While this season of “American Idol” is shaping up as an especially exciting one full of surprises and reversals, I don’t know if I agree with the show’s claims that the current Season 7 features the best lineup of talent ever. After all, I’m partial to Season 5’s combo of Taylor Hicks, Katherine McPhee, Elliott Yamin and Chris Daughtry, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the most exciting season was number two, featuring the neck and neck competition all the way to the end between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken.

While I had tuned in at times to Season 1 of “Idol,” the second season was the one that really captured my attention, starting with an appearance by my friend Fred Bronson, who pitched the show the idea for the theme, “Billboard Number Ones.” That theme night was followed up with shows devoted to some of my favorite artists, including Billy Joel, the Bee Gees and Neil Sedaka, but I think what really sold me on the show was Ruben’s fabulous performance of “Kiss And Say Goodbye,” the final song on that Billboard night.

But as I continued to watch, I started to grow more and more impressed with Clay, who shined on both ballads (Neil Sedaka’s “Solitaire”) and fun uptempo songs, like one of my alltime favorites, “Build Me Up Buttercup.” Then on the season finale, Clay let out a one-two knockout punch: first a transcendent version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (while Ruben sang a rather boring take on “Imagine”), followed by his soon to be number one hit, “This Is The Night,” which I liked much more than Ruben’s “Flying Without Wings.” But Ruben still ended up winning the “Idol” crown, which I didn’t feel bad about because it seemed like it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. As it turned out, I still haven’t met Ruben, but I would cross paths with Clay again and again.

The first time I met Clay was at a radio studio across from the NBC building in Burbank where Clay was appearing on “The Tonight Show” that evening. Fred Bronson had been assigned to do one of the first in-depth interviews with Clay after his “Idol” stint, and as often happens, I tagged along. Fred conducted a long interview that covered Clay’s life from singing in the carpet department at Sears at age five all the way to the Idol finale, and along the way added a lot to his fans’ knowledge about their hero. I found Clay to be an excellent storyteller, funny and also brutally honest about his “Idol” song and wardrobe choices. One other thing surprised me: Clay gave me a hug when he left (a year later, when Fred interviewed Season 3’s Diana DeGarmo at the same studio, I gave her a hug as she was leaving, probably surprising her at the time… but then, I’m no Clay!).

After the interview was released on the internet, Clay’s fans came out of the woodwork, deciding Fred was a reliable insider when it came to Clay and sending him e-mail after e-mail with questions and comments. One such e-mail came from a lady named Diann in Lancaster, PA, which is my hometown, so Fred asked if she knew me when I lived there. She hadn’t, but she mentioned it to a few of her friends, including Anita, who I had indeed palled around with during summers at the local pool. We ended up getting back in touch and I always make time for dinner with Anita and her Claymate friends whenever I’m visiting Lancaster.

Fred interviewed Clay again a few weeks before his debut album, “Measure Of A Man,” was released. This time Fred and I met Clay at the hotel he was staying at in L.A. and joined him for breakfast in the hotel restaurant. With no publicists in attendance, this interview was much more informal than the first one. I was impressed by Clay’s determination to learn all he could about the music business. He often stopped the interview to ask Fred questions about radio play and the charts.

Eventually, I got a chance to interview Clay myself, but it would have never happened if I hadn’t been at those earlier interviews. One of my friends hosts his own movie review show on TV. He was based in Portland, Oregon at the time and couldn’t make it back to Los Angeles to cover the festivities celebrating the DVD release of Disney’s “Aladdin.” He asked me to do the interviews on the red carpet outside Hollywood’s El Capitan Theater for him, and I gladly agreed, having never done any interviews for TV before. Many of the stars attending were featured in Disney produced shows, and I got a good number of them to talk to me. But when Clay arrived, it seemed like he was in a hurry to get inside and skipped talking to most of the gathered press. Fortunately, I caught the eye of his publicist, who recognized me from the earlier interview with Fred (as did Clay) and steered Clay over to me for a few minutes.

I got in four questions. First I asked Clay how he keeps his energy up on tour, to which he replied, “McDonald’s!” He laughed and added that he tries to change his show a little bit every night to keep things interesting for him, and in turn, the audience. I also asked him about his upcoming Christmas album as well as the song he did for the “Aladdin” DVD. But the best response I got from him came when I said that I know his female fans love him to death and go to great lengths to see him in concert, but does he ever hear from the husbands and boyfriends they drag along? Clay said every once in a while, he’ll see a T-shirt on a guy in the audience that says, “I got dragged to see him,” but to him the funniest thing was how the women manage to make it to the front row in front of the stage, leaving their men stewing fifteen rows back.

I’ve seen Clay a few other times as well, like at a Halloween party at Kim Locke’s house (Clay didn’t bother to dress up in a costume, but he did stay a while), and also backstage at two of his concerts I attended with Fred. And while I thought his last album was a bit of a disappointment, I’m hoping the one he’s releasing later this year will mark a return to the strong songs and melodic diversity of “Measure Of A Man.” Plus any time Clay’s out promoting a new CD, he makes a stop on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” which is always hilarious. I can’t wait!


40 Responses to “MY LIFE AS A CLAYMATE”

  1. Dani Says:

    Thanks for sharing your stories about Clay. I’m a big fan myself.

    Don’t the AI producers say that each season is the best one yet every year? Of course I agree with you. Season 2 was the best!

    Have you been to NYC and had a chance to see Clay in Spamalot? It’s worth the trip.

  2. jena Says:

    In all actuality; Clay and Ruben’s competition was not ‘neck n’ neck’- Clay was receiving 80 percent of the vote EVERY WEEK HE WAS ON (two producers of the show admitted to that). The final night-he beat Ruben by millions of votes. Because Clay’s one line just could not handle all the calls coming in for him (Clay’s mother got in only 2 votes for her son; Ruben’s mother?? 200 votes for him-whose line was busier????) there was no clear vote count. AI producers just threw up their hands and decided to ‘give’ Ruben the title because he would need it much more than Clay. The ‘truth’ will come out to those who still don’t ‘get it’ when the show has run it’s course- most likely when Simon’s contract is up in 2 years. Someone will either write a book or just come out and say what happened that fateful night. Ruben was never, ever as ‘great’ as the judges made him out to be. Very strange they would give someone who had NO stage presence, was more than 200 lbs overweight, sang in a boring monotone, let everyone hear the labored breaths it took to sing, etc. such accolades every week. Clay never missed a note, a beat, a word (no he didn’t forget the words to ‘Vincent’), had great stage presence, was the favorite every week he was on-and Simon, at times chose to diminish Clay’s greatness.
    Brian, good article tho. And….do catch Clay in Spamalot in NYC-til May 4th. He is incredible. His acting, dancing, impeccable comedic timing and, of course, singing is PHENOMENAL.

  3. Jan Says:

    What a fantastic article! As a Clay fan, its really great to see someone else who sees how talented he is. This next CD is going to knock your socks off, I believe. I’d love to read what you have to say after it is released.

    Have you seen Clay in Spamalot? If not, you really need to go before his last show on May 4. He’s gotten great reviews and seems to get better ever single night. The audience, fans and non-fans alike, really really are enjoying him in it. He is an all around fantastic entertainer!

    Thanks again for a really great article!!

  4. Lillian Says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Brian, you get it!!! The it I am referring to is Clay Aiken. This is a fantastic article and as a Claymate from the very beginning, it is so appreciated.

    If you get the chance, catch him at The Shubert Theatre from now until May 4 appearing in Spamalot. He is a smash!

    Please consider reviewing Clay’s new CD that we are all hoping to have released on May 6.

    Thank you again!

    Lillian from Baltimore

  5. sasha Says:

    Great article, well written , very informative and I see the honesty of a man speaking from his heart, I agree Season 2 was the best idol yet ever
    and Clay is the true American Idol- he can act, very funny, entertaining and has a huge humanitarian heart and a great voice

  6. Dee Holland Says:

    Great article…and I agree with you totally that season 2 will stand in history as the best Idol season ever….and there is still the “It Factor” where Clay Aiken is concerned…he generates electricity wherever he appears….Hope you get to see him in Spamalot…he is great…

  7. jaxpride Says:

    Brian, thank you for the great article, I wish you could see him on Broadway,
    I hear he is fantastic, I get to go with 5 of my friends from Phoenix in May.
    I also can’t wait to see Clay on Jimmy Kimmel,
    Clay is such a comedian, that”s why the Clay Aiken fans travel so far to see his concerts. never the same concert twice.

  8. evelyn woodward Says:

    enjoyed your article very much and nice to know he went to Kim Locke’s party.

  9. Denise Says:

    Saw this posted on a Clay message board…what a great article. You seem to appreciate the diversity of Clay’s talents. I believe you will not be disappointed in the new music…when Clay talks about it he is so animated and just glows from ear to ear…quite a turn from the “forced” talk about the last CD…you can always tell when he is totally into the project!!!! You should encourage Fred to make a trip with you to NYC to see Spamalot…this project is bringing Clay so much admiration from many areas of the entertainment world!!

    Say “hey” to Fred…I haven’t sent him a question or note in quite a while…he has always been so graceful in answering everything! Clay’s fans are sponges when it comes to any info we need to know to be as supportive as we can…ha!

  10. Barbara Says:

    Thanks for the great article. I really enjoyed this. So glad that you seem to be a big Clay fan.

  11. Sandi Says:

    This is truly a wonderful article about Clay Aiken. I am so pleased to read that you like him as much as the “Claymates.” You really have the feel for Clay and his entire being and humble personality. We know his next CD is going to be a knock-out and we cannot wait to read your comments on it.
    Please, if you get the chance, see Clay and company in Spamalot, on Broadway, until May 4th at 7pm. You will not be sorry-actually, you will love it and wish you had time to see it again!!!
    Thanks again for the great well written article on Clay. We know you get it!!!

  12. kfc-canada Says:

    What a totally refreshing article, Brian! Best one yet! You are viewing Clay from the same perspective as we are…as a talented, witty, knowledgeable and fine human being…and an excellent entertainer.

    Clay had me at his ‘skinny little white boy’ retort to Randy and knocked me unconscious with ‘To Love Somebody’…His cool, debonair performance of ‘Mack The Knife’ obliterated the competition, IMHO.

    With all due respect to Ruben, he is also a talented singer and beautiful human being. Were it not for the presence of Clay, he would have been the logical winner. I think the public response was so massive, the AI management were overwhelmed and did the best they could. Clay showed sooooooo much class with the manner in which he accepted the defeat. Hearts burst with pride for him…and still do.

    I can hardly wait to see how Clay incorporates the humour of Sir Robin into his next CD tour. I predict 100% sell-out crowds.

  13. Sandi Says:

    Thanks for the great article. I think Season 2 will always be the best. Clay and Ruben made that show huge that year. There has never been the same excitement during a final.

    I am so hoping the next CD is awesome, Clay deserves to put out the music he wants, it is his time to shine, and let’s hope that all the fans who are wonderful fans get to enjoy this new release. I am hoping to get to see Spamalot myself sometime in May before his run is over.

  14. ellaann Says:

    I enjoyed the article, on the whole!
    But Clay was The Winner! Of Idol 2!!
    Can not wait for his New Album!
    And He is doing Fantastic in Spamalot!!
    Thanks for a Great Article!

  15. Dolly Says:

    Thanks for the great article. Season II set the bar for all subsequent seasons. It created the buzz that made Idol what it is today.

  16. BJM14kgold Says:

    A standing “O” for you Brian for this great article/review on Clay Aiken. We (his fans) so love to read when someone really gets Clay and the amazing person/entertainer he really is. Thanks for putting it all in print so that we can share your thoughts, and opinions.

    If you do have a chance to go to NYC to see Clay in Spamalot on Broadway, please share your experience with us again.

    His long over due “Originals” album coming out May 6, 2008 is long awaited by many. He thought the last album would be “Originals” but someone stopped it and was told “Covers” again to the disappointment of his fans as well as Clay himself. Hope to see amazing things happen for
    Clay with his new Album, sound and Producer “Kipper” directing the whole album…a first in several aspects we are told.
    We can tell Clay is excited and this makes all his fans equally excited. So
    happy for him…Bring it on Clay Aiken..Let’s break some sales records again.

  17. Nancy Truitt Says:

    Thank you for this insightful article. Clay is an exceptional person as well as a great singer. I know this next album will be a winner.

  18. Nancy Says:

    What a lovely and delightful read. I loved reading about all your meetings with Clay. Clay on Jimmy Kimmel is always great TV. You are so right. Thanks for a great blog.

  19. Gwen Says:

    So glad you “get” Clay Aiken! He truly is a gift to all of us. Thank you!

  20. Wyatt Says:

    Great article, Brian, but most male Clayfans prefer to be called “Claydawgs.”

  21. Ashley Says:

    Thanks for your excellent article Brian. I enjoyed reading it and seeing your take on Clay Aiken. It’s nice to read an article where the author gives Clay the respect he so greatly deserves. All the Claymates and even new Spam fans are looking forward to his new cd and loving his performances in Spamalot.THIS cd is the one we’ve been waiting on for 5 years! Finally we’ll get the cd that Clay wants, done right.

  22. Chris Says:

    Hi Brian. Thanks for the great and totally unbiased article on Clay. In my opinion, season 2 will always be the best as it had Clay and Ruben, 2 very talanted men, who added a natural excitement to the whole season. As well, they had to sing with a backing track and only had about 1- 1 1/2 mins. to impress the audience. Now, the contestants get to sing longer, there is a full band, and also special stage settings to help impress the audience. Clay has went on to be a wonderful singer and entertainer and as the saying goes “you ain’t seen nothing yet”. I hope you get to interview Clay again now 5 years later as you were there at the start of his career. Thanks again.

  23. veronica lee Says:

    Loved your article.. Thanks so much!

  24. Darly Says:

    Great Article – I too am a Claymate from Lancaster, PA!!!!!

  25. lori Says:

    Thanks, Brian, for an entertaining and well-written blog.
    Clay is an intelligent and talented man, and has become savvy about life and business in the last five years.
    I have no doubt that he will surprise a lot of people with his new CD.
    I hope you get a chance to do an in-depth interview as I enjoy your writing style.
    Again, my thanks!
    North Carolina

  26. peggy sunseri Says:

    Thanks, Brian — great article. Lots of fun tidbits about your meetings and interviews with Clay. We fans love him to death and will always SUPPORT him. He’s not only a great musical talent, but his concerts are a blast, his tv appearances (especially Kimmel) are awesome. Then, again, we know of his continual charitable endeavors, from Bubel Aiken foundation to UNICEF, to McDonald’s charities and others, and are so proud of him for his dedication to those in need. He does this quietly, not for publicity.

  27. Miriam Says:

    Thanks Brian for the honest article
    Clay is the most underated Idol!

    A great singer, holds notes like no other.

    A gentleman to boot!!

    Season 2 was my favorite also. Will not watch this year as Clay will always be my Idol. I believe due to Simon’s comments Clay didn’t win, When will Simon ever admit that Clay is a great singer?

    Why don’t the AI powers that be pay respect to Clay and his wonderful voice. They keep saying this year 2008 is the best yet. Clay and Reuben were the best! That is that,
    the truth hurts—— so there Simon.

    Hopefully the DJ’s on radio will play Clay’s songs off his new CD this spring and summer. What gives when the radio stations do not play Clay’s songs? He needs good exposure on the airwaves.

  28. lil Says:

    You’re a good writer, Brian. Thanks for the article.

  29. Linda Says:

    Adding my thanks for a nice article. Also hope you will get to see him in Spamalot and review the new CD. I’ll watch for your next blog!

  30. Sienna Says:

    This is a refresher for a change. Thanks you, Brian.
    Looking forward to more unbiased Clay articles.
    He is one of a kind, this Clay Aiken.
    May he continue to excel in everything he does.

  31. Margaret (cookie2u) Says:

    Great article! Thanks , Brian, it’s nice to read something by someone who “gets” Clay. Season 2 was and I think will always be the best season. I just don’t think that there is anyone more talented than Clay, at least not anyone who may be around on Idol in the next few years. Yes, Clay has the “it” factor and is an all around great entertainer.

  32. Suzy Q Says:

    Thanks for a nice article.
    Being a Claymate, I am a little dismayed by a Clayfan who commented above about Rubens weight, and difficulty in breathing.
    I feel a commonality with Clay in that I too, was a victim of bullying, back in school, and to see a Clay fan performing a ‘verbal assault’ on another person, is sad. I don’t care if you are a Clay fan, or a Ruben fan..etc. the name calling and ridiculing doesn’t need to be made to get a point across.
    Bullying is bullying, and I hope the next time,’jena’ you will remember to do as Clay does, and take the high road.
    Your passion for Clay is wonderful, but in the interim, I hope you lose the desire to knock one down, to build the other up. It isn’t necessary for either Clay or Ruben to come out ahead this way.

  33. Amanda Says:

    Thanks for that enjoyable article.

    Although I love Clay, like you, I was disappointed with the last album (except for the awesome “Broken Wings”), but am VERY excited about the upcoming album, and – yes, his next appearance on the Kimmel show should be hilarious! Can’t wait!!!

  34. Susie Says:

    Hi, Brian,
    Loved reading about your adventures as a Claymate and all the little backstage tidbits about Clay’s charm, intelligence, talent and all around niceness.

    As others have pointed out, you’ve got to see him in Spamalot to realize just how talented he really is – he’s a superb and versatile comic actor who just keeps getting better and better each performance, playing multiple roles, and adding nuances of character and funny little stage business without ever trying to upstage the other actors. His “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” solo is absolutely hysterical – and the difficult dancing will blow you away.

    I especially enjoyed your take because I am a tranplanted Pennsylvanian who grew up in Lancaster, PA (I still miss dining on the patio at the Conestoga Inn on Lincoln Highway).

    This Feb. I traveled from L.A. for Clay’s Broadway phenomenon & had one of the best times of my life. My husband sat right beside me – not 15 rows back (he couldn’t – we were top row balcony! Claymate on a budget!).

    Even though Clay’s last album was mostly covers, it is still one of my favorites – I especially love his versions of “Broken Wings” and “Here You Come Again” and the vocals on “Every Time You Go Away.” as well as the Celtic spin on “Everything I Do.”

    The previews I have seen of his hand-on work on the new album with the amazing producer Kipper look really intriguing, and I have hopes that this one will become a signature album for him and really establish his credibility as an outstanding artist – not just another manufactured pop phenomenon.

    Thanks again for a very informative and entertaining article and good luck with your next interview!

  35. Bobbi Says:

    Thanks for this wonderful review and as I read each word I felt that you were speaking from the heart. Clay is a true ‘performer’ and will be the American Idol in many thousands of people’s heart around the world.
    As others have stated, if you haven’t already seen Clay Aiken in Spamalot, make it a point to see it before May 4, 2008 and then please write another review.
    Bobbi (NJ)

  36. Linda Says:

    Thanks for sharing this great story, Brian …. really enjoyed reading it. I’m hoping the same for the new CD. Although I liked the last CD it didn’t seem like Clay to me. The new one sounds pretty exciting …. based on the info I’ve seen about the producer & engineer.

  37. Sienna Says:

    I was a little caught off-guard by that Ruben comment, too. It was not
    necessary. Ruben and Clay remained friends after AI. They are both supportive of each other. Both are talented and good people.
    We are entitled to our own opinion, yes, but we should be careful next time. Jena, if you are still upset over Clay losing to Ruben, don’t be. Look at Clay now. He has evolved into a self-assured, kick-butt, brilliant actor. Enjoy him and his success. He will be with us as long as he wants to. So, don’t cry over a spilled milk. Smile.
    Thanks, Brian.

  38. Shannon Says:

    How sad that you STILL have not been able to get over the results of AI2. It’s been five years sweety, move on. If you believe Clay is so successful as you seem to think, why continue to fret? Such bitterness and hatred is sad. It’s only a talent show competition for Christ sake!

    BTW, have you heard of Texting??? That little thing you do to vote on American Idol besides using a land line. Ruben’s mom TEXTED so 200 votes was HARDLY a lot of votes and the lines are ALWAYS open. Maybe you should’ve done that. Five years after, your whinnying will not change the results and you can tell yourself Clay won, Clay won, Clay won, but fact is he didn’t and unfortunately you have serious issues because of it. How really sad. I’ll pray for you, maybe God can bring more peace, forgiveness and love to your heart, but again, all that over a reality talent show? Very sad.

  39. Judy Wolven Says:

    Great article Brian – have followed Clay since his first audition and love how he has known just what to do and how to get it done.
    Things don’t just happen, we are all here for a reason and I think Clay’s future is working the way it is supposed to.

    I too think Idol say’s each year it is better, which I really don’t get because each year there are some really good talents.

    I am so hooked just on the show because it’s fun to watch them grow each week.

    In regards to Ruben and Clay – I believe someone asked Clay who he keeps in touch with and he said Ruben and Kelly were both on his cell phone. There was never a problem with them and Ruben has a wonderful voice and I believe he is also doing what he was meant to do.

    travelingjudy – Indianapolis

  40. W. Wilson Says:

    Season 2 was the best Idol year yet because of Ruben and Clay. Loved your article!!

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