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30 November 1978 (age 38)
Clay Aiken (born Clayton Holmes Grissom on November 30, 1978) is a popular American singer who rose to fame on the American Idol television program, and who has become the most successful second-place finisher in that show's history, even handily eclipsing that year's "Idol" winner in sales.
His first CD, Measure of a Man, went triple platinum and was the subject of conflicting reviews: Many fans and some critics recognized and admired the pure pop sound ("so pure it floats") and top-notch production values while others heard only a manufactured sound, noting that the singer hadn't earned his musical chops but "merely" sang his way to the hearts of millions on television, a perceived unjust leap-frogging of "the true path of the true artist."
Merry Christmas With Love was his first Christmas album, and unusually for such a seasonal offering, it too went platinum, again with soaring, crystalline vocals and beautiful production work. His accompanying seasonal tour, The Joyful Noise tour, allowed him to combine his faith and moral vision with the triumphant power vocals his audiences had come to love.
His latest offering, 2006's A Thousand Different Ways, was, through the direction of mega-producer Clive Davis, largely a covers CD, ten of the fourteen cuts being well known melodic pop songs ranging from Richard Marx, Bryan Adams, Dolly Parton, Mister Mister, and Elton John. Two other songs, available only on digital versions of the album, are "If You Don't Know Me By Now" (through K-Mart.com) and "Lover All Alone" (through iTunes and co-written by Aiken himself). Many fans have wondered about the relative exclusion of the latter song, left languishing from the songlist present on the physical CD, as its intimate emotional material and Aiken's own writing handiwork produce a spellbinding effect.
Though clearly, based on his television and concert appeal, a performing artist whose live presentations show consummate showmanship, bringing surprising dynamism to studio songs, Aiken has had to endure a persistent hammering from entertainment critics and a tenacious (not to say malevolent) interest on the part of some in the media relating to questions about his sexuality. Through television appearances, print, and radio interviews, he has consistently denied being homosexual and the hounding has had its costs: he confessed to being on anti-depressant medication and under a physician's care due to anxieties surrounding public appearances.
The public has only to wonder or not about the purpose of media interest in Aiken's sexuality, to take his word or not, or to accept the statements of his friends and associates who deny that he has ever lied about his sexual orientation. What's left is the hope that Aiken stays grounded and continues to have successful CDs and tours (a top ten grosser in 2004). Fans look forward to his continued efforts to find his artistic voice and to identify the types of songs that will speak for him and expand his pop appeal in and beyond the US and East Asia.
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