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February 22, 2024

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Editor Picks For Favorite Idols: Clay Aiken

For better or worse, “American Idol” has greatly affected my life.

Well, not so much the show as one contestant on the show. I’ll admit it — I’m a “Claymate.”

For those who are unfamiliar with this term, it’s the name given to fans of “Idol” season two runner-up Clay Aiken. We’re the people who fell in love with the geeky man from Raleigh, N.C. and his great voice.

Claymates are an interesting group of people, because many in the fandom were or are overly enthusiastic about Aiken and his career. I’ll admit, for the first years of his career, I was one of these people; the amount of time and effort I put into worrying about Aiken’s career and obsessing over him was questionable at best. “Claymates” got a bad reputation in the media for their fierce defense of Aiken’s talent and sexuality from people who disliked him or claimed he was gay when he didn’t comment on the matter.

They also put a lot of money into Aiken’s career with many fans traveling hundreds of miles to see him in concert or on Broadway multiple times. At the same time, they do a lot for charities Aiken supports, such as UNICEF and his own National Inclusion Project for children with learning disabilities.

“Claymates” have a massive Internet presence with numerous message boards devoted to Aiken and his career. I couldn’t even begin to tally the amount of hours I’ve spent on those message boards over the last eight years, talking with others about Aiken, his career and music.

I’ve been to six of his concerts, and I’ve loved every single one of them. I’ve befriended plenty of people at these concerts and on these message boards. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to connect with these people, whom I would not even know existed were it not for the Aiken fandom. Throughout the highs and lows of Aiken’s career, we’ve been able to bond.

One of the most notorious moments in Aiken’s career was when he revealed he was gay. Many Claymates felt he was lying to them or felt being gay was wrong and abandoned him. However, I had never been more proud to be a fan of his. Even if I didn’t like his music as much as I’d used to, I felt a sense of happiness that he was able to be himself, and it reminded me why I loved him.

Lately, Aiken’s albums have not been selling as well as they used to, and I don’t spend as much time or money on him as before. However, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Aiken. I still talk to many of the friends I’ve made over the years thanks to the Claymate message boards. I still watch old concert and TV videos of Aiken’s performances and reminisce about the fandom and career highlights of his. Plus, I still get chills from his powerful voice.

“American Idol” encourages and spurs the development of passionate fan bases, and Claymates are a perfect example. Aiken isn’t the most successful contestant the show’s ever had (but one of the most successful non-winners), and his fan base has surely dwindled for a number of reasons. However, the way Aiken’s life was transformed by the show and the way lives of fans were changed by Aiken’s career is a testament to the show’s power in popular culture.

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