who bought Clay’s single ‘What song did you want to buy?’ I wouldn’t be surprised if 70 percent at least said ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’ People will disagree, but that’s my opinion.” (We’ll never know; RCA doesn’t track those statistics.)

Whatever the case, Aiken would like to put the Clay versus Ruben showdown to rest. ”The whole country wants Ruben and me to be at each other’s throats,” he says, tugging at the bottom of his orange shirt. ”We spent nine months competing with each other. And we both got what we wanted. He’s got a title, and I’m nothing but proud of him. We don’t look at who’s No. 1 and No. 2. Because it’s not worth it to us.” (Studdard puts it more succinctly: ”Clay is my dawg.”) Even after the disaster that was From Justin to Kelly, which made just $4.9 million at the box office this summer, Aiken still hopes to make a movie with his supposed nemesis. ”That was a premise that’s not necessarily original,” he says of the first Idol-inspired film. ”With Ruben and me you’ve got a completely different thing. Look at us! We could just stand there and people would laugh.”

At least they’re no longer laughing at Aiken’s looks. The budding star, whose formerly reddish brown eyebrows will completely disappear if they’re lightened one more time, says he’s totally receptive to all the fashion help. ”We were doing the video shoot for ‘This Is the Night,’ and the people from the record label were putting me in all these different outfits,” he remembers. ”I just stood there and was like, ‘That’s fine, that’s fine’ — all indifferent to the situation. They finally called my management rep and said, ‘Is he okay with these?’ If I knew enough about this industry, or enough about fashion, to know what was cool to wear, then I wouldn’t have needed American Idol to get into it. So I’ll be willing to do whatever you want me to do, but I’m going to say no if I’m really against it. There’s not really much middle ground. I’ll do it, or I’ll say, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ I pick my battles.”

For instance? ”There was a particular person who did my hair on the show,” he says. ”For a period [afterward] they said, ‘Let’s use some other people.’ And I looked like a greased pig. It was horrible. So I finally picked a battle there and said, ‘Listen, we’re getting him from now on.”’ Aiken also gladly recorded cover versions of Neil Sedaka’s ”Solitaire” and Carole Bayer Sager’s ”When I Need You” but scoffed at Rick Astley’s ”Never Gonna Give You Up.” ”I said that’s just a little corny, because there are already enough comparisons that can be drawn.” (Whaddya know? We’ve drawn them too; see sidebar.)

Still, we doubt Astley would have influenced the scores of fans who flooded the FCC with letters demanding a recount of the neck-and-neck Idol vote. ”I guess on one hand it’s flattering because people really wanted me to win,” Aiken says of the grassroots campaign. ”But it’s over. And I’m perfectly fine. I think people feel like I feel slighted. ‘Oh, poor Clay, we want to fight for him.’ You don’t need to fight for me. I’m perfectly happy. I would be much happier if these people would put their time and energy into the Autism Society. Leave the FCC alone, leave Ruben alone, leave me alone.”

Given today’s fickle pop-music world, Aiken knows that wish could soon come true. Maybe his album will be the beginning of a long musical legacy (we can dream, can’t we?). Or perhaps today’s Idol will indeed be tomorrow’s aspiring high school principal. ”How many eggs do I put into this basket?” says Aiken, his voice still echoing through the bathroom. ”In two years, am I going to be [first Survivor winner] Richard Hatch? Is this going to be my life and my career, or is this going to be a great summer-camp memory for me? I don’t know. That’s what makes it scary.” Frightening enough to make someone head straight for the john.

Clay Aiken News Network is an unofficial fansite. We are not affiliated in any way with Clay Aiken or his management. This website was made by fans for fans and makes no impression or impersonation of the official site, which can be found under the domain

15 thoughts on “Clay Aiken – Guilty Pleasure!

  1. I bought the magazine the first time around, lost it, then bought it a few years later again off Ebay. *puts bag over head*

  2. I do still have this issue of EW! My daughter used to subscribe and saved it for me. I couldn't wait to read it. It was that way every time there was a new magazine article or a cover with Clay! Such exciting times. But, I always took issue with him being referred to as a "guilty pleasure". I'm very proud to be a fan of Clay Aiken–not one built of guilt here!!

  3. Well that was a nice article from EW (for once) I do love those pictures. 🙂 thanks for a great blog.

  4. It was interesting reading what was out there in the early days of Clay's career. The article did give a lot of information about Clay and the goings on during the AI tour, as well as including a few comments contributed by others.

    Thanks musicfan. It's great that you have a keepsake.

  5. Here's another one with no guilt!!! I have never read that article before, I'll just say there's some great quotes from Clay and the photos are fabulous!!! and leave it at that =)

    Oh, I'll add I'm confused by Simon's comment about BOTW, since Ruben didn't sing it. Is he saying that it's the song and not the singers that people are purchasing? I 100% disagree with him on that one. I think if Ruben had recorded BOTW it would have just caused a HUGE outcry and probably added more sales to TITN – but then maybe I'm reading the whole quote wrong……

  6. I am another one who has absolutely no guilt about being a Fan of Clay Aiken. I am very proud of it. Anyway, it was kind of nice to read a good article from EW. They are usually so rude. Yep, I do have that EW Magazine. The only time I ever bought one of their magazines. I used to buy every magazine with Clay in it..even it is was a teeny tiny picture of him. Hey, it was worth it…he is worth it!

  7. Oh…….I love this look backwards!! I still have the magazine and I won't part with it!!

    Guilty Pleasure?? Nah…not guilty at all. I am proud to be a fan of Clay Aiken.

    Thank you so much for finding all the gems and sharing them with us!!

  8. I still have the magazine, stashed away… I am definitely proud to be a Clay Aiken fan. Clay has never ventured off from his beliefs. He said that it was important to give back, and that is what he has done from day one…I am very proud of him.

    I don't agree with Simon's statement of BOTW, that if Ruben had recorded it, he would have sold more. People at the time were buying anything of Clay's that they could find. Fans could not get enough…we all saw that in the AI2 concerts. The one with the largest cheers was Clay…without a doubt. Had nothing to do with the song…had everything to do with Clay.

    Thanks Musicfan for bringing this article over again…I enjoyed reading it once more.

  9. How fun to see this "Guilty Pleasure" article again……….AND…..yes, I still have the magazine!!

    I really miss Clay, but I am enjoying the walk through the past.

    Many thanks for the great articles!!

  10. Its fun to read what Clay thought back in Sept 2003. Would he last 2 years and then go back to teaching? Here we are in 2011 and Clay is still going strong and his fans are still loving him.

  11. I still have my copy along with Elle, Rolling Stone and various other magazines that Clay was featured in.

  12. Woo-hoo, thank you SO much!!! Were you listening when I said I wished I had a copy of the shades pic from this mag to compare w/recent ones, lol?? So happy you included all pix and entire article, wow!! Tho I do have it somewhere. with a stack of as many of the Clay-cover mags I could get (tho not nearly all 118 of them, sorry to say). So nice of you to send this and you are so GREAT to keep up this network! He's still MY pleasure, haha!

  13. I became a fan in 2006 so I bought a lot of magazines featuring Clay on Ebay including that Entertainment magazine plus Rolling Stone and all the TV guide covers. I'm keeping my collection.

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