| Clay: Cheated Claymates'
Washington, March 5: With his goofy smile, boyish charm, dulcet tones and strongly- espoused Christian beliefs, Clay Aiken has won legions of female fans and sold millions of records since starring in the 2003 series of American Idol.
But now a group of disillusioned “Claymates”, as his devotees call themselves, have lodged a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after a less straightforward version of Aiken emerged in the tabloid press.
The nine women claim that his record company, RCA, and its parent group, Sony/ BMG, duped them with their marketing and promotional campaigns into buying the 27-year-old’s music and merchandise. In a country where the compensation culture dominates, the one-time fans said that they were also considering a class-action lawsuit for damages.
The precedent-setting case will be watched with concern by other singers, actors and entertainers whose squeaky-clean public personas do not always match the reality of their private lives.
Max Clifford, the British public relations guru who has shaped the images of countless stars, reacted with dismay. “Well, that’s the PR industry finished if their case succeeds. I’d never be out of court,” he told the Sunday Telegraph. “Showbiz has always blurred image and reality. It’s just a bit of light relief.”
The controversy erupted after two glossy tabloid magazines ran the accounts of men who said they met Aiken through online gay sex chat rooms. The studiously single singer has previously denied rumours that he is a homosexual. His publicist declined to comment on the latest claims and the complaint.
Aiken’s disgruntled former fans have drawn their own conclusions. In a statement, they said: “As consumers, we feel ripped off. It is obvious now that the private Clay is very different from the manufactured, packaged Clay that was marketed to us'. This is tantamount to a manufacturer concealing information about a defective product. Therefore these actions were unfair and deceptive to consumers.”
Internet gossip sites and Aiken’s own official website are abuzz with fans claiming that the tabloid stories are false and that the accompanying photos were doctored.
The FTC declined to discuss the case, saying that all complaints lodged with it are private. The organisation has wide-ranging powers to order companies to change any practices deemed to breach the law.
Aiken was brought up in a Southern Baptist household in Raleigh, North Carolina. His mother urged him to audition for American Idol after hearing him sing. An ungainly redhead with thick glasses, Aiken stunned the judges with his voice, although Simon Cowell, the British mastermind of the Idol brand, told him: “You don’t look like a pop star”.
Nor did he act much like one, speaking openly about his Christian beliefs and wearing a lucky bracelet with the letters WWJD (What Would Jesus Do). He finished second but went on to record the best-selling US single and album of 2003. He has maintained that success and his songs often have an overt Christian message.
Sony/BMG declined to discuss the allegations about his private life or the FTC complaint when contacted by this newspaper.
Clifford, whose clients include Cowell, said he could not comment on the Aiken case but expressed alarm at the possible implications. “The ramifications could be enormous,” he said.
“The simple fact is that there is a huge image smokescreen surrounding some stars. It goes back to the earliest days of the Hollywood dream machine and has thrived ever since.”