As a high school senior with little to do other than purchase Tiki swag at Target for my future college dorm room, I was very much into American Idol. And by very much into American Idol, I mean I-owned-best-of-DVDs-before-there-was-even-a-reason-to-have-a-best-of-DVD obsessed. (I even have the elimination order of the first 10 seasons memorized, even though I could not tell you what a derivative is. That's right — Idol knocked math completely out of my brain.) Particularly Season 2 of the series, otherwise known as the season that gifted us with the angelic lilt of Clay Aiken, the special education teacher-turned-music superstar-turned-reality star-turned politician. But he might have to strike that last title from his resume, because Aiken lost the North Carolina House of Representatives seat to Rep. Renee Ellmers. That's right — the man who got second place on both Idol and Celebrity Apprentice proves to, once again, always be the bridesmaid.
But you've got to give the guy credit — his road to this year's midterm elections was one made for television. Which is precisely why his journey can be told via every song he sang on American Idol. So coming from this diehard Aiken fan, circa 2003, who may or may not have spent way too much of the phone bill voting for him and paid big money to see him close up during the American Idols LIVE! tour that same year, I give you Clay Aiken's Emotional Journey to the Midterm Elections, as Told Though His Idol Performances.
Take it away, Clay.
"Somewhere Out There"
Aiken had a fulfilling life, working at Raleigh's Brentwood Elementary School with children with autism. But, a former choir boy, he yearned for something more — for someone out there that will find him, and help him make his dreams come true. Like, say, his Claymates...
...Who welcomed him with open arms during Season 2 of American Idol. And his success on the show was hardly guaranteed — as in politics, Aiken had to work hard for recognition during the reality show, not scoring a place in the finals until America voted him in following the Wildcard round.
"To Love Somebody"
That said, despite all the love for Aiken, America turned out to not love him quick as much as he loved it. Because he lost American Idol to Ruben Studdard by 134,000 votes. Not even a pimp suit could help him make up the difference.
But his Claymates would make sure to make up the difference where it counted. Though Studdard's career floundered following his win — though he found success in gospel, most people hadn't heard from him until returned to TV in 2013 on The Biggest Loser — Aiken turned his Idol stardom into Billboard success: His debut album, Measure of a Man, was the highest-selling first album for a single artist in a decade.
"Here, There and Everywhere"
Following his successful debut, he was inescapable. He followed that up with a successful Christmas album, Merry Christmas With Love, three additional albums, and a successful stint on Broadway starring in Spamalot. And he even returned often to the small screen, with appearances on Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!, and Live with Regis and Kelly, serving as guest host. (Though, to much controversy.) Yes, he was here, there, and everywhere — on our radios, television sets, and gossip pages.
"Tell Her About It"
His success on the charts and on Broadway came in tandem with success in her personal life. In 2008, he told everyone that he was gay, and he welcomed a daughter with friend Jaymes Foster, the sister of record producer David Foster.
"I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)"
So Aiken had a successful music and Broadway career, and a lovely, modern home life. But he couldn't help himself — he had to get back to television. After all, what better way to bring awareness to not only your star power, but your charities (like Aiken's National Inclusion Project, supporting children with disabilities) than to appear on the fifth season of Celebrity Apprentice in 2012? When stacked against the likes of Teresa Giudice and Lou Ferrigno, could he really lose?
"Build Me Up Buttercup"
Yes, yes he could. To Arsenio Hall. Why do you build him up, Donald Trump, just to let the rightful winner down?
"Mack the Knife"
But who needs to be anointed a winner by Donald Trump, when you could be anointed a winner... by America? In February 2014, Aiken announced his intention to run as a Democrat against Rep. Renee Ellmers, criticizing her role in the 2013 government shutdown. "The district where I’m running is represented by a congresswoman who I believe went to Washington with good intentions," he said in a video. "When her party leaders told her to vote for the government shutdown, she did. Twenty-one times. Even though she said herself it would be a disaster for the economy." Yes, Aiken, like Mack, came with a sharp bite when he came back in town. (Okay, so I know the song is really about murders and worse, but I had to fit it in somewhere.)
"Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me"
It wasn't a slam dunk. Aiken faced stiff opposition in Keith Crisco, who was also running for the spot. It seemed as though he could, once again, lose everything. But the former reality star yearned for his constituents to not give up on him. His Claymates had stuck with him for many moons — why would they let the sun set on him now?
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"
Then Aiken was met with some relief, followed by horrible tragedy. The primary results ended up being a stalemate, with Aiken just slightly edging out Crisco. But, just days later, Crisco passed away after a fall. In response, Aiken reached out to a grieving North Carolina, and suspended his campaign. One day after Crisco's passing, Aiken was named the winner.
During his primary campaign, voters and pundits did not listen — perhaps they'll listen now that he's a viable candidate for the seat in Congress? But he has a tough road, having to beat Republican Rep. Ellmers, the incumbent in the district. Will his philanthropic work, founding the National Inclusion Project, combined with his fame and appeal to the working class be enough to seal the Congress deal?
"This Is the Night"
This is the night — Nov. 4, 2014. The night Aiken would discover whether or not his political dreams would come true.
If only he were able to grease the wheels on both constituents and his own bus. Moments after voting in the polls, Aiken's bus broke down. An indication of a halted campaign to come?
"Someone Else's Star"
Aiken certainly likely feels he's wishing on someone else's star — first, he lost the American Idol title, then the Celebrity Apprentice title, and, now, the 2nd congressional district title. What's a perennial second-place finisher to do now?
"At This Moment"
Wallow. That's what.
"I Could Not Ask For More"
But, really, the man might be have been second place on Idol, Celebrity Apprentice, and now in the midterm election, but how close did we all get to second place? So perhaps he should sit back, bask in his successes, and not sweat his failure on the campaign trail. After all, there's always the Senate.