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American Idol: Clay Aiken and The “Useless Celebrity” Mode

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Clay Aiken, beloved by millions, is almost as famous with his fans for his bon mots as for his singing.

One of the pearls of wisdom to come out of Mr. Aiken’s mouth was something along the lines of: whatever the vicissitudes of life after American Idol, he was dead-set against becoming just another “useless celebrity.”

As we ponder what Clay might have meant by the term “useless celebrity,” it’s perhaps enlightening to look around at the most recent useless celebrity feuds.

Or maybe not.

Okay, I know you want to go there.

First up, we have the Kelly Clarkson v. Benji Madden swingfest, which I helpfully documented here.

The lovable Kelly Clarkson of course was being her lovable self when, in an interview for a magazine feature actually called something like “Stupid Questions for [Name That Celebrity],” she dared to make a joke—a joke not only about Beyonce, but—gasp!—about HILARY DUFF.

Well, slap you up side the head, Ms. Clarkson.

As Hilary Duff’s boyfriend’s genius twin brother was quick to opine: Kelly Clarkson got her start as a pop star on a tv show, while, according to said genius, Hilary “Lizzie McGuire” Duff did not.

This is why internet chatters invented the ROTFLMAO acronym. Even mtv.com went “dude . . . huh?? . . .” over that one.

Then, in a different useless celebrity feud, we had Liam Gallagher of Oasis going at it with Chris Martin of Coldplay.

Mr. Gallagher, apparently, was appalled that Mr. Martin had used the occasion of a gig at a children’s cancer fundraising event to “bang” on about his political views (which, of course, children everywhere are enchanted with).

As Liam Gallagher put it:

When Coldplay did this gig they banged on about the war, that’s wrong. Chris Martin shouldn’t be using this cause to bang on about his own views on the war. If him and his gawky bird want to go banging on about the war they can do it at their own gigs.

That lot are just a bunch of knobhead students – Chris Martin looks like a geography teacher. What’s all that with writing messages about Free Trade on his hand when he’s playing. If he wants to write things down I’ll give him a pen and a pad of paper. Bunch of students.

These gigs are about kids who have got cancer, they’ve got to fight a war every day of their lives. That’s what we’re all here doing this for.

Then later, at the next celebrity event, Chris Martin, exacting revenge on Gallagher for calling his wife a gawky bird, called Liam Gallagher “short.”

Wow. Call the waaaammmmmmbulance.

(Mental note: Chris Martin looks like a geography teacher? I did not know that.

My geography teacher was an alien (the kind from outer space) named Miss Crosskey, who sat behind her desk, spinning a huge globe and laughing maniacally, while we all waited for Batman and Robin to burst into her lair and save us from her evil clutches.

Plus, besides Miss Crosskey, I seriously thought that all the other geography teachers in the world actually had real jobs. As football coaches. So they looked like . . . David Hasselhoff?

Please, all you people from the United Association of Geography Teachers World-Wide. Stop hatemailing me. Calm yourself. Go look up the northernmost city in Kazakhstan. Nah, I’m just pulling your longitudes. I meant Uzbekistan.)

But I digress.

Not since The Fight of the Girl-Gnomes (a/k/a the 1967 Walt Disney classic, The Gnome-Mobile) has a catfight been so entertaining.

And, while it’s never polite to call someone’s wife a bird (much less a gawky bird—although it seems that is more politically correct than calling someone a water buffalo), one must admit to the fact that—whether Beauty or The Bird—Gwyneth Paltrow is a woman who started out in life with Brad Pitt and ended up with Chris Martin.


Which reminds me of the fact that a similar human conundrum, Mia Farrow, started out in life with Ole Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra, and ended up with Ole Bug Eyes, Woody Allen.


‘Nuff said.

Now: what is this about Clay Aiken and The “Useless Celebrity” Mode?

I do believe that Mr. Aiken has said something along the lines of at one point in his life he had decided he didn’t want to be “just” a singer; he wanted to be “more than” a singer.

So, while he’s done gigs such as reporting (to rave reviews) from the red carpet at the Emmys for The Insider, Clay Aiken also has been off on UNICEF tours and busy with a charitable foundation.

Wonderful stuff.

But my point is this: love him or hate him, for millions, Mr. Aiken’s voice is not “just” singing. It’s joy. And creating joy is never useless.

So—upon the second anniversary of the release of Measure of a Man—here’s to Mr. Aiken’s sophomore disc, wherever it may be.

In the meantime, unlike Ms. Paltrow and Ms. Farrow, Aiken fans can—sssshhhh!—gloat that they started out in life with Clay Aiken . . . and ended up with Clay Aiken.


And with his singing. ‘Nuff said.

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  • Georgeann

    “But my point is this: love him or hate him, for millions, Mr. Aiken’s voice is not “just” singing. It’s joy. And creating joy is never useless.”

    Well said!

  • uchenna

    after listening to CLAY i was knocked of literarily

  • Ann

    Clay Aiken is my favorite male singer and male entertainer. Clay Aiken is the greatest and the best male musical artist ever!!! Clay Aiken Rules!!!

  • Jo Ann Edwards

    you said it all He is more than just an unbelievable Voice..but he is a true performer, entertainer…and humanatarian, YES I LIKE HIM …I REALLY REALLY LIKE HIM LOL

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    I’ll agree, Clay Aiken has a heart and brain to go along with those pipes. But if I were inclined to moon over either (which is not the case), I would pick Chris Martin over Brad Pitt any day.

  • The Theory

    i did a lot of laughing while reading this. good job.

  • Nathaniel Winn

    I found this to be a very enjoyable read.

    Keep up the good work!

  • stella J

    Didn’t Liam recently call Chris Martin a “plant pot” ? That guy is fucking hilarious in a rock star sort of way. It’s funny because Noel Gallagher and Chris Martin are pretty close; I guess Liam is just being Liam.

  • kat

    when robbie williams was feuding with the gallaghers and a new oasis album came out, rob sent a wreath after he heard it… a funeral wreath, and a note of condolences. haha there are still some people with imagination :)

    and oh yeah, very much agree clay aiken = joy!

  • http://www.idolhabit.blogspot.com Sticker

    The Theory wrote: i did a lot of laughing while reading this. good job.

    Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

  • http://www.idolhabit.blogspot.com Sticker

    Nathaniel Winn wrote: I found this to be a very enjoyable read.

    Keep up the good work!

    Thanks! I hope to (keep up the good work). Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://www.idolhabit.blogspot.com Sticker

    Yes, stella j —

    And what exactly is a “plant pot”? I mean, we could go with a lot of different meanings here.

    While some have been so kind as to congratulate me on my work, I must admit that often the material just writes itself.

    Thank you.

  • http://www.idolhabit.blogspot.com Sticker

    kat wrote:

    when robbie williams was feuding with the gallaghers and a new oasis album came out, rob sent a wreath after he heard it… a funeral wreath, and a note of condolences. haha there are still some people with imagination :)

    I am beginning to wonder if there might be some peculiarly British talent for such.

    Their pop feuds are almost like soccer club feuds.

    Next thing you know someone will be toilet-papering Liam’s next venue or stealing Chris Martin’s goat mascot.

  • Guppusmaximus

    Considering the culmination of both artists works amount to pretentious,over-produced ,over-played garbage, I don’t think their words should make such an impact.

  • Vickie

    Well said, Sticker. I was wondering if we would hear from you on this subject.

  • http://www.idolhabit.blogspot.com Sticker

    Vickie wrote:

    Well said, Sticker. I was wondering if we would hear from you on this subject.

    Thank you, Vickie, and, yes, I guess you know me well enough to know I wouldn’t pass this one up!

  • shirley romano

    These feuds (well, Clay Aiken doesn’t have time for such nonsense) and as for being a ‘useless celebrity’ I do feel he has a vision of what is expected of him, as opposed to what he expects of himself. Have we scraped in an oyster, and found ourselves a pearl? And will we throw it back because the oyster wasn’t big enough?
    Life is about the choices we make for ourselves. Clay knows that, but do we?

  • jenna

    Well you certainly “get it” as far as Clay goes but have to disagree with the Kelly thing. No doubt that Kelly is a better singer than Hillary, but Hillary has the edge on the lip sync. Beyonce on the other hand should not even be in the same sentence with these other two. Kelly and Hillary have light years to go to even compare to Beyonce.

    While Kelly has a somewhat good voice, she really, really needs to work on breath control and that screaming. Yikes, not music to my ears at all.

    Back to Clay. Clay is a natural born and gifted singer. According to him he does not warm up nor practice scales. He just belts out those tunes and has the most awesome tone. Gifted, just extremely gifted. Again, according to him, singing is just a means to an end. The end not being singing. Obtaining influence and making money to further his causes is his ambition. Those causes being “opening doors and opening mines”, education and the inclusion of handicapped individuals. That’s where his heart is.

  • http://www.idolhabit.blogspot.com Sticker

    jenna wrote:

    Again, according to him, singing is just a means to an end.

    I guess one question someone might raise in response is:

    is there a point at which using a gift as a means to an end overlooks or minimizes the importance of the gift in its own right?

  • Lindsay

    “In the meantime, unlike Ms. Paltrow and Ms. Farrow, Aiken fans can—sssshhhh!—gloat that they started out in life with Clay Aiken . . . and ended up with Clay Aiken.”

    Well said! It’s nice to see an artist who is staying true to himself.

    Sticker, I always enjoy reading your blogs. Keep up the good work!

  • Lindsay

    “In the meantime, unlike Ms. Paltrow and Ms. Farrow, Aiken fans can—sssshhhh!—gloat that they started out in life with Clay Aiken . . . and ended up with Clay Aiken.”

    Well said! It’s nice to see an artist who is staying true to himself.

    Sticker, I always enjoy reading your blogs. Keep up the good work!

  • http://www.idolhabit.blogspot.com Sticker

    Thanks, Lindsay! And I always enjoy having readers stop by with a comment.

  • Anne

    Really great read!! And yes, Clay is defintely creating joy with his celebrity. It’s another things that makes him so wonderfully unique from everyone else in this business.

    Question though: What does “bon mots” mean? *blushes*

  • http://www.idolhabit.blogspot.com Sticker

    Anne-

    Thanks for stopping by. No blushing needed.

    “Bon mots” means, literally, good words. As an expression, it means clever phrases, charming quips, the interesting turn of the word.

  • Anne

    Thanks, Sticker!

    Yup, you’re absolutely right…Clay’s very famous among his fans for his snarky “bon mots”. :)

  • Susan

    Great article! I enjoyed reading it and you are one of the wonderful writers who “gets it” about Clay and what he is working towards. I think in the beginning that he used the singing as a means to an end but he actually enjoys touring and singing and the crowd reaction now. He does want to “make a difference” and help to improve the lives of others who are not as fortunate as we are. What’s not to love about that? Also, that voice is even better heard in person (no lip sync.)than on his CDs. Didn’t think it was possible! Lovin’ Clay!!

  • http://www.idolhabit.blogspot.com Sticker

    Well, I’m glad you stopped by, Susan.

    Thanks.

  • Vickie

    Well, in his book, he also used the phrase “means to an end.” But, it was in this context: “…performing is a high unto itself, but more important, it is a means to an end. Spreading happiness through song allowed me to lift people up, and that is a more meaningful purpose than anything as silly as seeking adulation.”

    He made several other comments in his book on how he feels about music.

    Clay’s fans have gone round and round on this topic. I wonder if he just hasn’t been asked the right questions, such as,”What is the difference between what you feel the purpose of your career is, and how you feel about music itself?”

    Maybe it’s how he rationalizes being given such an extraordinary gift. Who really knows?

    However, after having watched a PBS special on the history of protest and music, I have concluded that Clay is far from the first artist to see music as “a means to an end.” Nor is he the most recent.

  • http://www.idolhabit.blogspot.com Sticker

    Do you think there is a consensus in Clay-land about the importance of using the gift and giving it to the world?

  • Vickie

    Sticker:

    Absolutely.

    The question then becomes:which way is more important? Or, are they both the same? And, isn’t it better that he gets to use his gift in multiple ways?

    *sigh*…I see him on TV, and I read newspaper interviews, and I find that the interviewers focus a lot on the “Clay as activist” part. And, they ask the same tired questions time and time again. I think that any fan could do better. And, I also think that, if asked the right questions, Clay could speak quite eloquently about music. He has before. But, he is very literal-minded. Clay answers the questions he is asked.

    I love everything about Clay. The voice, the looks, the personality, the dedication to humanitarian causes. I love the music AND the man. But, even I would like to see journalists approach an interview from another angle. I would love to hear him speak passionately about music.

  • http://www.idolhabit.blogspot.com Sticker

    Vicki,

    I also would like more focus on the music. Clay’s music is the one thing that only thing that Clay can do. If he doesn’t do his music, it doesn’t get done.

    I think the world would be poorer for not having as much of Clay’s music as possible. Music expressing an extraordinary gift is valuable. And eternal.

  • Tim

    What?