Debra Poneman, co-author of the new American Idol "Chicken Soup" book, Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul, had lots of great things to say about Clay in an interview with Chris Attwood of Healthy, Wealthy & Wise.
Here are some of the Clay highlights from the interview:
Truthfully, it didn't take me more than two shows, and I was a full-fledged "Idol" fanatic. Of course, we went to the 'Idols Live' tour, the concert, that summer together. Then the next season, which was the Clay-Ruben season, my husband and daughter joined us to watch the show, and then whole family went to the concert the next summer, twice. This is actually another very cool thing; all along the way, I would always say to my kids, "I'm going to get to know those Idols personally.
Fast-forward to the end of Season Two, and what do I discover? Our dear mutual friend, Marci Shimoff, author of Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul, Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul, and, of course, now Happy for No Reason, I discovered that she was also a closet Idol-oholic. We started emailing each other back and forth every week our weekly reviews, complete with editorials. We swooned, "Did you just die when Clay sang "Bridge over Troubled Waters?"
CHRIS ATTWOOD: You said you were going to share the Law of Success that got Clay Aiken and Mandisa to risk everything, and the resulting miracles that came from that. Will you tell us that story?
DEBRA PONEMAN: Yes. I love Clay's story, but I have to tell you, Chris, the "Idol" fans on the phone are a little upset with you calling her Mandisa.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Oh, dear! I'm in trouble now! Thank you. I'll never do it again, I promise.
DEBRA PONEMAN: That's okay. I forgive you, and actually, this is about forgiveness. I love the stories in the book. I'll tell you about each one separately, and how Clay and Mandisa demonstrated some powerful principles of success, specifically being true to yourself. You'll see. Do you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to read you an excerpt from Clay's story. I want everyone listening to see if they can see the principles at play here. Is that okay, Chris?
DEBRA PONEMAN: Again, Clay is talking about being in Atlanta on tour, and here goes. Remember, Clay is writing this. I just have to say it was so fun interviewing Clay, because he was on a cell phone when we were talking, and the call kept dropping. He kept having to call me back. Then he would say, "Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?"
I thought, "Oh, my gosh! I am saying 'Can you hear me now?' with Clay Aiken!" Anyway, so here are Clay's words: "As I'm signing autographs, a very petite, pretty girl walks up to me and says, "Your 'Invisible' video made such an impact on my life." I didn't want to argue with her, but I thought she must have gotten that confused with some other video I'd done. "
"I thought it couldn't have been 'Invisible.' That was just a self-congratulatory video of me singing on the stage in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard with a bunch of people cheering. There was no story line; there was nothing inspirational about it. How in the world could that video have impacted anybody?" "Are you sure you don't mean some other video?" I asked.
""No, I'm sure it was 'Invisible," she said. I asked her to please explain, and she did. "Well, Clay, I used to weigh about 200 pounds." She paused. "You look great, but what does that have to do with 'Invisible'?" "When I saw the girl on the stage with you in that video and you put your arm around her, it made me feel so much better about myself, because you had an overweight girl in your video, and you accepted her. "
"Because of that, I was finally able to accept myself. After that, my whole life changed, and I lost 90 pounds." Then it dawned on me what she was referring to. While we were making the video, the music director had pulled someone out of the audience and put her on the stage with me. She wasn't hugely overweight; she was just a healthy-looking girl, but I guess she didn't exactly fit the image of what people usually see on music videos. "
"She wasn't stick-thin or model-gorgeous, but I never thought anything of it. " "Thank you so much for sharing that with me," I said, but a simple thank you was hardly adequate for the gift that young lady had given me. Her words led me to the realization that you never know the one thing you do that is going to impact someone's life. I try to set the right example, but that day I realized that even things I would never think would make an impact do. "
"I never would have thought that video would have affected anybody in any kind of positive way, and lo and behold, it did. The person it affected most was me. I realized that from then on, I was going to have normal, average, everyday-looking people in all my videos. I literally had to fight with the people from my record label. They were not going to let me do it. "
"They said that the video wouldn't sell, but I wouldn't budge. When we made the video I told them I didn't want any anorexic-looking girls or model-perfect guys. If we did have beautiful people, I wanted the beautiful girl to be with the overweight guy, and the average-looking girl with the model guy. I wanted people to know it doesn't matter what you look like, that everyone is good enough. "
"I realized that's why "Idol" has the impact it does. You never see a contestant with that music-video look. It's about real people, and I think the reason why Season Two was so exciting is because not only were Ruben, Kimberly, and I all from out in the middle of nowhere, Podunk, but we were all extremely normal, average-looking people. We would have never gotten record contracts if it weren't for that show: Ruben being such a big guy; Kimberly, who was gorgeous, but a plus-size woman; and me. I was a dork, and I still am a dork. "
"We're all just normal people from down the street and around the block. The final realization I had that day in Atlanta is that it's not just people who are in the public eye who have an impact on others. You don't have to make a music video to make a difference in someone's life. You can be a bagger at a grocery store or a teller at a bank. You never know when something you do is going to impact someone's life without you even knowing it. "
"You don't have to be Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, Kimberly Locke or any Idol. My fan in Atlanta is proof of that." That's Clay's story, and there are two very important principles that are in it. I'll bet your listeners picked them out. One is being true to yourself and standing up for what you believe, as he did to the producers of his video, even risking his career.
This wasn't done before, having everyday people in music videos. The second is that you don't have to be Clay Aiken to impact people's lives. Every single one of us has an impact on so many others, no matter what you do. Also, everyone has a gift to give. If you didn't have a gift to give, you wouldn't have come on the planet. Every one of us is a container for some purpose.
Clay's purpose is to sing. My purpose may be to be a mom and write inspirational books. Someone else's purpose might be to bag groceries. Whatever you do-and here's another important principle-do it with your whole heart. As Martin Luther King said, and I just heard this quote yesterday, "If your gift is to sweep floors, then sweep and sweep and sweep until the angels come down and say, 'Good job!'"