Clay Aiken went from ‘American Idol’ to gay icon — and more
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
It should come as no surprise that singer Clay Aiken would be a gentleman. With his Southern twang and clean-cut persona, he’s both personable and professional in an interview. But the kid is also pretty slick.
“Not many people can deal with the scrutiny of bullshit.”
Whoa — did Clay Aiken just drop the “S” word? The remark comes on the heels of a question about his much blogged-about new relationship with Jeff Walters, a local actor with recent parts in such shows as Uptown Players’ Closer to Heaven and Ohlook’s The Rocky Horror Show. Perez Hilton and many others (our own Instant Tea blog even got in on the action) were quick to highlight the guys’ night out on the town, complete with pics at Theatre Three and the Gaylord. What soon followed were pics of Walters from Grindr and his work as an underwear model.
“I’ll save you the trouble of asking and not answer,” Aiken laughs with that underlying tone that he’s tight-lipped about his personal life.
Fair enough. There is much more to Aiken, after all, than mere gossip fodder, as he’s proven with his staunch activism for the welfare of children and youth. His service with the National Inclusion Project (formerly the Bubel/Aiken Foundation) and UNICEF has been notable, but his work with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) may have his most personal vested interest at heart.
“I think that I chose to work with GLSEN more vocally than other equality organizations because it hits home more,” he says. “All the organizations are incredible, but I got picked on growing up as a kid. For being a nerd, for being gay before I knew I even was. And I still get picked on. Being a celebrity doesn’t protect you and it can be worse when it’s more public.”
Aiken says that without any sign of whining. He focuses less on what people are saying about him (there is a lot out there that’s not-so-nice, starting when he was still an American Idol contestant) and is more interested in directing his attention to anti-bullying causes and making schools safe.
“I understand that mission from my personal standpoint. From the scars,” he chuckles. “But as a former teacher, I want to be sure schools are safe places for kids.”
Interestingly, as a fairly new dad (his son is 2 now), Aiken says his passion didn’t necessarily grow from parenthood. Instead, he says he’d like to think he was always that passionate. But having a son did add a perspective that he thinks might be missing in today’s LGBT parents.
“Well, it’s one thing to protect yourself, but an entirely different thing to protect your child,” he says. “I understand that if my son is gay, I want him to have rights and protections. I think that idea is somewhat lacking within the community. It’s easy to forget that the rights we’re fighting for are for another generation.”
Aiken hesitates to liken the struggle for equal rights for LGBT citizens now with the civil rights movement of Black America in the ‘60s, but he connected with the idea that then, people were working and fighting for rights so that generation’s children didn’t have to. Aiken encourages that thought for LGBT parents.
“We don’t have as many opportunities to look at it that way,” he says. “The generation before us may not have been able to get married and we may in this lifetime, but as a father now, I want to make sure and set up a future for my son.”
Lest we forget, Aiken is first and foremost a musician and singer. He’ll remind North Texas of that as his tour stops at Verizon Theatre on Tuesday in support of his fifth full-length studio release, Tried and True. He recorded old-school tunes from the ‘50s and ’60s, putting his indelible vocal stamp on classics like “Mack the Knife” and
“Unchained Melody.” Ironically, Aiken doesn’t listen much to any music. He’s more of a news junkie.
“I really don’t. I listen to NPR and watch CNN,” he admits. “I love top 40 stuff like Katy Perry and Gaga when it’s on in the car, but I guess I’m kind of a music-less musician.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.