This just in: Clay Aiken is gay. And in other news, the Earth revolves around the Sun, American Idol is a massive hit for Fox, and Paris Hilton is inexplicably famous. Okay, okay, I don’t mean to be dismissive, but on some levels, Aiken’s revelation on the cover of People magazine that fatherhood has prompted him to publicly acknowledge what most of us have suspected for a long time now is pretty much the “so what?” announcement of the year.
And yet I also recognize that as a milestone in the life of Mr. Aiken – and perhaps in the lives of the thousands and thousands of folks across this nation who, for whatever reason, have two very small, very significant words (“I’m gay”) caught somewhere in their throats, or further down in the knots of their stomachs – the People cover is, in fact, a big deal. Of course, in the coming days and weeks, we’ll hear folks yell things like, “keep it to yourself, Clay, we don’t want to hear about your private life!” Yet I suspect such vitriol will come from the same folks who have never once railed against Elisabeth Hasselbeck or Kathy Lee Gifford or Kelly Ripa for yapping incessantly about their husbands and kids – their private lives! – on daytime talk shows.
I wish we lived in a world where Aiken’s announcement wasn’t considered brave, but rather mundane. I wish we lived in a world where the only message-board debates about Mr. Aiken involved the quality (or lack thereof) of his music, rather than what pronouns he selects when he’s singing a love song. And part of me – the selfish, out and proud, pop-culturally obsessed, Idol fanatic side of me – wishes Clay had opted to come out back in 2003, before he released his debut disc, Measure of a Man.
You see, Aiken’s announcement that he’s gay comes at the lowest point of his pop popularity. That 2003 debut disc moved 2.8 million copies according to Nielsen SoundScan; his 2004 Christmas album sold 1.4 million copies; A Thousand Different Ways (released in 2006) barely went gold, selling 528,000; and his latest, On My Way Here, has moved only 152,000 copies since its May 6, 2008 release date. So as a test balloon – can an openly gay American Idol contestant hit multiplatinum success on a major label at the beginning of his career? – we’re going to have to wait a little while.
So what about Clay’s prospects on the charts post-coming out? I’m guessing they might actually go up. Any fan of his who’d abandon him over the People story probably jumped ship around the time the tabloids ran what was allegedly grainy web cam footage of a shirtless Clay looking for love on the Internet. The diehard Claymates, I’d imagine, will stick with their man. And those like me, who’ve never dug the former Idol runner-up’s musical output, well, we’ve just received a reason to listen to the guy’s next project with open ears. Surely, a newfound emotional honesty can only help his artistry, no? (Oh, and if you haven’t seen the People cover, do check it out after the jump!)
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A review of On My Way Here