Have you ever looked at a colleague in a meeting or a somewhat familiar face at a party and formed an opinion despite having never met them? This opinion probably developed over time and included all kinds of things about their personality, their intelligence, their skills, maybe even their character. All of this is based only on casual encounters, comments from others and your own filters. Some of this may include certain prejudices that you didn't know you had based on half truths passed along as fact. And yet, when you finally get to meet this person and see them for who they really are, you could be stunned that they are the opposite of what you had heard was "gospel". Sort of how pretty women in business have to try harder. Or how gay pop singers who came into the public eye through a TV competition have to overcome all kinds of preconceived notions about..., well just about everything.
It's been an interesting few months to be a fan of Clay Aiken, culminating this week in watching him go toe-to-toe with some professional political pundits on many major networks including CNN, MSNBC and just this morning on CBS' Face the Nation. He stood up against the nonsense spewed by professional bigot Tony Perkins on Face The Nation and some guy on Piers Morgan show the other night that resembled a modern day Archie Bunker in both appearance and position. Clay was articulate, prepared and knowledgeable. THIS was the face of equality, an American citizen just asking for the same rights as those sharing the screen with him. The tweets that followed after @FacetheNation was aired offered a sense of both pride and amusement. Pre-show eye rolls in the twitterverse turned to praise and admiration, often from the same skeptics. The long time fans sat back with a satisfied smile that comes from knowing the truth about someone.
So, how did we get here? It all kind of started when the cast for this season of Celebrity Apprentice was announced at the beginning of the year. The show brought two things to the forefront. The first was Clay finally taking to his Twitter and showing his funny side. The second was the predictable posturing from colleagues, friends and bloggers about how Clay was going to be eaten alive in the first few weeks. What they failed to realize is that not only is this man smart, savvy and skilled but he's also very determined and when he is focused on something important-there is no stopping him.
Many celebrities go on the show for the exposure to help their careers or to support a charity. Clay went on this show to support his charity, as in the one he started and originally bore his name. Entertaining is what Clay does. The National Inclusion Project is who Clay is. I think there are some bloggers and even current contestants who still don't understand that. As he is poised to potentially become the Celebrity Apprentice, the rest of us observed the changes in perception with the knowledge that we knew all along what this man is capable of. If I used emoticons, I would have found one that said I told you so.
As the weeks have gone by, it's been fascinating to watch opinions change. The same sites that mocked him are predicting him to be a finalist or even win. (They are in the Final 3 as I type this.) He's a natural on Twitter (just like I knew he would be) but he's used it in a very strategic way. He's making connections with people like Brooke Baldwin on CNN which ultimately put him on her show and probably led to the other political appearances this week. But what has been really fascinating is watching him take on the idiots. These people who hide behind the quasi anonymity of a keyboard and don't think twice about showing 30,000 people just how ignorant and bigoted they are as they hurl insults and gay slams his way. The amusing part is watching Clay swat these online morons as easily as a clean-up hitter creams a hanging curveball. (Sorry for the sports reference, Clay.) The man really should try a side business as a heckler consultant to stand up comedians. Fifty2Thirty Comebacks, LLC? When asked why bother with them, he commented that he wants to expose their stupidity.
Dee Does Broadway. Dee Snider of Twisted Sister fame just released an album of Broadway songs done in metal style and he invited Clay to duet on Luck Be a Lady from Guys and Dolls. The song is the best reviewed track on the album with article after article citing Clay's vocals. His performance has been compared to the lead singers of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. That's right folks, Ozzie Osbourne and Rob Halford. He reached for something more and exceeded all expectations. Paging Mark Platt! If you are still looking to remake the film of Jesus Christ Superstar, look no further than Clay Aiken.
Nan said today that this is a rather strange convergence of things but that it feels right. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Clay's biggest successes will never be linear and obvious but rather circular and perhaps only obvious after the fact. Maybe a PBS special of crooning standards was too linear and too obvious. Sometimes obvious may not be interesting enough to a public with the attention span of a 3 year old. Today, he is poised to possibly win a very tough, business based reality show run by a man who couldn't be farther away politically than Clay's positions. Yet, this show caused him to use his voice via Twitter, which opened up new contacts, which likely resulted in his invited political appearance on CNN. And the first domino fell.
As I sit here staring at my computer screen with my biologically unnatural blue eyes staring back at me (are you listening Tony Perkins), I realized that 2 plus 2 will never equal 4 when it comes to Clay's career. There are just too many facets to him and too many perceptions to change. But perceptions can change in the right forums and he's finding those forums. Actually, they seem to be finding him now. I plan on watching him in his more traditional place on the concert stage when he tours this fall and winter. I know that I will enjoy that rare combination of vocal talent and comedic improv that many saw during Apprentice. His concerts provide music for the soul and laughter for the smile. But even if Clay's career more closely resembles an equation of 2 plus 2 equals the square root of a mango, success will taste that much sweeter.
(For those just discovering or re-discovering this talented man, I'd like to suggest the album On My Way Here.)
Clay Aiken, CNN, Brooke Baldwin,Celebrity Apprentice, Dee Snider, Face the Nation, American Idol, NBC, Piers Morgan, gay marriage,Ozzie Osbourne,Judas Priest,Mark Platt, Bob Schieffer,Donald Trump