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Clay Aiken is stepping back into the limelight, revealing more personality than ever.
The 33-year-old singer will always be part of the permanent pop-culture lexicon after gaining fame as one of the most successful runners-up in American Idol history, dating back nine years to season two.
But he has also been fiercely private, despite flashes of outspokenness. (See: Aiken’s bitter 2009 tirade against fellow Idol also-ran Adam Lambert, one of whose TV performances he slammed as “awful,” “contrived” and “slightly frightening.”)
For years, Aiken — whose fans are dubbed “Claymates” — appeared to be in hiding from his true self, dodging persistent questions about his sexuality. In September 2008, he publicly confirmed he’s gay, months after welcoming a son, Parker Foster Aiken, with friend Jaymes Foster, the sister of music producer David Foster. She produced his fourth studio album, On My Way Here, released that same year.
In July 2010, Aiken dropped a disc of standards called Tried and True, and this week, he returns from a two-year album hiatus with the follow-up Steadfast, a tribute to ’50s and ’60s songs. It contains seven tracks from Tried and True, plus a pair of covers and one original song in a repackaging of his previous effort.
In that sense, he appears to be capitalizing on his current stint as a contestant on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, the Donald Trump-created ego franchise from which Aiken most certainly would have shied away several years ago. He can be seen Sunday nights competing for cash (all proceeds go to charity) alongside Arsenio Hall, Debbie Gibson and Real Housewife Teresa Giudice.
Aiken marked a media appearance to promote his projects on Tuesday’s edition of the Bravo chatfest Watch What Happens, hosted by Andy Cohen. The no-holds-barred tone of the show seemed to rub off on Aiken, who confessed to having plastic surgery.
“I had operative surgery on my jaw for a TMJ thing and I had them suck the fat out of my chin while they were in there,” he said, not mentioning the date on which he went under the knife. “I was like, ‘You know what, while I’m already down, go ahead and take the vacuum in there and suck the fat out of my chin.'”
(It’s worth noting that Aiken has made a cameo on NBC’s 30 Rock as the cousin of the character Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), whose weak chin is a running joke on the series.)
In another candid conversation, the singer and reality star weighed in on the tragic death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead by neighorhood watchman George Zimmerman while unarmed last month.
“The Trayvon Martin story has gotten a lot of coverage already but this is in memory of him,” Aiken told the Huffington Post on Wednesday, sporting a hooded sweatshirt in tribute to the Florida teen. “As a father, you think about your own kid and mine is really young but this could be anyone’s child. We need to have something happen here, some sort justice and arrest. I’m not saying a conviction, I’m just saying an arrest and a jury deciding this instead of just some cops.”
According to the Huff Post, citing sources, Aiken “does very well” during his Apprentice run.
Nearly 10 years since his overnight Idol fame, the once-shy performer seems to be making a concerted effort to remain in the spotlight, where he seemingly belongs — and wants to be.
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