As the runner-up to Fox TV's second American Idol: The Search for a Superstar competition, vocalist Clay Aiken wowed television audiences in 2003 with his Southern charm, sweet demeanor, and bright, glorious voice, and became a pop star. Originally, Aiken planned to try out for the reality TV series The Amazing Race, but went ahead and auditioned for the talent contest to please an encouraging friend. Out of 7,000 hopefuls, the Charlotte, NC, native won the hearts of the judges as well as millions of fans across the globe.
Born November 30, 1978, Aiken was singing at an early age. Unlike most young kids, Aiken was confident and ready to impress a crowd. He was already singing the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers classic "Islands in the Stream" at a local high school dance by age five. Two year later, he was buying albums through a mail-order catalog, eager to get his hands on any kind of music. Aiken's vocal talent was blossoming, and by the time he reached his teenage years, he was a regular member of the Raleigh Boychoir. Countless roles in various musicals, (The Music Man, Oklahoma!), stage plays, and playhouse shows allowed Aiken to hone his gift. When it came time to go to college, music wasn't Aiken's calling per se. He studied special education instead and had dreams of attending William & Mary for a master's degree in administration.
Before he could further his education, Aiken ended up wooing 21 million television viewers each week from February to May with his sensational singing voice. His rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" sewed him a spot among America's hearts. Although he finished second to Ruben Studdard, Aiken's loss was not taken lightly. He landed a deal with RCA through Simon Fuller's 19 Recordings Limited within weeks of the show's finale. That same month, Aiken's debut single, "This Is the Night," made history by going number one on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. It sold more than 392,000 copies during its first week, beating Elton John's record for "Candle in the Wind 1997." In October 2003, Aiken issued his studio full-length, The Measure of a Man. Once again, the little guy with the big voice made a big splash. The Measure of a Man sold 613,000 copies and went to number one on Billboard's Top 200 during its first week of release. His first holiday effort, Merry Christmas with Love, followed in November 2004. The album debuted at number one on Billboard's Top Holiday Albums chart, giving Merry Christmas with Love the biggest debut week sales figures for a Christmas album in SoundScan history. Aiken released A Thousand Different Ways in September 2006.