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Unicef.org

UNICEF USA Ambassador Clay Aiken Visits Somalia

UNICEF USA Ambassador Clay Aiken visits Somalia

By Denise Shepherd-Johnson

NAIROBI, Kenya, 2 July 2008 – During a five-day visit to the self-declared republic of Somaliland in north-west Somalia, UNICEF USA Ambassador Clay Aiken was moved by the work that UNICEF is doing under challenging circumstances.

“In a country that’s better known for conflict, insecurity, drought and floods,” said Mr. Aiken, “it’s truly remarkable that UNICEF is still able to make a difference to the health, education and well-being of Somali children.”

Mr. Aiken travelled to Hargeisa, Gabiley and Boroma to see UNICEF-supported projects firsthand – projects that promote child health, safe water, sanitation and hygiene, primary education, child protection and girls’ empowerment.

Somalia is a country in which less than 25 per cent of the population has access to basic health services, and only 29 per cent have access to a safe water source. Fewer than 30 per cent of children attend primary school. It's also a place where almost every girl is circumcised, and it has amongst the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

‘The right to an education’

Playing basketball with girls in the enclosed facility of the Somaliland Cultural and Sports Association (SOCSA), Mr. Aiken saw the opportunity given to females by the UNICEF-supported organization.

“Here, girls are able to learn about leadership and health, acquire life skills and play sports within a safe environment,” he said. “Even the youngest girls that I’ve met at SOCSA impressed me with how confident and articulate they are as a result of this project.”

At a camp for 1,500 displaced families in Hargeisa, Mr. Aiken met Abduraman, 11, who helps to support his five siblings and blind mother by working each morning to collect stones. He uses his earnings to pay for school, which he attends in the afternoon.

“Somalia has some of the lowest enrolment rates in the world, but every child has the right to an education,” said Mr. Aiken. “UNICEF is working to help ensure that even working children get to go to school.” UNICEF has also provided the camp with child protection monitors, teacher training and school materials.

Providing for basic needs

In Boroma, Mr. Aiken saw how the town’s water system is functioning with UNICEF’s support. Under a public-private partnership, the system provides safe water to 95 per cent of the town’s population including schools and hospitals.

Mr. Aiken also visited maternal and child health clinics to see nutritional feeding and immunization activities along with projects supporting children with disabilities, the eradication of female genital mutilation/cutting and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

“Somali families want the best for their children and people really want to help bring about change,” he said. “Fortunately, UNICEF has always been there and continues to provide the support needed to make a difference.”

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UNICEF USA Ambassador Clay Aiken talks Rahma, 9, during a visit to the Somaliland Cultural and Sports Association in Hargeisa, North West Somalia.

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(South Florida) Sun-Sentinel.com

Celebrity Travel: Go Away with Clay Aiken

Celebrity travel: Go away with Clay Aiken

Jae-Ha Kim

Tribune Media Service

July 6, 2008

Clay Aiken is in the news a lot these days. Besides getting good reviews for his performance in the Broadway musical "Spamalot," the former " American Idol" contestant is busy promoting his latest album "On My Way Here."

But the congenial redhead is keeping mum about the juicy tidbit that has the tabloids drooling: becoming a baby daddy with his good friend Jaymes Foster, who also executive produced his CD. Aiken is more vocal about his love of music and traveling. "There are no plans to tour at this time," says Aiken, 29. "I'd love to tour but there's just no time right now with all the other things going on. I think I've had just one day off in the past few months. It's crazy, but in a good way." A former teacher, Aiken was appointed UNICEF ambassador in 2004. Between touring and making field visits for UNICEF, Aiken has seen a good chunk of the world. But he says he will never forget the beauty and grace of Afghanistan and its people.

WHY AFGHANISTAN: Honestly, I prefer to go to places where no one else goes that haven't been ruined by the touristy thing. I don't know if I would've ever gone to Afghanistan if it hadn't been for my work with UNICEF, but it has been one of my favorite places I've ever been in my life. I stayed eight days there in the central highlands of the country in an area that was relatively fortunate when it came to Taliban attacks. Bamyan is in the central part of the mountains and it is just such a beautiful area.

FAVORITE MEMORIES: I remember going to vacation bible school as a kid and reading about how people lived in biblical times with earthen huts and traveling on horses. I remembered that when I walked around Bamyan. You walk around town and all these huts have satellite dishes on top of them and everyone has cell phones, but a lot of people still sleep on their floors. It's a fascinating combination of new and old. The people there were so nice and welcoming.

ROUGHING IT: We stayed in a bare bones room with no toilet or indoor plumbing. But the view was magnificent. The whole town was sitting in a valley on the side of the mountains. I think maybe one airplane flew in a few times a week to take people to Kabul. There was never any noise. It was so peaceful. The men worked in the fields, the women at home.

SIGHTSEEING: I enjoy seeing real life. I don't really care so much about going to see all the famous sites. They're very nice and I appreciate them when I do see them, but I don't go out of my way to check out all the monuments. I really like to get a feel for what it would be like to live in whatever country I'm in. I was able to do that a little bit in Afghanistan. People were just so real and natural. Nobody cared about who I was. Honestly, I don't think anyone knew who I was, but they were just so nice to me.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT AFGHANISTAN:

FULL COUNTRY NAME: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

WHERE IT IS: Slightly smaller in size than Texas, Afghanistan is located east of Iran and west of Pakistan in southern Asia.

OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: Persian.

CURRENCY: Afghani. $1US equals 49.95AFG.

TIME DIFFERENCE: GMT/UTC plus 4.5 (If it's noon in Chicago, then it's 9:30 p.m. in Kabul.)

To learn more about Afghanistan, check out the U.S. Department of State's updates about the country at www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1056.html. To read more about Clay Aiken, check out his Website at www.clayaiken.com.

(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column at jae@jaehakim.com or visit her Website at www.jaehakim.com. She welcomes your questions and comments.)

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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unicefusa.org Field Notes

Somalia: Where is the Outrage?

Somalia: Where is the outrage?

UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken recently returned from Somalia, where UNICEF provides children in the war-torn nation with health care, education, nutrition, clean water and sanitation. This is the first in a series of blog posts he will write about his experience in the field.

I recently returned from a UNICEF field visit that took me to northwest Somalia. What I saw there was both amazing and heartbreaking. In many ways, the children I was able to meet are doing better than their counterparts in the rest of Somalia. But in other respects, the situation there is still quite serious.

For starters, the lack of a permanent central government has contributed to Somalia's status as one of the poorest and most volatile countries in the world. Decades of civil conflict have shattered social structures and exacerbated poverty.

In such conditions—combined with an extremely arid environment and difficult terrain with settlements scattered over vast distances—a Somali child's chances of surviving to adulthood are among the lowest of children anywhere in the world.

Fortunately, UNICEF is there. It has been on the ground since 1972 and is the humanitarian organization with the largest presence in Somalia.

Since the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, UNICEF has continued to provide services to children and women in Somalia.

In Hargeisa, I visited UNICEF-supported schools and hospitals, as well as places girls are able to learn about leadership, get life-skills and play sports. I also visited UNICEF-supported maternal and child health clinics to observe some nutritional feeding and immunization activities. The good news is that these programs are working in the northwest and keeping children alive. The bad news is that one in eight children still dies before his or her fifth birthday in Somalia.

One of the most incredible things I learned on my trip is that there are only 350 doctors left in the entire country, mostly because of the violence and insecurity. And many of these doctors are older than the average life expectancy in Somalia, which is only 45. I can't help but wonder, what is going to happen in a couple of years when there are no more doctors? What will happen to the children who struggle to survive?

What disturbs me most about this terrible situation for children is that most of the world has ignored it. Millions of children live in fear and poverty—where is the outrage?

At least we know something can be done. Help UNICEF save and improve the lives of children in Somalia. Donate online, right now.

Posted by Clay Aiken, UNICEF Ambassador on July 9, 2008 12:00 AM

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unicefusa.org Field Notes

Somalia: Keep Spreading the Word

Somalia: Keep spreading the word

UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken recently returned from Somalia, where UNICEF provides children in the war-torn nation with health care, education, nutrition, clean water and sanitation. This is the second in a series of blog posts he will write about his experience in the field.

For children in Somalia, the situation is dire. But, it's just amazing to me that UNICEF is still able to make a difference in children’s lives in one of the most dangerous places on earth.

For instance, while I was in northwest Somalia—where 45 percent of the population are children and women—I observed how UNICEF improves water, sanitation and hygiene conditions for everyone in the region. One of the ways they do this is by drilling "borewells" so that clean drinking water is easily accessible and readily available. Without these borewells, children would have to walk hours to fetch water instead of going to school and getting an education.

I also visited health clinics where women waited patiently in long lines to get insecticide treated bed nets to prevent malaria. With an estimated 700,000 cases annually, malaria is a major public health problem in Somalia. One bed nets used to cost a Somali family about $4—an enormous sum in one of the poorest countries of the world. But UNICEF now provides them for free.

UNICEF also provides much needed support to the education system in Somalia with teacher training and the funding of school supplies. Every child I met wanted to be in school. And because of UNICEF, these children—who would probably never have had any type of education—can go to school and learn in a safe, clean environment.

Educating children is much easier when teachers are trained and school facilities exist. And, providing healthcare is more easily done when aid workers do not have to worry about their security. I applaud UNICEF for doing whatever it takes to make sure children get the healthcare and education they deserve, even in Somalia.

And, I applaud you too. Since my previous blog post, you have donated over $50,000 for children Somalia. On behalf of these children, I can't thank you enough. But I also challenge you to not stop now... encourage your friends and family as well. Ask them to learn more about UNICEF's work in Somalia and around the world, and cheer them on to help out too!

Posted by Clay Aiken, UNICEF Ambassador on July 15, 2008 5:45 PM |

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unicefusa.org Field Notes

Clay Aiken Calls for Kenya's Kids to Return to School

Clay Aiken calls for Kenya's kids to return to school

UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken recently visited the East African countries of Somalia and Kenya, where UNICEF provides children with health care, education, nutrition, clean water and sanitation. This is the last in a series of blog posts he has written about his experience in the field.

In early July, after visiting Somalia, I traveled to Eldoret, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, to visit camps for internally displaced people. This is where some of the worst violence took place following the Kenya elections in early 2008. Thousands of children were made homeless by the unrest.

Everywhere we went, there were the charcoaled remains of homes, schools and shops. We drove for hours and everywhere we went, we saw people trying to get their lives restored.

Although many schools were re-opened, far fewer children are turning up for class than before. And classes are taking place in schools that have been completely destroyed. I saw children sitting on rocks and bricks—which used to make up the foundations and roofs of their schools—using them now as desks and chairs.

Fortunately, this was not the situation everywhere. In most IDP camps, UNICEF has provided classroom tents and School-in-a-Box kits, along with teaching and learning materials, and even desks and chairs.

Getting children back to school is vital for their protection, and helps build a sense of normalcy in their lives. The re-establishment of schools in the most difficult circumstances is a testament to the commitment of UNICEF and to Kenyans. Many displaced parents told UNICEF that getting their children back to school was their top priority.

Every child has the right to an education. Education transforms lives and breaks the cycle of poverty that so many children are caught in. And an educated child will make sure his or her own children receive an education too. This is just another one of the many amazing ways UNICEF is helping children today, while also building a safer Kenya tomorrow.

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people.com

Clay Aiken Reaches Out to Kenyan Children

Clay Aiken Reaches Out to Kenyan Children

By David Caplan

Originally posted Thursday July 24, 2008 12:40 PM EDT

Clay Aiken is just weeks away from becoming a dad, so it's only fitting that the singer and UNICEF ambassador is blogging about children's issues.

Aiken, 29, recently visited Somalia and Kenya, and has been blogging about the trip on the UNICEF Web site.

In his final posting, Aiken writes how violence during the country's election earlier this year left thousands of children homeless. And even though the unrest has decreased, many of the kids have not returned to their schools.

"Getting children back to school is vital for their protection, and helps build a sense of normalcy in their lives," Aiken writes. "The re-establishment of schools in the most difficult circumstances is a testament to the commitment of UNICEF and to Kenyans."

Aiken continues, "Every child has the right to an education. Education transforms lives and breaks the cycle of poverty that so many children are caught in. And an educated child will make sure his or her own children receive an education too."

Next up for Aiken? Fatherhood. As PEOPLE confirmed in May, Aiken artificially inseminated music producer Jaymes Foster, whom he met when he was on American Idol. Foster, the sister of legendary music producer David Foster, is due in August.

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WRAL.com

Clay Aiken Becomes a Father

Clay Aiken becomes a father

Posted: 30 minutes ago

Raleigh, N.C. — Clay Aiken became a father Friday morning with the birth of a baby boy, his mother told WRAL’s Lynda Loveland in an exclusive interview.

Aiken’s best friend, producer Jaymes Foster, gave birth at 8:08 a.m. at an undisclosed location in North Carolina.

Parker Foster Aiken weighed 6 pounds 2 ounces and was 19 inches long.

Aiken’s mother, Faye, said the baby has dark hair and that her son is smiling from ear-to-ear.

Mom, dad and baby all are doing fine.

Aiken and Foster will raise the child together. They met when Aiken appeared on American Idol. Foster has produced several of his albums.

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People.com

Clay Aiken Welcomes a Son

Clay Aiken Welcomes a Son

By Jessica Gold Haralson

Originally posted Friday August 08, 2008 10:45 AM EDT

Clay Aiken is a daddy!

The former American Idol contestant and music producer Jaymes Foster welcomed a baby boy Friday morning, the singer said in a statement on his Web site.

"HE'S HERE!" Aiken writes. "My dear friend, Jaymes, and I are so excited to announce the birth of Parker Foster Aiken (No hyphens. One first name. One middle name. One last name.)"

Parker, whose name is his grandmother Faye's middle name, weighed 6 lbs., 2 oz. and was 19 inches long. He was born at 8:08 a.m.

"Wow ... 8:08 ... 08/08/08," added Aiken. "The little man is healthy, happy, and as loud as his daddy. Mama Jaymes is doing quite well also."

Aiken's mother, Faye, first broke the news by telling Lynda Loveland of Raleigh, N.C., TV station WRAL about the birth. According to Faye, Foster gave birth at a North Carolina hospital.

Clay's mom also said that baby Parker has "dark hair" and that Clay is "smiling from ear-to-ear" about the news.

In May, it was confirmed that Foster became pregnant via in vitro fertilization.

Though they are not romantically linked, Clay and Jaymes plan to raise the child together. The two met when Aiken competed on Idol, and Foster – who is the sister of legendary music producer David Foster – has produced several of his albums.

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People.com

Numerology Expert: Clay Aiken's Son Has "Powerful" Birthdate

Numerology Expert: Clay Aiken's Son Has 'Powerful' Birthdate

By Jessica Gold Haralson

Originally posted Friday August 08, 2008 12:40 PM EDT

Eight is definitely enough for Clay Aiken and his best friend Jaymes Foster. The two welcomed their son Parker Foster Aiken at 8:08 a.m. on 8/08/08.

So what do all those eights add up to?

Numerology expert Daniel Hardt says the proud parents may have business on the brain for their newborn.

"Eight is a very powerful number. It's a number of mastery," says Hardt of Life Path Numerology in Indianapolis, Ind. "It's a number of being in control," he adds "That's why a lot of people are drawn to it."

Eight is also a lucky number in Chinese culture, which is why the Opening Ceremonies for the Summer Olympics are scheduled for 8/08/08.

Hardt cautions that though eights signify business acumen for the child, they come with a caveat.

"Some people try for an eight because they think it will mean money," says Hardt, "but sometimes you will end up causing some challenges in the life that will not necessarily be desirable for that child."

Ultimately, he believes eights will bring the tiny Aiken luck. Says Hardt: "I think in this case, it's going to be a good situation."

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Variety.com

Clay Aiken Returning to Broadway

Clay Aiken returning to Broadway

'American Idol' vet to reprise 'Spamalot' role

By GORDON COX

Claymates, get ready to head back to Broadway: "American Idol" alum Clay Aiken returns to the Rialto production of "Monty Python's Spamalot" this fall in a four-month stint.

Aiken will reprise the role of Sir Robin, which he played earlier this year in an engagement that ended May 4. David Hyde Pierce originated the part in the 2005 tuner, based on the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

Aiken is one of several reality TV stars who have made their way to Broadway, along with Fantasia Barrino ("The Color Purple") and Taylor Hicks ("Grease").

His previous run in "Spamalot" had a noticeable effect on box office. Weekly sales for the tuner surged the week Aiken joined the cast and took a steep tumble the frame after he departed.

Aiken returns to "Spamalot" Sept. 19-Jan. 4.

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broadway.com

Clay Aiken Headed Back to Broadway in "Spamalot"

Clay Aiken Headed Back to Broadway in Spamalot

by Broadway.com Staff

Clay Aiken will return to the Broadway company of Spamalot this fall as Sir Robin, a role he played for three and a half months earlier this year. Aiken will rejoin Spamalot on September 19 and remain through January 4, 20090.

"Since leaving Spamlot in May, jokes have just not been funny," Aiken said in a statement. "Food has lost its taste. The grass is no longer green—the sky no longer blue. And babies WON'T stop crying!! I'm so excited about coming back to the funniest show in the world!" The "babies" reference presumably refers to Aiken's newest real-life role, as father to newborn son Parker Foster Aiken, born on August 8 to the singer and his friend Jaymes Foster.

The second season runner-up on American Idol, Aiken released his fourth album, On My Way Here, just after leaving Spamalot. The CD debuted in Billboard's Top 5, continuing Aiken's streak of all four of his albums having debuted in the Top 5.

Directed by Mike Nichols, Spamalot has a book by Eric Idle and music by Idle and John Du Prez. The cast currently includes Stephen Collins as King Arthur, Marin Mazzie as the Lady of the Lake and Drew Lachey as Patsy.

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people.com

Idol Alumni Congratulate New Dad Clay Aiken

Idol Alumni Congratulate New Dad Clay Aiken

By Kristen Mascia

Originally posted Thursday August 14, 2008 03:50 PM EDT

Clay Aiken's American Idol cast mates are thrilled for the new daddy – and one even has her own baby news.

"Congratulations! I am very happy for him," Rickey Smith, 29, told PEOPLE. "He has great morals and ethics, and I think his baby will be brought up in love."

Smith added that baby Parker Foster Aiken's birthdate of Aug. 8 has a personal significance.

"My grandmother's birthday, god rest her soul, was August 8," Smith said. "I lost her, but here, another life has been born, so that's pretty memorable to me. Eight is a lucky number in my family – so tell [Clay] welcome to the family!"

Fellow Idol alum Vanessa Olivarez, 27, predicts Aiken will be a fantastic father.

"Before Idol, he worked with children [as a teacher], so I definitely think that experience will help him," she said. "He'll be a great dad, and a great role model. And I hope [the baby] grows up with his voice, for sure!"

An ecstatic Carmen Rasmusen sent big news with her congratulations. The Salt Lake City, Utah-based singer is expecting her first child with husband Brad Herbert, 25, son of Utah Lt. Governor Gary Herbert.

"I'm actually expecting my first boy this Christmas," the five-months-along former Idol contestant, 23, told PEOPLE. The couple met at Brigham Young University and married in 2005.

"Isn't this crazy? We're going to both be parents! It's so exciting – we went from being nobodies to being on American Idol together, and now starting our families [at the same time]."

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newsreleasewire.com

Clay Aiken and Marty Stewart Answer the Question “Why Music?” as Students Head Back to School

Clay Aiken and Marty Stuart Answer the Question “Why Music?” as Students Head Back to School

Reston, VA August 15, 2008

Musical Stars Explain the Importance of Music Education in Award-Winning Radio PSA Series Produced by MENC: The National Association for Music Education

RESTON, VA (August 14, 2008) -- MENC: The National Association for Music Education released the newest edition in its series of radio public service announcements featuring top pop and country musicians for “Back to School” 2008. The series, called Why Music?, features musical stars talking about the value and importance of music education.

New artists joining the lineup for Back to School 2008 are Clay Aiken and Marty Stuart. Returning artists include Trisha Yearwood, Al Jarreau, Kathy Mattea, Gloria Estefan, Vanessa Williams, Patty Loveless, Janis Ian, Faith Hill, Chely Wright, Tim McGraw, Roger McGuinn, Bonnie Raitt, and others. (A complete list of artists participating in the series since 1997 can be viewed at www.menc.org/resources/view/why-music-radio-psa-series.)

Born in Raleigh, NC, Clay Aiken sang his way up from school choirs to the American Idol stage. Since then, Aiken has released five well received albums, and next month he returns to the role of Sir Robin in the Broadway musical “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” A current ambassador for UNICEF, Aiken has pursued his mission of bringing primary education to all children. Throughout his career, Aiken has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for children in need.

A local prodigy by age twelve, Marty Stuart’s mandolin playing led to a road gig with the Sullivan Family Singers. Stuart has since scored six top-ten hits, one platinum and five gold albums, and four Grammy Awards. Throughout his career in the country music industry he has collaborated with other top country artists such as Travis Tritt and Johnny Cash. Marty Stuart has also served as president of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Board of Directors.

Each PSA in the Why Music? series features an artist talking about the importance of music education for today’s youth or a personal experience he or she had with music in school. The PSAs are available for radio stations to download at www.menc.org/resources/view/why-music-psas-for-back-to-school-2008 .

The PSAs are part of MENC’s unceasing efforts to keep music programs strong in America’s schools. “MENC’s mission is to advance music education by encouraging the study and making of music by everyone,” said John J. Mahlmann, MENC’s executive director. “We believe that the celebrity messages significantly raise the public’s awareness of the positive effect music education has on kids.” MENC releases Why Music? twice a year — in March to coincide with Music In Our Schools Month, and in September as children head “Back to School.”

“Music is intrinsically valuable on its own, of course,” continued Mahlmann, “but it doesn’t hurt, at a time when school budgets are so tight, to spread the word about the other ways learning music can benefit students. For instance, a recent Harris survey found that music education is associated with higher education and higher income, as well as personal fulfillment. If you want to be a CEO, college president, or even a rock star, study music!”

Why Music? has received several prestigious communications awards, including the League of American Communications Professionals 2002 Magellan Awards Publicity Campaign Competition Bronze Award for Community Relations and The Communicator Awards 2002 Audio Competition Crystal Award of Excellence. In addition, MENC was awarded Honorable Mention in the PR News 2002 Platinum PR Awards for PSA Campaign, and the 2001 Bronze Anvil Award for Best Radio Public Service Announcement by the Public Relations Society of America. The series was awarded the Mercury Awards 2003 Honors for the Campaign/Public Service Announcements category and the APEX 2003 Award of Excellence in the Public Relations and Information Video and Electronics Publications Category.

For more information on this series, contact Elizabeth Lasko at 703-860-4000 or elizabethl@menc.org. MENC’s Web site is www.menc.org.

MENC: The National Association for Music Education, the world’s largest arts education organization, marked its centennial in 2007 as the only association that addresses all aspects of music education. More than 142,000 members and supporters represent all levels of teaching from preschool to graduate school. Since 1907, MENC has worked to ensure that every student has access to a well-balanced, comprehensive, and high-quality program of music instruction taught by qualified teachers. MENC’s activities and resources have been largely responsible for the establishment of music education as a profession, for the promotion and guidance of music study as an integral part of the school curriculum, and for the development of the National Standards for Arts Education.

Elizabeth Lasko

Director, Public Relations

MENC: The National Association for Music Education

Reston, VA

Phone : 703-860-4000

Fax : 703-860-9404

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Broadworld.com

Clay Aiken Returns as 'Sir Robin' in Spamalot 9/19- 1/4

Clay Aiken Returns as 'Sir Robin' in Spamalot Tonight, 9/19

Friday, September 19, 2008; Posted: 7:00 AM - by BWW

Clay Aiken will return to the scene of his triumphant Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Monty Python's SPAMALOT this Fall. Clay's debut on Broadway earlier this year was met with wild enthusiasm from both his legion of fans and the New York press. He will reprise the role of 'Sir Robin ' at the Shubert Theatre from September 19 2008 - January 4 2009.

When he made his Broadway debut in SPAMALOT at the beginning of this year, Newsday said "Aiken is a charmer" and the Associated Press said that "Clay Aiken deftly handles supremely silly."

Clay Aiken became a music superstar following his success on the "American Idol" television series, and has sold more than six million albums; co-authored a best-selling book; and, played six sold-out concert tours, said "Since leaving SPAMALOT in May, jokes have just not been funny. Food has lost its taste. The grass is no longer green -- the sky no longer blue. And, babies WON'T stop crying!! I'm so excited about coming back to the funniest show in the world!"

This spring, Aiken released his fourth album, On My Way Here, his first album of original songs since his 2003 chart topping, double platinum debut Measure of a Man. On My Way Here's debut in Billboard Magazine's Top 5 continued his streak of all four of his albums having debuted in the Top 5.

Directed by Mike Nichols, who won his eighth Tony Award for his direction of the new musical, Monty Python's SPAMALOT has a book by Eric Idle, "lovingly ripped-off" from the screenplay of the Pythons' best- loved film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. The music is by Eric Idle and John Du Prez.

Tickets are available online now at telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200/(800) 432-7250.

Other members of the SPAMALOT creative team include Casey Nicholaw (choreography), multiple Olivier Award-winners Tim Hatley (sets and costumes) and Hugh Vanstone (lighting) and Acme Sound Partners.

Winning more awards than any other show in the 2005 Broadway Season, including the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Grammy Award for Best Cast Recording, SPAMALOT has set box office records since opening on Broadway to critical acclaim in March, 2005 at the flagship Shubert Theatre.

Monty Python's SPAMALOT is currently running in London's West End at the Palace Theatre and is also on National Tour around the US. Monty Python's SPAMALOT is produced by Boyett Ostar Productions, The Shubert Organization, Arielle Tepper, Stephanie McClelland/Lawrence Horowitz, Elan V. McAllister/Allan S. Gordon, Independent Presenters Network, Roy Furman, GRS Associates, Jam Theatricals, TGA Entertainment and Live Nation.

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Playbill.com

"Idol" Finalist Aiken Returns to Broadway's Spamalot Sept. 19

"Idol" Finalist Aiken Returns to Broadway's Spamalot Sept. 19

By Andrew Gans

19 Sep 2008

"American Idol" finalist and new dad Clay Aiken returns to the Broadway company of Monty Python's Spamalot at the Shubert Theatre Sept. 19.

Aiken, who played a Jan. 18-May 4 stint in the Tony-winning musical, reprises his role as Sir Robin through Jan. 4, 2009.

Aiken joins a cast that currently features Michael Siberry, David Hibbard, Tom Deckman, Rick Holmes, Bradley Dean, Wally Dunn and Merle Dandridge as Lady of the Lake.

In a previous statement Aiken joked, "Since leaving Spamalot in May, jokes have just not been funny. Food has lost its taste. The grass is no longer green — the sky no longer blue. And, babies won't stop crying!! I'm so excited about coming back to the funniest show in the world!"

Aiken — who was bested by Ruben Studdard during the second season of "American Idol" — has gone on to sell more than six million albums, co-author a best selling book ("Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life") and play six sold-out concert tours. He was a focus of the short-lived Off-Broadway musical Idol: The Musical and has appeared on "Ed," "Saturday Night Live" and "Scrubs."

Aiken released his fourth album, "On My Way Here," this past spring.

Spamalot features a book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, direction by Mike Nichols, choreography by Casey Nicholaw and is based on the screenplay of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" by Monty Python creators Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.

The musical tells the tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table on their quest from God for the Holy Grail — with a short stop in the dazzling Spam-filled land of Camelot.

Spamalot earned the 2005 Tony Award for Best Musical and took home honors for direction (Mike Nichols) and one of its stars (Sara Ramirez).

Spamalot celebrated its third anniversary on Broadway March 18.

On Broadway Spamalot plays Tuesday-Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 and 8 PM and Sunday at 2 and 7 PM.

For more information visit www.montypythonsspamalot.com.

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Photo Coverage: Clay Aiken Returns to 'Monty Python's Spamalot'

Photo Coverage: Clay Aiken Returns to 'Monty Python's Spamalot'

Saturday, September 20, 2008; Posted: 10:01 AM - by Pablo Pimienta

Clay Aiken returned to the scene of his triumphant Broadway debut Friday September 19th as he reprised the role of 'Sir Robin' in the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Monty Python's Spamalot. Clay's debut on Broadway earlier this year was met with wild enthusiasm from both his legion of fans and the New York press. He'll be performing the role of 'Sir Robin ' at the Shubert Theatre from September 19 2008 - January 4 2009. BroadwayWorld.com made sure our camera was there as he made his return to the New York stage!

When he made his Broadway debut in Monty Python's Spamalot at the beginning of this year, Newsday said "Aiken is a charmer" and the Associated Press said that "Clay Aiken deftly handles supremely silly."

Clay Aiken became a music superstar following his success on the "American Idol" television series, and has sold more than six million albums; co-authored a best-selling book; and, played six sold-out concert tours, said "Since leaving Spamalot in May, jokes have just not been funny. Food has lost its taste. The grass is no longer green -- the sky no longer blue. And, babies WON'T stop crying!! I'm so excited about coming back to the funniest show in the world!"

This spring, Aiken released his fourth album, On My Way Here, his first album of original songs since his 2003 chart topping, double platinum debut Measure of a Man. On My Way Here's debut in Billboard Magazine's Top 5 continued his streak of all four of his albums having debuted in the Top 5.

Directed by Mike Nichols, who won his eighth Tony Award for his direction of the new musical, Monty Python's Spamalot has a book by Eric Idle, "lovingly ripped-off" from the screenplay of the Pythons' best- loved film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. The music is by Eric Idle and John Du Prez.

Tickets are available online now at telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200/(800) 432-7250.

Other members of the Monty Python's Spamalot creative team include Casey Nicholaw (choreography), multiple Olivier Award-winners Tim Hatley (sets and costumes) and Hugh Vanstone (lighting) and Acme Sound Partners.

Winning more awards than any other show in the 2005 Broadway Season, including the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Grammy Award for Best Cast Recording, Monty Python's Spamalot has set box office records since opening on Broadway to critical acclaim in March, 2005 at the flagship Shubert Theatre.

Monty Python's Spamalot is currently running in London's West End at the Palace Theatre and is also on National Tour around the US. Monty Python's SPAMALOT is produced by Boyett Ostar Productions, The Shubert Organization, Arielle Tepper, Stephanie McClelland/Lawrence Horowitz, Elan V. McAllister/Allan S. Gordon, Independent Presenters Network, Roy Furman, GRS Associates, Jam Theatricals, TGA Entertainment and Live Nation.

For more information on Monty Spamalot, please visit: www.montypythonsspamalot.com

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Claymates and Clay Aiken Conquer Spamalot

Claymates and Clay Aiken Conquer Spamalot

By Edith Haight, Broadway Magazine

There was an invasion on Broadway this weekend, as American Idol star Clay Aiken returned to Spamalot to reprise his role as Sir Robin. Aiken first played the role last Spring, and then left for the summer. His return to the show was greeted with an outpouring of enthusiasm and accolades from fans. The most passionate Aiken fans are known as Claymates and they rival the theatre gangs of long ago.

The celebrated British actor Edmund Kean had "the Wolf Club." Kean's wolves were fans who would drink with him, and hound out theatrical rival actors with the violent tactics more commonly associated with criminal street gangs. The loyal fans of American actor Edwin Forrest and British actor William Macready fought to the literal death spurred on by their loyalty to their respective actor. The Astor Place riots were a real theatrical tragedy caused by passionate fans. Well, Clay Aiken can rest soundly at night knowing that he has his own passionate gang of theatre and Broadway fans known as Claymates, and they are ready to do battle for Clay if need be. From the moment the news of his reprise on Broadway broke, the Claymates have been out in full force supporting their Idol. Katie Holmes doesn't have fans like these. Few people do.

No worries about violence, the Claymates seem more about celebration than intimidation. Those fretting a Shubert Alley Riot with Claymates battling Ace Young Fans or Daniel Radcliffe enthusiasts will be disappointed. Looking over the sea of exuberant comments posted on Broadway.tv, Clay Aiken's return should give all Broadway fans a reason to smile.

"Opening night was amazing, the entire show was magical!," writes Dolly. "Clay brings an excitement to the stage that infects the entire audience and cast. Clay's performance last night was full of joy and everyone seemed to enjoy the night," posts music fan. Bedford posits, "For those of us fortunate enough to have seen this young man in concert, we knew he could do anything he wanted to. We were, once again, amazed at his talent. The entire cast is to be congratulated on making this play so darn funny! Mike Nichols was correct when he said Clay Aiken was an amazing comic actor!" The list of comments seems endless, and a quick trip through the blog will bear witness to the enthusiasm Clay Aiken is bringing to Broadway.

Spamalot is a musical-comedy that embraces the absurd and delights in the unusual. As a recording artist, Aiken clearly has the vocal capacity to interpret any number of musical roles (one fan suggested "Pippin"). That said, that Aiken has chosen to come to Broadway and return to Broadway in this comedy says a great deal for his willingness not to take himself too seriously. His fans' enthusiasm and joy in his performance suggest that Broadway should enjoy taking Clay Aiken very seriously indeed. Like Fantasia igniting The Color Purple, or Reba transforming Annie Get Your Gun!, Clay fits Sir Robin and Spamalot like a glove.

For additional Broadway features visit http://www.broadway.tv/broadway-features-reviews

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Clay Aiken: I'm a Gay Dad

Clay Aiken: I'm a Gay Dad

By David Caplan

Originally posted Wednesday September 24, 2008 07:00 AM EDT

Following the Aug. 8 birth of his son Parker, singer Clay Aiken is following through on a promise he made to himself as a new dad: to publicly acknowledge that he's gay.

"It was the first decision I made as a father," Aiken, 29, tells the upcoming issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. "I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things. I wasn't raised that way, and I'm not going to raise a child to do that."

Aiken says he expects the news may overwhelm some of his fans. "Whether it be having a child out of wedlock, or whether it be simply being a homosexual, it's going to be a lot," said Aiken, who returned to Broadway last week as Sir Robin in Monty Python's Spamalot.

He adds that he hopes his fans "know that I've never intended to lie to anybody at all. ... But if they leave, I don't want them to leave hating me."

How He Came Out to His Family

The born-again Christian singer also reveals how he told his mother Faye he's gay four years ago. After dropping off his younger brother Brett, who was being deployed to Iraq, at Camp Lejeune, "I started crying in the car," Aiken remembers. "It was dark. I was sitting there, thinking to myself. I don't know why I started thinking about it ... I just started bawling. She made me pull over the car and it just came out."

So what was his mom's reaction? "She started crying. She was obviously somewhat stunned. But she was very supportive and very comforting." Even now, Aiken admits, "She still struggles with things quite a bit, but she's come a long way."

As for his own child, Aiken tells PEOPLE that Parker – who was conceived via in vitro fertilization with his best friend, music producer Jaymes Foster – will be raised in an environment that is "accepting and allowing him to be happy."

Says Aiken: "I have no idea if he'll be gay or straight. It's not something I'll have anything to do with, or that he'll have anything to do with. It's already probably up inside the code there ... No matter what the situation you're in, if you're raised in a loving environment, that's the most important thing."

For the first photos of Parker and more of Clay's deeply candid interview about fatherhood, coming out, and his message for the Claymates, pick up the upcoming issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

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After Birth of His Son, Aiken Says It's Time to 'Let the Guard Down'

After Birth of His Son, Aiken Says It's Time to 'Let the Guard Down'

Clay Aiken Talks to Diane Sawyer on "GMA" Thursday in His First TV Interview Since Revealing He's Gay

By JONANN BRADY

Sept. 24, 2008

In his first television interview since revealing he is gay, Clay Aiken tells "Good Morning America" that after the birth of his son it was "time to let the guard down."

Aiken tells "GMA" about his decision to publicly acknowledge that he's gay.

"I can't raise a kid and teach him how to lie, teach him to hide things. I can't raise a kid and teach him to keep secrets," Aiken tells Diane Sawyer. "And at the same time, I also don't ever want to raise him in an environment where it's not OK for him to be exactly who he is, no matter what."

The "American Idol" alum, 29, appears on the cover of People magazine this week, cradling his new son, next to the headline, "Yes, I'm Gay."

Parker Foster Aiken, the singer's son with music producer Jaymes Foster, was born on Aug. 8. Foster, 50, became pregnant through in vitro fertilization, and she and Aiken have said they will raise their son together.

Aiken, a born-again Christian, skirted questions about his sexuality for years.

In a 2006 interview with Sawyer, Aiken said that all the speculation about his sex life was "invasive" and "rude."

"What I do in my private life is nobody's business anymore," Aiken said in that interview on "GMA." And in an interview with New York Magazine earlier this year, Aiken alluded to his asexuality.

"I have got too much on my plate," Aiken told the magazine, explaining why he was not involved in a relationship. "I'd rather focus on one thing and do that when I can devote time to it, and right now, I just don't have any desire."

After his son's birth, though, Aiken told Sawyer it was "an obvious time to just, you know, let the guard down and say, 'I have a responsibility for someone other than myself now.'"

Aiken told People magazine he expected some of his fans to be overwhelmed by the news. But after an outpouring of support from fans, Aiken wrote on his Web site: "Suffice it to say, for the first time in recent memory, I am speechless. I'm so proud to know and love all of you."

Aiken returned Tuesday to the Broadway musical, "Spamalot," but he said he's most excited about his role as a new dad.

He said of his son, "He's a loud one, that's for sure. He's got some lungs on him."

There's a video preview of the interview if you click on the link.

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Clay Aiken Flashback: We Asked THAT Questions Two Years Ago...and It Wasn't Pretty

Clay Aiken Flashback: We Asked That Question Two Years Ago … And It Wasn’t Pretty

Published by Jim Cantiello on Tuesday, September 23, 2008 at 8:01 pm.

BREAKING NEWS! Clay Aiken has apparently come out of the closet! Kudos to Clay for coming to terms with his true self, and kudos to People magazine for paying the “American Idol” contestant to talk about his sexuality.

I had the privilege to interview Clay on September 21, 2006 (almost exactly two years ago!), during his “I’m gonna admit to taking anti-depressants and, at the same time, promote my new album” tour. My superiors in the department thought it would be a good opportunity for me to “gently” ask Clay about his personal life. At the time, there were all kinds of unflattering rumors surrounding the singer and his sexuality, and even though he’d recently called Diane Sawyer “rude” for asking about them, I figured I’d try my luck.

Watch Jim’s awkward interview with Clay Aiken after the jump!

My interview with Clay was about as difficult as one would expect. He was thrilled to talk about his upcoming cover album (a poetically appropriate term — cover album — given the circumstances), but as soon as the topic turned to his personal life, things became more awkward than a Paula Abdul QVC appearance. And the awkwardness was thanks to me, mostly.

I present to you the full, uncut Q&A with Clay in all its cringe-inducing glory. Seriously. Trying to get Clay to come out of the closet on camera was one of the lowest points in my career. What was I thinking?!

It was an intense, tough and altogether unpleasant interview. And I take full responsibility for it. (I’m sure you noted my, uh, um, stutters, and at one point in the middle, I lost my train of thought, thanks to an angry glare from his publicist). Did I really think Clay would break down and say, “Yes, random sweaty MTV News interviewer guy. I can’t keep this under wraps any longer. I am gay, dammit!” Apparently, I did.

On a side note, what are the Claymates going to do now? Anytime MTV News ever inferred anything about Clay’s personal life (like this playful, silly Newsroom blog entry), we were bombarded with comments insisting he was their straight knight in shining armor. It always struck me as depressing that some Claymates apparently considered homosexuality a shameful, disgusting thing. (Is Sarah Palin a Clay fan?) Perhaps his most conservative fans contributed to his fear of coming out earlier in his career. In any case, congrats to Clay and his (adorable!) newborn baby. And for any Claymates who are going to ditch the singer because of his sexuality, take heart: There’s always David Archuleta …

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Update: Clay Aiken Reveals He's Gay

UPDATE: Clay Aiken Reveals He's Gay

"It was the first decision I made as a father," Clay Aiken says about coming out as a gay man in the new issue of People. "I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things. I wasn't raised that way, and I'm not going to raise a child to do that."

Clay makes the revelation in the next edition of the magazine, which hits stands this Friday. He will be pictured with his newborn son, Parker, and talk about the importance of being truthful regarding his sexuality.

"Whether it be having a child out of wedlock, or whether it be simply being a homosexual, it's going to be a lot," he says regarding the reactions of his fans. Still, he says his fans "know that I've never intended to lie to anybody at all. ... But if they leave, I don't want them to leave hating me."

The singer also reveals that he told his mom about four years ago, after an emotional parting with his brother who was shipping off to Iraq.

"I started crying in the car," he says. "It was dark. I was sitting there, thinking to myself. I don't know why I started thinking about it ... I just started bawling. She made me pull over the car and it just came out."

His mom "started crying. She was obviously somewhat stunned. But she was very supportive and very comforting." Even now, Clay admits, "She still struggles with things quite a bit, but she's come a long way."

He is scheduled to appear in an already-taped interview about his headline-grabbing revelation with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, to be shown on "Good Morning America" starting on Thursday.

Clay, who has long deflected questions about his sexuality, recently welcomed his infant son with his longtime female friend Jaymes Foster. The baby was conceived via in-vitro fertilization and was born in August.

Posted September 24, 2008 6:15:00 AM

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Associated Press

Clay is Gay: Aiken Comes Out of the Closet

Clay is gay: Aiken comes out of the closet

By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY – 4 days ago

NEW YORK (AP) — Clay Aiken appears on the cover of the latest People magazine holding his infant son, Parker Foster Aiken, with the headline: "Yes, I'm Gay."

The 29-year-old former "American Idol" runner-up, multiplatinum recording artist and Broadway star credits his son, conceived by in-vitro fertilization with friend and producer Jaymes Foster, with making him realize that he could no longer hide his homosexuality from the world.

"It was the first decision I made as a father," Aiken told the magazine, which arrives on newsstands Friday. "I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things. I wasn't raised that way, and I'm not going to raise a child to do that."

Aiken, who rose to fame on "Idol" in 2003, has long been the subject of rumors and tabloid fodder that he was gay, but usually refused to acknowledge them. In an interview with The Associated Press two years ago, he said of the talk: "I don't really feel like I have anybody to answer to but myself and God and the people I love."

Aiken said he only told his family that he was gay four years ago. He recalled a tearful discussion with his mother in a car after dropping off his brother, who was being sent to Iraq, at a military base.

"It was dark. I was sitting there, thinking to myself. I don't know why I started thinking about it ... I just started bawling. She made me pull over the car and it just came out," he said. "She started crying. She was obviously somewhat stunned. But she was very supportive and very comforting."

Aiken said his mother "still struggles with things quite a bit, but she's come a long way."

The magazine cover features Aiken holding his son, who was born in August. The baby's mother is Aiken's record producer, whom he met while performing on "Idol."

Aiken, who considers himself a born-again Christian, said he knows he may turn off some fans — known as Claymates — with his admission and his decision to have a child outside traditional marriage.

"I've never intended to lie to anybody at all," he said. "But if they leave, I don't want them to leave hating me."

Gay groups applauded Aiken's public admission.

"We congratulate Clay for making this decision and for setting an example for others and his family," said Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. As we're seeing, more and more gay people, including celebrities, are living openly and honestly, and this has tremendous impact in terms of creating awareness, understanding and acceptance."

Aiken recently released the CD "On My Way Here." He made his Broadway debut this spring in "Monty Python's Spamalot."

On the Net:

* http://www.clayaiken.com

* http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20228488,00.html

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Gay Groups Applaud Clay's Decision to Come Out

Gay Groups Applaud Clay's Decision to Come Out

By David Caplan

Originally posted Wednesday September 24, 2008 11:55 AM EDT

Clay Aiken is receiving widespread kudos from lesbian and gay organizations for coming out as a gay man in this week's PEOPLE.

"We congratulate Clay for making this decision and for setting an example for others and his family," Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said Tuesday morning. "As we're seeing, more and more gay people, including celebrities, are living openly and honestly, and this has tremendous impact in terms of creating awareness, understanding and acceptance."

Jennifer Chrisler, the executive director of the Family Equality Council, also chimed in: "Much like Rosie O'Donnell, the announcement that Clay Aiken is gay reinforces a simple reality: the American public can no longer say it does not know a gay or lesbian parent.

"Clay Aiken's desire to raise a child in an open and honest manner will make his life, and his son's, all the better. We hope he and his son find all the happiness they deserve, and the Family Equality Council will work toward the day that Clay and Parker Foster Aiken can enjoy the same rights as other American families."

Aiken, 29, tells PEOPLE he came out four years ago to his mother, but decided to publicly acknowledge that he's gay because "I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things."

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Clay Aiken Left "Speechless" by Supportive Fans

Clay Aiken Left 'Speechless' By Supportive Fans

By Emmet Sullivan

Originally posted Wednesday September 24, 2008 02:10 PM EDT

Clay Aiken Photo by: courtesy RCA RecordsClay Aiken Left 'Speechless' By Supportive Fans | Clay Aiken

As fans of Clay Aiken react to the news that he is gay, the singer himself has written about his gratitude he feels about the support he's received so far.

"We'll 'talk' more later," Aiken, 29, writes on his Web site's message board. "but, suffice it to say, for the first time in recent memory, I am speechless. I'm so proud to know and love all of you."

He adds, "My family is so much larger than Parker, Jaymes, mom, Brett, etc. It extends to each of you. And I couldn't be more blessed."

Aiken posted the message Tuesday night after a performance of Broadway's Monty Python's Spamalot, where he has resumed the role of Sir Robin. Fans flocked to the stage door after the show to see the star, but Aiken ducked out a different exit.

Gay groups applauded Aiken on coming out, while fan reaction across the Web has been one of both surprise but support.

As of midday Wednesday, the thread on clayonline.com had more than 2,200 messages, with many saying, "I will always love and support him no matter what. His sexual orientation makes no difference to me."

Some Mixed Reactions

Still, a few "Claymates" are taking the news hard. "I'm really struggling with this one," writes one fan on claymaniacs.com. A poster on clayaiken.com writes, "I'm only concerned that for those like me who will still support him no matter what may have some difficulty reconciling that he wasn't straight forward to begin with."

From the Clay Board, strollynn63 writes, "This is a gut wrenching day for The ClayNation. Somebody wake me up, I hope it's a dream," while NJ4ClayA admits, "I still love to hear him sing but I also feel he has now become like a Michael Jackson and it's a bit too weird!"

Aiken told PEOPLE he understands some fans may not react well. "[i want] to let people know that I've never intended to lie to anybody at all," he said. "But if they leave, I don't want them to leave hating me."

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Former Idol Contestants Show Support for Clay

Former Idol Contestants Show Support for Clay

By Jessica Gold Haralson

Originally posted Wednesday September 24, 2008 04:25 PM EDT

Although Clay Aiken says his decision to come out might lose him a few fans, three of his former American Idol competitors have his back.

"This news does not change my opinion of him or my friendship with him," says Carmen Rasmusen, 23, who competed alongside Aiken during the show's second season. But she admits she was somewhat shocked by the news. "I'm surprised, I guess because he kept it quiet for so long!"

Rasmusen, who is expecting a son with husband Brad Herbert this Christmas, added, "As I'm also going to be a mom, I know how parenthood completely changes your perspective. I think it's great that he's raising his son with a mother involved, and that he understands the importance of being up front and honest with his child."

Ex-Idol contestant Rickey Smith, who, like Aiken, identifies himself as a Christian, says, "He has to do what makes him happy. I'm just glad he's doing what makes him feel comfortable and confident."

Aiken tells the upcoming issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, "I still consider myself a born-again Christian, and I am absolutely comfotable with my salvation."

Vanessa Olivarez, 27, recalls that Aiken "never ever" discussed his personal life with his fellow contestants. (He tells PEOPLE that fellow finalist Kimberley Locke, 30, was the first person he told he was gay.)

Yet Olivarez says she had a feeling about Aiken's sexual orientation: "I have good gaydar – Claydar! – and it definitely wasn’t the shocker of the year!"

She adds, “Clay is religious, and I think it's great that he's showing you can be religious and be gay. People will see that you're not going to burn in hell if you're gay."

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