Contestant and runner up on the second season of Fox's American Idol. A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, he intended on becoming a special education teacher before being encouraged to audition for the infamous reality TV show.
His original name was Clayton Holmes Grissom but he reverted to his mother's maiden name after the death of his stepfather in order to honor her. He also started going by the shortened version of his first name after auditioning for the show. Word is the producers thought 'Clayton' was too dorky. His father (who he refers to as his 'sperm donor') was not actively involved in his upbringing and he considered his stepfather the only real father he ever had. His success on the TV show brought his birth father out of the woodwork (as fame tends to do) and he was quoted in a tabloid as wishing Aiken well. Aiken was reportedly unimpressed.
Throughout the show's run his vocal style was constantly criticized as being "too Broadway" by judge Simon Cowell and eventually lost the title to Ruben Studdard by 130,000 votes. The result was not without controversy, however, as many fans claimed they were unable to get through in order to vote for him during the finale. It didn't seem to matter, however, since he's been experiencing a great deal of success despite losing the title. (While the general purpose of the show was to choose one winner who would receive a record deal, the show's producers chose to give both finalists deals due to how close the final result was).
He appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone despite not winning the competition. His first single also broke the sales record previously held by Elton John's 1997 remake of Candle in the Wind. He has had more sales success than any of the other competitors from the show's second season, including Ruben Studdard.
His personal style also underwent major changes as the show's producers didn't think that his initial "geeky" look made him a candidate for the title. They changed his hair. They put him in different clothes. They gave him contact lenses. He became one of the show's more 'unlikely' heartthrobs. A group of online-based fans (who call themselves 'Claymates') created support for him on the internet and with the show's "voting system."
Aiken has said that his newly developed fame may prevent him from ever finishing his special education degree but he plans to create a foundation designed to provide financial aid to the families of children with autism. The foundation did get off the ground and he did finish his degree. He also attended his graduation and caused a media frenzy in the process. The University of North Carolina was reportedly so worried about fans attempting to work their way into the ceremony that they limited the number of guests other graduates could invite. This was not welcomed by many of the other graduates (even though the limits were removed shortly before the ceremony) and a number of them booed Aiken as he received his degree.
His first album, The Measure of a Man was released in October, 2003. It's since gone triple platinum, and spawned two singles and videos.
He announced he is gay in September 2008.
He later appeared on The Apprentice, coming in second to Arsenio Hall.