Clay Aiken Biography and Profile

Clay Aiken
Clay Aiken. Photo by Mike Windle / Getty Images


November 30, 1978 - Raleigh, North Carolina.

Quote From Clay Aiken

"It's important that I make a difference in some way. It's not necessarily how I make a difference, but I want to make sure that I do."

Trivia Fact About Clay Aiken

Clay Aiken sang the Dolly Parton / Kenny Rogers hit "Islands In the Stream" at a high school dance at age 5.

Growing Up

Clay Aiken was born Clayton Holmes Grissom but later changed his last name to his mother's maiden name.

Aiken's birth father was a violent alcoholic who left him and his mother when Clay Aiken was one year old. By the age of five, Clay Aiken was performing in public. As a teenager he began appearing in a wide range of locally produced musicals, and he became a member of the Raleigh Boys Choir.

Clay Aiken's Career In Education

When the time came to enroll in college, Clay Aiken did not choose to pursue music. Instead he chose to pursue his interest in special education. This interest blossomed when Clay Aiken worked as a counselor at YMCA camps for kids with special needs. As a college student he took a part-time job working with an autistic child, and the child's mother, Diane Bubel, urged Clay Aiken to audition for American Idol. The TV show temporarily delayed his education, but Clay Aiken finished his education while on a concert tour and earned a bachelor's degree in special education in December 2003.

American Idol Auditions

Clay Aiken did not sail through the audition process for American Idol and was viewed as an unlikely finalist prospect. He had already filled out an application to participate on the TV competition show Amazing Race, when the suggestion came that he audition for American Idol instead.

He chose the latter direction. Clay Aiken was deemed to have a nerdy appearance that was distinctly unlike what anyone imagined for a pop star. However, when he opened his mouth to sing it turned a number of heads. Clay Aiken slipped into the finalist pool as a "wild card" helped significantly by a soulful performance of Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me." Clay Aiken also cooperated with American Idol producers in changing his appearance somewhat including wearing contact lenses instead of glasses.

American Idol Finalist

Once Clay Aiken made it to the finalist pool, he was quickly viewed as a favorite to win. His crooning style of performing won over millions of viewers, from the very young to elderly fans who rarely paid attention to current pop music. Ultimately, Ruben Studdard won the competition, but that did not stop Clay Aiken from becoming a pop star. In a Rolling Stone cover story in July 2003, Clay Aiken told the interviewer, "One thing I've found of people in the public eye, either you're a womanizer or you've got to be gay. Since I'm neither one of those, people are completely concerned about me." Questions about his sexual orientation followed him throughout his career until he came out as gay in 2008.

Clay Aiken's Charitable Work

Outside of his music career, another element of Clay Aiken's work that endears him to fans is his commitment to charitable causes. His interest in issues surrounding autism led to the founding of the Bubel/Aiken Foundation for support of integration of children with disabilities into the environment of their non-disabled peers. In addition, Aiken has donated performances to countless benefits and served as an advocate for children in difficult situations.

Best-Selling First Single

Clay Aiken's first single, a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" along with "This Is My Night" was released in June 2003. It was the fastest selling single since Elton John's "Candle In the Wind," released after the death of Princess Diana. It also became the first platinum selling single since Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance" went platinum in 2002.

Career As a Pop Star

The success of Aiken's first single laid the groundwork for his first solo album. The eagerly awaited Measure Of a Man appeared in October 2003. The album sold over 600,000 copies in its first week of release making it the fastest selling debut album in 10 years. Clay Aiken made a number of television appearances in support of his music, including a well-received stint as musical guest on Saturday Night Live in February 2004.

After a year of nearly non-stop touring, Clay Aiken released a Christmas album Merry Christmas With Love in November 2004. The album went platinum in 6 weeks and was the biggest selling holiday album of the year. Aiken also entered the bestselling book business with Learning To Sing: Hearing the Music In Your Life, cowritten with Allison Glock. After some time off from the music business, he reappeared with the Jukebox tour, a collection of songs from the last 50 years. It kicked off in the summer of 2005.

Clay Aiken's appearance on the American Idol Season 5 finale show kicked off anticipation for the release of his next solo album. A Thousand Different Ways was preceded by the single "Without You." The album itself was released in September 2006 and debuted at #2 on the album chart ultimately being certified gold for sales. 

Clay Aiken's commercial success declined steadily with his next three studio albums. 2012's Steadfast failed to reach the top 100 on the album chart. He continued to make appearances in the adult contemporary top 40 with songs from each of the albums.



In January 2008 Clay Aiken joined the Broadway cast of the musical Monty Python's Spamalot. He appeared in the show for four consecutive months playing the part of Sir Robin. He returned to Broadway in the Sir Robin role in September 2008 and stayed until January 2009.


In 2014 Clay Aiken ran as a candidate for the House of Representatives from North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District. He won a three-way race for the Democratic Party nomination, but he lost the general election to incumbent Republican Renee Ellmers garnering 41% of the vote.