Clay Aiken is giving politics a second shot. The Raleigh, North Carolina-bred singer who rose to fame as the runner-up on the second season of American Idol in 2003, announced on Sunday night (Jan. 9) that he is going to make a second run for the U.S. House of Representatives in a bid to win the state’s new sixth congressional district seat, which includes parts of Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Morrisville.
In a chipper, three-and-a-half-minute announcement video, Aiken, 43, opens by making a playful jab about how he looks a “bit different” now than he did way back in his “skinny … bright-eyed” Idol days, sitting on a stool as he chronicles his journey to coming out, coming home and becoming a father. “These days my life looks a lot more like yours than Justin Bieber’s, that I can promise you,” he says with a chuckle.
Aiken first ran to represent North Carolina’s second district in 2014, winning the Democratic primary but losing to Republican Renee Elmers by a decisive 59-to-41 margin. Aiken will have plenty of competition for the seat, with at least 10 other Democrats throwing their hats into the ring at last count. “North Carolina is where I discovered first that I had a voice,” Aiken says about his beloved home state. “And that it was a voice that could be used for more than singing.”
The former pop star — who’s released a half-dozen albums, appeared on a number of reality shows, launched the National Inclusion Project for children with disabilities and served as a UNICEF ambassador for nearly a decade since his Idol run — laments his state’s turn from a progressive bastion to the home of “backwards-a– policies” in the video. He specifically calls out “voter suppression” and “bigoted bathroom bills” put forward by the state’s Republican leadership as examples of the divisive policies pushed by conservative politicians.
And, in a hard shot at some of the state’s current leaders, he specifically takes aim at Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who he dubs a “white nationalist,” as well as the state’s Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, whom he refers to as a “hateful homophobe,” including a video of Robinson asking “What is the purpose of homosexuality?” Lumping them in with such polarizing Republicans as conspiracy theory-spouting U.S. Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and fellow far-right U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Aiken laments that “these folks are taking up all the oxygen in the room and I gotta tell ya, I am sick of it!”
Focused on issues including income inequality, gun violence, systemic racism, climate change and abortion rights, among others, Aiken’s folksy pitch to “level-headed, open-minded and compassionate Democrats” urges his fellow citizens to join him in solving the country’s biggest problems. “Just think how excited these guys are gonna be when we elect the South’s first gay congressman,” he concludes as photos of Robinson and Cawthorn pop up beside him.
“Because if the loudest and most hateful voices think they’re gonna speak for us, just tell ’em I’m warming up the old vocal cords.”
Check out Aiken’s campaign announcement video below.