Clay Aiken: From American Idol to American Congressman?

America’s political history is not short on cultural icons running for office. After releasing a number of hit records with Cher, as well as writing and producing music for a litany of other artists, Salvatore Phillip “Sonny” Bono embarked on political career that lasted three decades and catapulted him to the U.S. House of Representatives. Arnold Schwarzenegger — whose title role in Terminator earned him the title of Governator — served as Governor of California from 2003 through 2011. While Bono earned a reputation as a “competent politician known for his sense of humor and approachability,” wrote CNN in his 1998 obituary, Schwarzenegger’s term in office was slightly more contentious, with San Jose Mercury News noting that the recall of Gray Davis that led to his election failed to “change anything that finally changed things” in California. Celebrity politicians are anything but uncontroversial, but nevertheless, many people who earned their fame elsewhere enter politics. Now, with former American Idol Clay Aiken’s decision to run for the House of Representatives in his home state of North Carolina, he has chosen to bank on his favorable career turn and make a bid for Congress.

As the Washington Post political writer Aaron Blake noted, “Aiken is considered a long shot in a strongly conservative district,” which Republican president nominee Mitt Romney won by 15 points in the 2012 election. But he was also considered to be a surprise success of American Idol. During audiences, the show’s judges saw him an unlikely pop star with his glasses and unstyled appearance, and he only made it on American Idol as the second season’s viewer’s choice. However, he not only came in close second, earning millions of votes over the course of the season, but he also went on to be  one of the best selling alumni of American Idol from the series’ first 12 seasons.

He announced his candidacy on Wednesday, uploading a video to his campaign website that announced his motivations for running. “I am running for Congress for the same reason I chose to become a special education teacher — to help people in need and give them a voice,” Aiken said in the video, which was filmed in home of a family friend, where he and his mother slept on the floor for eight months during his childhood.

While he did not mention Fox’s (NASDAQ:FOX) American Idol by name, he did hint that his appearance on the show gave him an opportunity to create change that he may not of otherwise had. “For most Americans, there are no golden tickets — at least not like the kind you see on TV,” he said. “More families are struggling today than at any time in our history, and here in North Carolina, we’ve suffered more than our share of pain.”

In the video, Aiken described his own personal pain: his impoverished upbringing. He later went on to describe how his childhood poverty had helped him to realize the importance of education. That realization led him to become a special education teacher for children with autism. Later, although he is a Democrat, President George W. Bush appointed Aiken to serve on an education commission concerning children with autism, an experience, he said, that convinced him that our problems as a nation “won’t be solved by one party or the other.” The story was meant to show Aiken is firm believer in both bipartisanship and in voting with accordance to the wishes and best interests of the district not the political party.

If Aiken survives the Democratic primary in North Carolina’s second district, he will be pitted against incumbent Republican Representative Renee Ellmers, who has served in the House since 2010 and won reelection in 2012 with 56 percent of the vote. In the video, Aiken said he believes Ellmers went to Washington with good intentions, but those good intentions fell by the wayside as she voted along party lines rather than in according with her district’s best interests.

“Even though she knew that voting for massive cuts to the military was bad for our country and for our district, she voted for them ten times, after her party leaders told her to.” South Carolina is home to Fort Bragg, a fact Aiken referenced. He also noted that she voted for “the government shutdown” 21 times “even though she said herself it would be a disaster for the economy. Then she complained that she needed her pay check.” These votes were bad for South Carolina, he said.

“This is what’s wrong with Washington — that a congresswoman would go there and vote against the best interests of North Carolina military families, and those who depend on the military for their jobs,” Aiken said. “To do it when you know it’s wrong is even worse,” he said. “And to do it because your national party told you to, that’s what convinced me, in the end, that if I didn’t try to do something about it, then I couldn’t complain if no one else did. I’m not a politician. I don’t ever want to be one. But I do want to help bring back, at least to my corner of Washington, the idea that someone can go to Washington to represent all the people, whether they voted for you or not, and maybe we can play a small part in igniting that change across the rest of our country.”

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