I was just a few seconds away from changing the channel.
I love music, appreciate good singers, have loved my years of taking part in film and theatre and writing, and I support the arts of all kinds, so I didn't mind turning on the second season of "American Idol" to see if anyone showed potential. But with the emphasis on crash-and-burn auditions, "comic" moments that were none-too-funny and snide comments masquerading as wit, I'd had about enough.
And then the skinny guy with the crazy hair walked out.
Damn, that Clay Aiken could sing.
Clay was right about what he told the judges: he was good enough for "Number One, Number Two at least" - and not just on Idol. I left the show behind, but I kept Clay. And though he thought he'd go back to teaching after his time on the show ended, something else happened instead.
Ten years went by in the brutally competitive entertainment industry, and he's still here.
Six albums (including a re-release) and an EP. Six million sold. Including the Number 1 Billboard debut of "Measure of A Man," Clay joined the elite ranks of artists who had their first five albums debut in the Top Ten.
As a graduate of UNC Charlotte with a degree in special education, he started a foundation with Diane Bubel (whose son has autism) to include children with disabilities into the life experiences of their typically developing peers. Then called the "Bubel/Aiken Foundation," it went from a mock foundation created to satisfy the requirements for his senior project to the National Inclusion Project, celebrating its tenth year of bringing fun and friendship to ALL kids.
UNICEF appointed him a Goodwill Ambassador in 2004, and he has traveled to Afghanistan, Indonesia, Uganda, Mexico, Kenya, and Somalia, as well as promoting children's health, welfare and education in the USA and Canada.
His book "Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life" (written with Allison Glock) made the New York Times Best Sellers List.
He tried his hand at acting, appearing on "Saturday Night Live," "Ed," "Days of Our Lives," "Scrubs," "30 Rock" and "Drop Dead Diva," to name a few.
Clay has had two television specials of his own: "A Clay Aiken Christmas" for NBC and "Clay Aiken: Tried & True - LIVE!" for PBS.
He made his Broadway debut in "Monty Python's Spamalot."
Here's what Tony and Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols had to say about Clay's performance:
Clay has supported the rights of people with disabilities, of children here and around the world and of the LGBT community, of which he is a member.
And he sang:
But it would take a thousand days and a thousand photographs to list all he has done. Suffice it to say that those who predicted that he'd be one who'd simply enjoy fifteen minutes of fame were wrong.
Clay's still here, still singing, still touring, still advocating.
He's enjoyed success in a number of modes, so now I'm looking for his first feature film and a radio show. He's proven adept at trying something new, so I'll be surprised but not shocked at what he tries next.
And I wouldn't mind another book at all.
And a new album of original songs - at least one with a writing credit. (I still feel that his "Lover All Alone," co-written with David Foster, is his finest, most personal song.)
Oh - and isn't it about time to head back to Broadway?
Thanks for ten years, Clay. Thanks for that glorious voice, those uproarious jokes conjured by your quick wit, those reasons to care about people in far places, with different gifts or in different circumstances.
Thanks for all the wonderful times I've shared with my sister, when we said "Hey, Clay's going to be..." in Anaheim or San Francisco or San Diego, in Los Angeles or Sacramento or San Jose, filming a TV show in Hollywood or appearing on Broadway or holding a benefit in Raleigh or Washington D.C. We've been there when we could, and spending time with each other has meant even more than being there to see you - and I can never overstate how much fun and wonder it has brought to my life to be there for you.
And so I'm very happy to know that one day soon, I'll be turning on the television or the radio, and there you'll be. Or maybe I'll grab my car keys or even my luggage to go and see you again.
Ten years, and you remain a singer of rare ability, a performer who is endlessly entertaining, an actor who surprises, an advocate who motivates and moves - and a stranger who is one of my loved ones.
Ten years, and it all comes full circle --- and goes on and on and on.
Always and forever.