Clay Aiken Biography

Singer, Actor, Theater Actor, Television Personality (1978–)
After coming in second place on American Idol, Clay Aiken’s debut album, Measure of Man, sold 3 million copies. He later appeared on The Apprentice and ran for Congress.


Born in North Carolina in 1978. Clay Aiken beat out 7,000 other American Idol contestants to land in second place on the show in 2003. Weeks after, he was offered a record contract with RCA. In 2003, he released his debut album, Measure of Man. The album sold 613,000 copies in its first week, earning Aiken an American Music Award. In 2006, People magazine's readers chose Aiken as their favorite on American Idol. In 2014, he took his career in a different direction after he announced that he would be running for Congress. He lost his bid for elected office to Republican Renee Ellmers. 

Early Life and 'American Idol'

Singer and politician Clay Aiken was born Clayton Holmes Grissom on November 30, 1978, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As an infant, his parents separated and Clay took his mother's maiden name, Aiken, as his legal last name.

As a teenager, Aiken became a regular member of the Raleigh Boys Choir, and performed roles in many local theater productions. After high school, Aiken attended University of North Carolina at Charlotte to study Special Education. In 2003, he planned on attending William & Mary College to pursue a graduate degree, but first he decided to try out for reality television competition American Idol. Aiken beat out 7,000 other contestants to land in second place on the show, behind winner Ruben Studdard.

Commercial Success

Weeks after finishing American Idol, Aiken was offered a record contract with RCA. In October of 2003, he released his debut album, Measure of Man, which sold 3 million copies and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album sold 613,000 copies in its first week, making it the highest selling debut album for a solo artist in 10 years, and earning Aiken an American Music Award. Also Aiken's debut single, "This is the Night/Bridge Over Troubled Water," earned him Billboard's best-selling single of 2003. The song sold more than 392,000 copies during its first week, beating the record previously held by Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" in 1997.

In November of 2004, Aiken released his first holiday album, Merry Christmas with Love. The album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Holiday Albums chart and was the biggest debut album in SoundScan history. That same year, Aiken also wrote a New York Times bestselling memoir titled Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life. The book detailed his upbringing and musical influences, but paid special attention to spiritual development. The book spent seven weeks on the bestseller list.

Acting Debut

In 2006, People magazine readers chose Aiken as their favorite American Idol contestant. He also released two albums during this year: A Thousand Different Ways and All is Well, both of which debuted in the Billboard Top 5. While working on material for a new album in 2008, Aiken also took on the role of Sir Robin in the Broadway musical Monty Python's Spamalot. His next album, On My Way Here, was released later that year, making Aiken the eighth artist in music history to have their first four albums debut in the Billboard Top 5.

Aiken left RCA shortly after the album was released. His fifth album, The Very Best of Clay Aiken, was released at the end of March 2009 on Sony's Legacy Recordings Playlist Series. Later that year, Aiken signed with Universal Music's Decca Records. He released a new album in 2010, entitled Tried and True. The album was one of Aiken's least successful, with only 50,000 copies being sold in the U.S.

Aiken returned to reality television as a contestant in the fifth season of Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice in 2012. He competed against other figures in the media, such as Victoria Gotti, Aubrey O'Day, Debbie Gibson and Lou Ferrigno. Aiken placed second in reality TV yet again, losing to Arsenio Hall in the finale. While competing, Aiken represented the National Inclusion Project.

Political Career

Opting to take his career in a different direction, Aiken announced in February of 2014 that he would be running for Congress in North Carolina as a Democrat. His bid for a seat in Congress was revealed to the public through a YouTube video. He waged a tough battle for the Democratic nomination against businessman Keith Crisco. The pair faced off in a May primary, which was reportedly too close to call. While the election results were still being determined, Crisco died unexpectedly after being injured in a fall at his home. Aiken, after learning of his opponent's death, suspended his campaign activities. In a tweet, he remembered Crisco as "a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant."

After all the votes were tallied, Aiken emerged the winner by an incredibly slight margin. He had 40.86 percent of the votes compared to Crisco's 39.49 percent. In the general election, the singer went up against Representative Renee Ellmers—a Republican who won the seat in 2010. The region is also largely conservative, with Mitt Romney having won 58 percent of the North Carolina vote in the 2012 presidential election. Aiken lost to the seat to Ellmers, but he did manage to capture about 41 percent of the vote.

Personal Life

Aiken surprised fans in 2008, when he confirmed in People magazine interview that he is gay. In August of that year, Aiken announced the arrival of his first child, Parker Foster Aiken. His long-time friend and music producer Jaymes Foster, served as the surrogate for the child. 

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