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‘American Idol’ finalist Clay Aiken, a Baptist lauded for work with youth

RALEIGH, N.C. (BP)–After beginning with thousands of hopefuls, “American Idol” contestants have been narrowed to three — including a Southern Baptist. Clay Aiken, of Leesville Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., will learn during the May 14 show whether he has survived yet another round of the popular talent competition and will advance to one of the top two spots.

Aiken, 24, was a studious special education major at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, devoted to helping kids through the struggles of life, when suddenly a chance at stardom was thrown his way.

At the advice of friends, Aiken traveled to Atlanta last October to camp out for four days before auditioning for the second season of American Idol, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. After more than 1,800 potential idols in Atlanta were narrowed down to 20, Aiken was among those who joined contestants from six other cities in Hollywood. There, the performers were narrowed down to 30, then to 10 and so on.

Along the way, Aiken’s strong character has been noticeable. He has told reporters that the influence he has gained as a finalist is worth more to him than the money or the fame. Influence is something he used for good even before his stardom, as he worked as a YMCA counselor in his hometown.

“I enjoy singing, and I love performing. There’s definitely a thrill you get from performing on stage when everybody’s cheering for you, and then there’s a completely different kind of thrill when you’re working with children,” Aiken told the News & Observer. “You don’t necessarily get the applause, and you don’t necessarily get the cheers and the pats on the back and everything, but there’s a different kind of acceptance. There’s a totally different type of feeling of worth when you work with kids.”

Aiken had a strong fan base with the children even before his American Idol days, and the difference he made in their lives was obvious.

“I have witnessed him take a child with autism who couldn’t communicate, and by the end of the school year, with Clayton just talking to her and working with her with cue cards and picture cards, that child could say a handful of words,” Jeff Flake, a supervisor of after-school programs at the YMCA, told the News & Observer.

In his Q&A on the American Idol website, Aiken said, “American celebrities have an amazing amount of influence on the way America thinks, feels and acts. I think that such influences should be used in the most positive way possible,” when asked why he wanted to be an American idol.

Also in the Q&A, Aiken said success, happiness and stability are his goals in life. “I would love to be known as a generous and selfless person,” he added.

Because of the realization of his influence, Aiken said he holds back sometimes when one of the show’s three judges, Simon Cowell, harshly criticizes him on camera. Though he says he has it in him to return some of the quips to Cowell, he refrains because “children might be watching.”

“I don’t think that’s an example I want to set for somebody — not if I want to be the American Idol,” he said in the News & Observer.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http:www.bpnews.net. Photo title: AMERICAN IDOL.

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