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Starry Constellation Magazine

Clay Aiken: Drop Dead Diva

CLAY AIKEN

DROP DEAD DIVA

by: Jamie Steinberg

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Q) How did you get involved in working on Drop Dead Diva?

A) They had called me a while back, a few years ago to do a different episode and I was not able to do it. I was out of out town and was not able to get to Atlanta. And when they called again - we had left it open and asked them, you know, to call back at another time and we would be interested. Just the timing didn't work out and when they called this time, I think they had in mind to, you know, this particular episode. And it was something that I was much more interesting in doing. Let me put it this way, simply because the storyline, as Devon mentioned was something - is something in this particular episode that resonated with me more. I'm not necessarily a part of the story - my character is not necessarily a part of the storyline that talks about - that mirror's Constance's situation in Mississippi, but being a part of this episode was exciting for me. It was simply -- to answer your question in a short sentence -- it was simply a phone call they made to ask me to do it. But the reason I got involved was more because of the storyline.

Q) Did you get to attend your senior prom at all?

A) God did I? I can't even remember. You know what's horribly sad, is that it's been so long I can't remember. I know I went to one of them. I'm pretty sure I went to either junior or senior, but I'm sure I went to the senior. But if you ask me who I went to - who I went with, I would honest to God not be able to tell you because I would not remember. Oh, no I do. Yes I did go. I do remember now.

Q) What did you enjoy most about working with the Drop Dead Diva cast?

A) The folks who are there are very family - I mean, it's very much a family. I mean, this show, it doesn't tape in Los Angeles; it tapes just south of Atlanta. So they're somewhat isolated from, you know, LA while they're in town filming. I mean, it's a several weeks or several months really of being in Atlanta, which I think probably gives them an opportunity to bond with each other and to, you know, become friends with the people who they're working with a lot more. And so it kind of makes it a little bit more of a little family and I like the idea - I like the opportunity to kind of be welcomed into that. I mean, they're living in Atlanta for a long period of time and then they have - the show has quite a few guest starts come in and out of the door. So, they've become very adapt at welcoming people as they come in.

Q) Why do you think people continue to tune in and watch the show?

A) I think the message of the show is different than anything that's on TV. It really tells a story that resonates with so many people. I mean, it talks about the importance of how image should not be as important as often times we make it in society. And I think it does that while being really funny, so it's not preachy at all. It's been able to -- it kind of gives a really positive message without preaching, and that's really hard to find on TV. You find shows that don't give a message at all or they do have a message and they preach to you so much that you don't really want to watch them. And this show has a great premise and a very positive message and you don't feel preached to. You're entertained and you laugh the entire time.

Q) I'd like you to kind of reflect on something that Lance Bass was talking about yesterday on a call about the same episode. he was talking about how, you know, Constance, her case was from the South and Lance is from the South and so are you. And he was talking about how it often is particularly hard on gay teenagers in the South and he thinks since Constance started this, a little bit more of a movement now where people are so much in the shadows - gay teens in the South. What do you think about that? First of all, do you think it is kind of tough to be a gay teenager in the South?

A) I won't disagree with Lance, because I'm sure he makes, you know, he has a strong point. But as someone who still lives here and, I man, I'm calling from Durham right now. I would argue that it may not be as much a regional issue as it is a national issue. I mean, obviously, no one would argue that there -you can argue that there are areas in the county where it might be a little bit easier, but I think that it is a national issue. It's not necessarily just a southern thing. There are plenty of opportunities for us to say that, you know, homophobia exists in a certain religious environment more than it does in a secular environment. And while that may be true, it's not necessarily the rule. I know plenty of Christians who are open-minded and equality loving and I know plenty of Southerners who are the same. I think that because society tends to be a little more insular in the South, if you will often times, it's a little bit more pronounced here - the homophobia. But I wouldn't say - I guess I have to say - I put it this way, I live in an area in the South that is relatively progressive. Raleigh and Durham and must of North Carolina, in fact, is more progressive than I think we are painted. I wouldn't for a second say that the South is ready to embrace equality as much as I'd like for them to, but I would argue that there aren't that many places in the county that are. And so, I'm a proud southerner. I get slightly defensive because I know that there are lots of challenges in the Southeast that still need to be met, but I do see a lot of progress. And it is kids like Constance, shows like Drop Dead Diva that - and plenty of other shows and plenty of other individuals who have stood up. I think about the fact that, you know, from the time that I started in this business, if you want to put it like that, in 2003, the lengths that the entertainment industry has come, the lengths that the country has come in just that short - less than 10 years, is amazing. And I don't think that the South is stuck in the past in any way, I think its progressing. But, you know, things may - as with fashion and everyththing else tend - things tend to go a little bit slower down here than they do in the rest of the county, but I would argue that progress in definitely being made everywhere. And it is thanks to people like Constance too.

Q) We tend to be too broad based in everything we say, and we say things about the South that we are too general and so forth.

A) And I'm not saying that's it is incorrect. I wouldn't say that it's incorrect, but I would -- I guess my point is, I like to show the other side too. You know, there are definitely places in all parts of the country that need a lot - that really need to have a long way to come. And there are places in the South that come a lot farther that they get credit for.

Q) At the time when you were a teenager and you were going to the prom and so forth, at that point, you still felt that you were heterosexual at that point, didn't you?

A) Whew, yeah I did. Yeah, I went to prom with a girl; I'll put it that way.

Q) Did you ever feel any bias just because you weren't like one of the football players or anything like that?

A) You now what's crazy, and I feel like maybe in my entire life I've been somewhat sheltered, but I've asked myself that question many times. And I've gone back and I'm sensitive to the fact that - I'm very sensitive to the fact that kids are bullied all across the county still today for myriad reason, not the least of which at all as for being gay. And I was bullied all through high school for plenty of things, but unless I've repressed it in such a horrible way, I mean, really deeply repressed it, I remember being picked on for being a nerd, for being skinny, for being awkward looking. And I probably can think of being picked on - being called gay or fag maybe one or two times by maybe one or two people. It was - that particular insult was not necessarily flung my way, ironically. You can all laugh if you want, but it was not really flung my way as much as some might believe. I admit the fact that - and I'll confess, that I might've repressed it some much that I don't remember. But that was not - that wasn't the headline that I remember for being bullied. I got bullied for plenty of things and I'm sure they would've taken that out on me if they could've, but again, I grew up in a part of Raleigh, which I would not consider to be a liberale or anything. But, possibly a little bit more progressive. And I go back through - I said this to somebody the other day and it's funny, it may be completely off topic. But they, you know, I believe a researcher or most folks would say - most respectable researchers would say that around - somewhere around 10 percent of the population is gay or lesbian. I said well, I went to high school and there were 350 people in my graduating class, that means that there're probably around 30 people who are gay, maybe 15 gay guys, 15 gay girls. Let me look through my yearbook and see if I - I could not find one. So I don't know what was going on in my high school.

Q) What's one lesson that you think people can take away from this particular episode that you're in, and what would you like to see happen as a result of the show?

A) I think obviously, the very obvious lesson from this particular show, from the script itself, is that there are teenagers, they're children - I have to call them children. They're teenagers and young people in this county who are being persecuted against, who are being discriminated against for things as silly as who they wanna go to a prom with, who they want to go to a dance with. This isn't anything salacious, it isn't anything inappropriate, they just want to go to a dance with their girlfriend or their boyfriend, whoever they are. I think that's the lesson on the surface and I think that's hopefully what people will take away from it is look at the arguments that are being made. That allowing this girl to go with her girlfriend to a prom is in violation of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is the best argument I think they could find, and it's pretty preposterous. So I think that that's the message on the surface. I think what the show hope to do and what the producer wanted to do when they cast myself and Amanda Bierce, Wanda Sykes, Lance Bass in the show. I think their goal was also to have an underlying message for teenagers who are gay and maybe being bullied right now, which was to take a look at the fact that, you know, this was - this is a small subsection of folks in this county who are in high profile position in the limelight. And four of them, look at how we've had an opportunity to be successful - myself, Lance, Wanda, Amanda in our different ways. And I think the underlying message that the producers hope to get across to these young people who may be watching or to these people who are gay or may not be comfortable with themselves right yet, was to see that there are people who are gay and lesbian who are living happy productive lives being very comfortable with ourselves. So I think there are two things that can be taken form it. One, for an audience that may be gay and may be struggling with it or who may be gay and may be being bullied. And another for an audience - a larger audience that just needs to see that there are discriminatory actions - there's discrimination being perpetrated, if you will, against kids for some of the silliest reasons that they can dream up.

Q) What kind of response did you receive form your fans when you told that you were going to be on Drop Dead Diva?

A) My fans are nuts, as in a good way. They are enthusiastic about everything. We did a view - the premiere of the episode was screened at Outfest in Los Angeles this past weekend, and there was a large contingent of Claymates who were there. Who came out to LA just to see the screening and they're very enthusiastic. And I'm hoping they'll give the - I'm hoping they'll bump the needle for the show this weekend at least.

Q) What was it about Constance's story that touched you and have you met her? I mean, can you talk about what impresses you about her?

A) Well, I haven't had a chance to meet her. We were both - she made a cameo in the episode, but my storyline is actually not a part of hers. So, we taped on different days. But, her story is not one that I was not familiar with already before this. Actually when Josh Berman, the producer, called me and told me what he was doing, I knew exactly who he was talking about because I had read about it and heard about it several times. And I think that even having not met her, the thing that would impress me the most would be, and I cannot be the first person to say how courageous she's been. I'm sure that's probably what impresses everybody. I mean, I will say that - I'll repeat again, that I think that either I was sheltered or I grew up in a relatively safe environment where I'm from, but there are plenty of smaller towns in this state and all across the country that are not safe for gays and lesbians, especially younger gays and lesbians. And to do it in an area which, Mississippi has a long record of struggling to give people civil rights, whether it be racially, religiously, or sexual orientation-wise. It's got - it's had a - Mississippi got a dark history with that. And so for her to stand up in general, in the first place and be openly gay and then to fight against not just her school and the administration in the school board, but essentially to stand up and fight against the students in her school who were not supportive of her either. You know, she was all ready somewhat, I'm sure, of an outcast because of her sexual orientation and being open about it. But to take on the school and essentially get the prom cancelled and draw the ire of all of the students, is extremely impressive, especially because what she was doing, no doubt had an impact on - hopefully had a positive impact- on kids who heard her story. And thought, you know, if this girl is 17 years old and can be so brave, then - and can make such an impact, then I feel like I can be a little more brave myself. And I would say this, I don't think if I were in her situation in 1996, when I was in high school, I would've had anywhere near the balls, excuse me, to do what she did. And that - it's a story -- its one of the - its something you don't hear very often. We do hear about kids being picked on. We hear about kids being bullied, but we don't often hear about a young woman or young man standing up for themselves in such a proud an defiant way. And obviously, her story's now being told to millions of people around the county. So, she's really had a powerful impact.

Q) You talked about the advances in recent years. Why do you think there have been advances? What's changing?

A) I really don't even know who to credit with it, but I think that there have been a lot of opportunities in the media for positive role models for gay and lesbian young people. And positive examples of gay and lesbian Americans. I mean, if you look at Ellen DeGeneres as one of the early - Amanda Bierce, who is on the show and I think doesn't get as much credit because she was not - she was way, way before it was cool. You know? Way before if was okay, back when she was on Married with Children. There are people who took a stand and who came out much more courageously early in the late 90s and 15 years ago. And slowly as Ellen has gotten a lot of acceptance from the mainstream population. You know, you saw shows like Will and Grace. I definitely believe that Hollywood - and I use that as a metonym for the whole entertainment industry - Hollywood and the media in general have put a more positive face or a more accurate face - take the word positive out because accurate face on gays and lesbians, and bisexuals and transgenders in this country, which they didn't have before. It's sort of snowballed in some way. You know, Will and Grace was sort of groundbreaking and now it's rare really to find a show that doesn't have a gay character in it in some way. And I think that's had a lot to do with why people are more comfortable with it. I say all the time, you know, if people knew someone who was gay, if they were exposed it - it's not about hatred, I don't think, as much as it is about ignorance. And as the media has allowed more people to be exposed to the fact that, you know, this character on this TV show may be gay, but they're exactly the same as every other character, they just happen to be gay. As we've taken away some of those stereotypes and taken away some of those - some of the - well, some of the stereotypes I think it's made it a lot easier for people to embrace equality.

Q) As you know, the discussion of gay relationships and gay rights are very much in the news - in the national news and on television lately. Here in the state of New York, as of this Sunday, New York is allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. And also many states do not allow gay men and women to adopt or to foster children, while other states can also refuse services to us in restaurants and businesses. What are your thoughts on these subjects?

A) That's a lot of stuff to have a thought on. Obviously, I mean, I'm obviously pleased with the developments in New York over the past several months, as I'm sure everyone on the line should be. But - and that's exciting. Obvious - there are plenty of places, as I said earlier, in the call that still have a long way to come. But I'll repeat that, you know, as you look at the changes that have happened since 2000 or 2001, 10 years ago, when we had almost no acceptance for marriage equality in the country. And we started out with just Massachusetts, so certain states having civil unions and now we're up to over 10 - almost 10 percent if not more of the population living in a place where they can get - where gays and lesbians can get married. That's a lot of change in 10 years. I think for me, because I live in a state that doesn't allow it, sometimes it doesn't seem as fast as I'd like it to be. Although I will proudly state that North Carolina is the only state in the South that doesn't have a constitutional amendment banning it, and we'll keep knocking on wood that that doesn't change with the newly elected folks. But, I think a lot of times we think that its not moving fast enough, but I'll kind of use an analogy that - of Africa when I was in Uganda several years ago with UNICEF. And I was very frustrated by the fact that, you know, there's so much strife here in Africa and in Northern Africa in general. But especially in Africa with these countries who are constantly fighting with each other or there internal struggles within the country. And I said to somebody who was with me a at the time, I said, you know, it's really, really frustrating. Why don't we just let them draw the lines where they want them to be so they can have - you know, why don't we allow - why don't these countries, you know, get it together. And he said, you know, you gotta think about it this way, the United States gained independence from England back in 1770s and still almost a hundred years later, in 1860s we were still fighting amongst ourselves, we had a civil war. These countries in Africa have only been independent of their colonizers for 40, 50 years max. It takes some time and big changes take time. So when you look at the fact that there are a lot of places in the world that are struggling because - and have been fighting about different things for years and years and years. You think that the amount of progress that we've made in this country in 10 years is pretty spectacular. And the rate that we are making that progress is, I believe, pretty impressive. It's frustrating, of course, because we'd like for it to happen now. We believe - I believe it is right. There are rights that we should be afforded right now without having to wait. But, sometimes it's hard to think about the fact that progress and change takes a little time. And I think about the fact that I have a kid now and if my son happens to be gay when he grows up, or if he happens to be gay now, I hope that he has the rights afforded to him that I don't have. And I think that a lot of times we want stuff right now for ourselves, and I wanted things right now for myself four years ago. But now that I have a kid, my goal is that he has those rights. And as much as I'd love to see changes happen right now, I think we should - I want to make sure that there - that when these changes are made, they've made in a way that's deliberate enough that we don't end up losing these rights in five years because we didn't do it the right way.

Q) What are your thoughts on the facts that some states do not allow gay or trans men and women to adopt or even to foster children?

A) I think the answer's going to be the exact same as the one I just gave. I mean, I think the fact that - I mean, obviously, its not - I don't believe that's right. I don't think any sane minded person would believe that right, but again, I think that it has a lot to do with ignorance. And I think that as there is, in the media, more exposure of gays and lesbians being happy - of having happy productive families, those mindsets will change. And I think a lot of those laws, especially in places like Arkansas and Florida where were created out of fear - knee jerk reactions out of fear because, you know, folks were afraid we were all going to come and go and indoctrinate their kids. You know, which is obviously not the case. So - and fear and ignorance go hand in hand. So, as we allow - as shows like Drop Dead Diva and the future Will and Grace's of the world and folks like Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie and Neil Patrick Harris, and just anybody in the public eye allow us opportunities to see gays and lesbians having productive families and lives. Those fears will abate for a lot of people and I think it'll be easier to change some of those laws.

Q) I was curious, upon seeing the completed screening of it you saw last week, what was your favorite scene or the scene you thought was more powerful when it's going to be shown to the entire US?

A) I think the scene - I think any scene - the most powerful scenes are the ones that have to do with Constance's story and the story that Jane's character - the case that Jane's character takes on. For me, the thing that astonished me the most and upset me the most was, there's a scene where they've gone into the school and the character who is modeled after Constance's character parks her car and when she comes out it's been towed by the school. Clearly in an act of retribution against her for bringing this up. But without giving anything away, I imagine that most folks will find - will get their goose bumps and their chills from the end of the show - of the episode, which is where I think most of the tears were in the room when the premiere happened.

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AOLtv.com

"Drop Dead Diva" Guest Star Clay Aiken on His Role and Not Watching "American Idol"

'Drop Dead Diva' Guest Star Clay Aiken On His Role & Not Watching 'American Idol'

by Michael Maloney, posted Jul 23rd 2011 2:45PM

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'Law & Order: SVU' isn't the only show to make plots out of real-life headlines.

On this Sunday's 'Drop Dead Diva' (July 24, 9PM ET on Lifetime), Jane (Brooke Elliott) represents a teenage lesbian couple after the two are denied the right to attend their high school prom. The show's writers were inspired by the true story of Constance McMillen, a lesbian teen who successfully sued her Mississippi high school for the right to bring her girlfriend to prom.

In a concurrent storyline, guest star Clay Aiken plays a man who was jilted by his Russian mail-order bride.

But the 'American Idol' alum isn't the only openly gay guest star in this episode, titled 'Prom.' Wanda Sykes, Lance Bass and Amanda Bearse ('Married With Children') also play roles, as does McMillen in a cameo as a bailiff.

Aiken, who's kept a low profile this year, explains to AOL TV why he took this role, what he hopes the show's message will accomplish and, surprisingly, which highly-rated reality competition TV program is not on his DVR.

How did your guest spot on 'Diva' come about?

They'd asked me before to be a part of it ... I wasn't able to get into town because I was doing 'Spamalot' in New York. But we kept the door open. When they called back this time, the storyline was a bit more resonant with me because it's based on a true story. After Constance sued for the right to take her girlfriend to the prom, [the school] canceled it. I think the show's goal in casting myself and other known individuals who are out and gay was to make people, who may feel excluded and are watching, see that we're a symbol. We have Lance, Wanda, Amanda and myself who are on the show and we are all out, gay, proud, successful and happy.

Do you sing in it?

I do not. It's nice to be able to do something different. It's one of the few times where I haven't played myself. I've done several TV shows where I have. The 'Drop Dead Diva' producers said to me, "You can play yourself and/or you can sing." I said I didn't want to do either of those things so they gave me this character, which I think is a little more interesting than I am! [Laughs]

Do you want to do more acting roles?aiken-200.jpg

I may plead the Fifth on this one ... I loved being a part of it. The people on this show are incredible and I enjoyed making new friends. I also loved being on 'Spamalot' on Broadway. I'm a live performer. That's where my heart is. Being on Broadway is what I enjoy the most.

What else is keeping you busy?

This was actually the only thing I've done this summer. I toured early in the year. I wanted to spend time with my family and my little one [son, Parker Foster]. I've made that my goal for the next several months, [but] I miss working a little bit.

Any thoughts on how 'American Idol' has successfully reinvented itself?

I have watched 'Idol' in six years. I always disappoint interviewers when they ask me 'Idol' questions because I haven't seen it in so long. I don't even know what it looks like!

'Drop Dead Diva' airs on Sun., July 24 at 9PM ET on Lifetime.

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Support Somalia (Because Mother Nature Ain't)

Clay Aiken

UNICEF Ambassador

Support Somalia (Because Mother Nature Ain't)

Posted: 7/28/11 05:29 PM ET

I have a small pond in my backyard.

It isn't big enough for recreational use. No fishing; no boating.

It's just pretty. But, fortunately it's big enough that, during the warmer months, I can use the water from the pond to irrigate my lawn.

The water is pumped out and through the irrigation system. It waters the grass, and then it makes its way back to the pond to repeat the cycle. It's very useful, but I certainly couldn't imagine drinking from it.

In 2008, on my first trip to Somalia as a UNICEF Ambassador, I saw a pond about the same size as the one in my backyard. It was in the middle of a somewhat barren stretch of land and it was, perhaps, the dirtiest water I had ever seen. But, for the people of the village I was visiting, it was the only source of water available for miles. I watched as young children played in it, as others bathed in it, and yes, as dozens of families loaded donkeys with jerry cans full of that turbid water and walked for miles to bring it back home. It wasn't the best of circumstances. But in the dry land of Somalia, that muddy pond was the only source of sustenance.

2011-07-28-Clay2.JPGIt's now 2011, and it's been an incredibly hot summer all across the globe. Here at my house the pond in my backyard... well... it is struggling. It's still clean and pretty, but the level has dropped enough that I have had to turn off the pump that allows me to irrigate my yard with its water. Now, I'd have to pay to keep my lawn nice and green.

In Somalia the situation is a far worse. That small, but useful, pond I stood beside in 2008 is gone now. As are so many water sources throughout the entire nation Somalia, along with neighboring countries -- Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti -- are experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. In fact, this drought has led to full-scale famine in parts of southern Somalia. This is all happening in a country whose people have not had access to much of the basic support that we take for granted, in part because Somalia has been without a functioning government for two decades.

With rising fuel and food prices, and drought, added to an already dire humanitarian situation, it seems that Mother Nature is kicking the people of Somalia while they are down.

In the mid-1980s, famine in Ethiopia generated media attention and massive outpouring of assistance from concerts like Live Aid and involvement from musicians recording the famous "We Are The World" record. Many of us remember the amount of attention and money raised for Ethiopian relief in 1985 and 1986. That same sense of urgency is needed today.

The U.N. estimates that more than 11 million people are already in dire need of humanitarian assistance in Somalia and across the Horn of Africa. More than 2.3 million children are acutely malnourished, including half a million at immediate risk of death. Thousands of families are crossing the border from Somalia as emergency therapeutic feeding centers are being set up by UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies in neighboring countries. In some places, half of the children are malnourished. In fact, thousands of children are so weak that they are dying en route -- before they make it to the water, food, and basic assistance they need to survive. Their mothers, with so few resources on the journey, are being faced with the impossible dilemma -- which child do I feed and which one do I allow to die?

UNICEF is using every means possible to reach these children. Their unrivaled expertise in responding to the unique needs of children affected by emergencies of all sorts is precisely why they have saved the lives of more children across the globe than any other humanitarian organization.

But they are entirely dependent on donations. They urgently need more than $300 million over the next six months alone to meet the basic needs and save the lives of countless children.

So, as I lament the drying out of my pretty little backyard pond and its inability to help keep my grass green this summer, I find myself faced with a decision FAR easier than the mothers of Somalia. A green lawn or the life of a child.

Therefore, there'll be no irrigation in my yard this summer. Instead, the money that I would have spent on watering my grass will go to UNICEF. A brown lawn is an extremely small price to pay for the life of a child, and the amount that would have spent on irrigation will go so much further in the hands of UNICEF.

The average family spends about $100 a month on watering their yard in the spring and summer months. That $100 dollars can feed a child for 100 days! Three months!

I challenge us all to consider reallocating our watering allowance to a cause so much more important than fescue.

I'm sure we can all agree that we would rather our grass die than a child.

To help, text "FOOD" to UNICEF (864233) to give $10, which can feed a child for 10 days, or visit www.unicefusa.org/donate/horn .

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