Now seems like the best time to discuss, in detail, my journey to Clay Aiken.
The journey begins during American Idol Season 2. This remains the ONLY season that I watched from the very first show to the very last. The reason I watched? Clay Aiken. Actually, Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard. I was enthralled with this duo - who'd have thunk that America would embrace the larger than life Velvet Teddy Bear and the skinny teacher from North Carolina with the voice of an angel!
When I first saw Clay Aiken, I saw a young man, in need of a SERIOUS make over, but who could sing like no other. I didn't see straight or gay - I just saw Clay.
As American Idol progressed, I fell in love. I would never have imagined it - it had never happened before and it has not happened since. I fell in love with the voice. I fell in love with the smile. I fell in love with the sparkle in his eye. I fell in love with his presence. I didn't fall in love with straight or gay - I fell in love with Clay.
During the finale, I held my breath with the rest of America. I kind of had the outcome figured out, knew it would be Ruben, but I wanted Clay to win the whole thing. I watched as Ryan Seacrest opened that envelope. I watched Clay watching Ruben. I heard the words "Ruben Studdard" and I saw Clay gracefully step back and let Ruben shine. At that moment, I didn't see straight or gay - I saw just Clay, a man who was genuinely proud of and thrilled for his friend.
And then I watched. I watched as many interviews and appearances as I possibly could. I watched Clay on Oprah, on The Today Show, on The Early Show, on Ellen, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, on The Tonight Show. I watched him become more comfortable with himself, more confident. Clay is always the best guest on any show - he is funny, charming, caring, humble. Through it all was always that voice, the voice that drew me in from the beginning. I never saw straight or gay - I just saw Clay, growing and becoming the amazing entertainer that he is today.
Then I learned. I learned more about UNICEF. I learned more about Autism. I learned more about inclusion. I learned that, while I'm just one person, I can make a difference. I volunteered for Special Olympics. I volunteered at the Food Bank. I walked during the Race for the Cure. I grew to be a more altruistic human being. Clay brought this to me by being an activist for people whose voices are not heard. I never saw straight or gay - I just saw Clay, a man with an amazing heart, who uses his celebrity to bring some good into this world.
Then I witnessed. My first Clay Aiken concert was the 2006 Christmas tour. I was blessed to be in attendance at the Merrillville concert (yay me!!!!). What I witnessed was awe inspiring. Clay is so at home on the stage and he wraps his amazing voice and personality around each and every person that room. I have never seen an entertainer more in tune with the audience, interact and feed off them. Each concert is different, because Clay pays as close attention to the crowd as they do to him. The 2007 Summer tour is another high point. I went to five - yes FIVE concerts! Each and every one was different. There is nothing in this world like a Clay Aiken concert - nothing. I never saw straight or gay - I just saw Clay, singing, "dancing", chatting, laughing, joking and walking miles of bus lines.
I also saw the dark side. I became an Internet fan after the AI5 finale. I have met some amazing people on the Internet, but I have also seen some of the most vile hatred I have ever experienced. I watched a good man being hounded, harassed, abused, ridiculed and bullied. It was relentless and mind numbing. I cannot imagine having to put up with it, but Clay did with amazing grace and dignity. While the "press" screamed GAY GAY GAY - I never saw it - I just saw Clay and my heart bled for what this gentle man had to endure.
Now we come full circle. I read the People Magazine article and watched the Good Morning America interview. I saw an extremely courageous man make a difficult decision for the sake of his child. I felt for an entire family, people I don't even know, when Clay decided it was time to open up about the most private part of his life. I saw and heard the words "I'm gay" but you know what? I just saw Clay - the same man I fell in love with on American Idol, the same man I've listened to, learned from and enjoyed for over five years. I still don't see straight or gay - I just see Clay.