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Criso, Aiken Take Questions at Meeting in Asheboro

Crisco, Aiken take questions at meeting in Asheboro

ASHEBORO — Roughly 50 Randolph County Democrats polled two candidates in the U.S. House of Representatives District 2 race Monday at the Asheboro Public Library. Keith Crisco, Asheboro businessman and resident, and Clay Aiken, singer and former American Idol contestant, both want to unseat incumbent Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers. But they have to get through the May 6 primary first.

The candidates were on hand to answer questions at the monthly meeting of the Randolph County Democrats meeting. Local Democratic chair Jim Meredith said Crisco regularly attends the local meetings. He said Aiken called to request time to meet with members. Toni Morris of Fayetteville is also a Democratic candidate for the seat; however, she had a conflicting engagement and could not attend.

Before the question and answer period, both candidates made brief presentations.

Aiken said he is running because he is frustrated with politicians who seem to court voters only to abandon them when they get to Washington. He said he has always been interested in politics and he believes he can engage more people to get involved in the 2014 general election.

Crisco joked, as a long-time member of the community, he needed to try hard to come up with something new to tell the audience about himself. He reminded the audience of his rural upbringing that took him from Aquadale to Harvard and eventually the nation’s capital as a Washington Fellow. He said, as a moderate, he is best qualified to serve.

“This nation cannot be governed from the edge,” he said. “It must be governed from the middle.”

When asked about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Crisco said the cost of healthcare in the U.S. is a problem. He said ACA is very large and was enacted very fast. But he said repealing it is not the answer. The solution, he said, is to fix it.

Aiken agreed the measure should not be repealed. He said, when ACA is explained to people, the majority favor key provisions like no caps on benefits and keeping children on parents’ policies until age 26.

“There are dozens of provisions we need to talk about (in the act),” he said. “We need to do a better job of explaining the law to people.”

Asked how they would get Republicans to vote for either of them, Aiken said he believes most of Americans live in the middle. He said both Republicans and Democrats are tired of the endless arguing and failure of politicians to negotiate with one another. He said he believes he can draw support from all sides.

Crisco said, as a businessman and a former state secretary of commerce, he has credibility and a reputation for working across the aisle that will attract support from Democrats, Republicans and independents. Both candidates promised to cast their support to the winner of the May primary.

One audience member asked how either candidate would motivate people to care about government enough to pay attention.

“For one thing, I’ll show up,” said Crisco, noting Ellmers has a reputation for not being visible or available in her district.

Aiken noted Ellmers has only two district offices in a district that spans some or all of nine counties. He said she is completely ignoring two large chunks of her district. He speculated these areas lean more Democratic and Ellmers “probably thinks she doesn’t need them.”

On the matter of education, audience members responded enthusiastically when Crisco and Aiken commented on Gov. Pat McCrory’s recently announced proposal to increase salaries for beginning teachers.

“This is a tiny little carrot,” Aiken said, adding this is frequently what politicians do, hoping people will forget past grievances. “People are far wiser now.”

Crisco said when McCrory made the announcement at a recent Emerging Issues conference, the audience greeted it with silence. Crisco said McCrory should have come out with a long-term plan to support increases for all teachers.

Asked what they could do about gridlock in Washington, Crisco said he has working relationships already with people in Congress. He said he has had 40 years of building relationships through his involvement in industry and state government. He said he could work with people of diverse opinions and is best suited to “hit the ground running.”

Aiken quipped it wouldn’t take him 40 years to build relationships, adding he can work with others toward common goals.

Filing continues until Feb. 28 for the May 6 primary. Both candidates expect to visit the county regularly leading up to that date.

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Yes! Weekly Blog

Clay Aiken to File Feb. 27 for Congress in NC-02


WHAT: Clay Aiken files paperwork to run for U.S. Congress in North Carolina’s Second Congressional District

WHEN: Thursday, February 27, 9:30 a.m.

WHERE: North Carolina State Board of Elections, 441 N Harrington Street, Raleigh, NC 27603

After filing, Aiken will return to the Second Congressional District to meet with constituents. At 12:30 p.m. he will meet with Asheboro residents at local shop Di’Lishi Frozen Yogurt (405 E Dixie Dr, Asheboro, NC 27203). He will end the day at a Democratic Party precinct meeting in Apex."

Press Release

Posted by Charles on 2/25/2014

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newsandobserver.com Under the Dome blog

A Snapshot from Clay Aiken's Campaign Trail

A snapshot from Clay Aiken’s campaign trail

Posted by John Frank on February 26, 2014

On the campaign trail, Clay Aiken is taking more than a typical politician’s share of selfie photos with fans.

“I've learned it's a lot easier to do it myself than wait for someone to figure out how to operate the camera,” Aiken said, after grabbing the camera and taking a dozen-some photos with admirers (or the curious) at a recent Wake County Democratic Party fundraiser.

The former American Idol contestant plans to file his official candidacy papers at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Raleigh and launch what one of the most interesting campaigns for Congress in America. He’s fighting an uphill battle in a district that leans strongly to the Republican side and first must win a Democratic primary against Keith Crisco, a former state commerce secretary.

The campaign of U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, the Republican incumbent, attacked Aiken from the start, suggesting he represented “San Francisco values.” But in an interview Aiken dismissed it, calling it “a little bit of a swipe from a clawless cat.”

In his speech to Wake Democrats, Aiken declared 2014 “a change year in North Carolina” and pressed the issue of education.

Asked after the speech how he would turn selfie photos into votes, he suggested his celebrity status would help his campaign. “I think a big issue for this campaign is making sure people pay attention to it,” he said. “And as we've had people pay attention to it, we've gotten a chance to talk about the issues important to me and things important to this district, and we've gotten a chance to talk about the record of the person who is in this seat now.”

Aiken said he is still adjusting to the shift to politics – “a different kind of busy” – and the Republican trackers following his every move, including at the Wake Democratic fundraising event.

At this point, an another admirer interrupted to greet him. His campaign trail will include more selfies to come.

Read more here: http://www.newsobser...html#storylink=

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Aiken Highlights Odd State of NC Politics

Wednesday, February 26,2014


By David Pferdekamper

Well, North Carolina, how did we find ourselves here? I remember watching news about the 2003 gubernatorial recall election in California, and thinking how surreal it was to see Arnold Schwarzenegger — a celebrity then known for killing aliens and robots, making mediocre comedy blockbusters, and being the best part of the worst Batman film — ascend to the governorship.

People still mock Schwarzenegger for getting involved in politics so directly. After all, what does an actor and body builder know about running a state? It’s not my prerogative to judge Schwarzenegger’s governing abilities. What’s more important is to acknowledge the odd state of California politics at the time. Gray Davis was just the second governor in the history of the United States to be successfully recalled. Only in such an unusual climate, with such a disillusioned electorate, could Schwarzenegger have hoped to be taken seriously.

If you’ve been paying attention to NC state politics, you might have noticed that Clay Aiken might just be on his way to pulling an Arnie. After releasing his first campaign ad in his bid for the second congressional district seat earlier this month, a whole lot of people are beginning to take the former reality television star seriously.

Aiken’s personal and heartfelt ad recounts his difficult childhood, focusing on his experiences seeking refuge from his abusive father with his mother and living with low-income and few possessions. He talks about his passions for helping others who are less fortunate, and connects it to his experiences with UNICEF and special presidential commission under George Bush to address the educational challenges of children with special needs. He manages to bring up thoughtful criticism of incumbent Renee Ellmers.

It is, as most of the internet will tell you, a very good ad. As I mentioned earlier, people are taking the musician very seriously.

In fact, the video went viral on social media, blogs and news sites just a few hours after being uploaded. Within a week it had half a million views on YouTube. In just over a week, the campaign had received over $100,000 in donations. Of that, 70 percent came in the form of online donations with an average of $49 per donation.

Of course, the video continues to get views and the Aiken campaign continues to get donations. The candidate has certainly gotten a lot of positive attention.

You can draw your own conclusions about whether the second district is better off keeping Ellmers as their representative or replacing her. Either way, the large splash that Aiken has made in such a small amount of time is indicative of a climate that ought to have the “real” politicians worried.

Of course, most of them probably won’t worry. Aiken has an uphill battle. He’s running as a Democrat in a very conservative district — a district that voted for Mitt Romney by a margin of 18 points over Barack Obama in 2012. On top of that, it can be hard for an openly gay politician to win electoral support. Not to mention he still has a primary to compete in. Aiken’s low chances will more than likely keep the politicians calm, despite his initial burst of popularity.

The issue is, though, that it doesn’t matter whether Aiken wins or loses. The fact that a former “American Idol” candidate can be taken seriously as a congressional candidate should be grabbing the attention of every politician in the state. If this is the way politics are evolving in our state, our leaders have an extremely foreign world to adapt to.

“I’m not a politician; I don’t ever want to be one,” Aiken says in his ad. While some might think these are campaign words without much substance, not being a politician used to be a bad thing to bring up in a political campaign. Even though politicians have continually been disliked, the shift to electorates preferring outsiders is relatively new in our history.

Aiken is the most recent entry in that shift. His candidacy represents a new political arena in our state, just as Schwarzenegger’s election represented a new political arena in California.

NC POLITICS: Don’t sleep on Aiken

Ironically, while mocking Aiken’s bid, Ellmers managed to mock herself and point out the issue that modern day politicians are facing.

“I guess we don’t have a very high approval rating, so I guess the bar has been lowered for him,” said Ellmers in a recent radio interview on a Washington-based station. The implication she didn’t explicitly acknowledge, of course, is that she and her colleagues — on both sides of the aisle — are the ones that lowered the bar.

Ellmers can continue to mock Aiken, but while her best criticism of him so far is that he was the runner up on “American Idol,” Aiken manages to present a litany of reasons why Ellmers’s voting record has been bad for North Carolinians. Without agreeing or disagreeing with him, it’s obvious that Ellmers needs to take this a bit more seriously.

We live in a world where a lot of people get their news from entertainment programs and Facebook, while news programs adopt the standards of entertainment programs. Politicians act like Hollywood celebrities to remain relevant in the digital era and celebrities get involved in politics, forcing politicians to act more like them.

You can love it or hate it, but there it is. Politics and entertainment are not as separate as they once were. As Aiken’s campaign gets more attention and respect, NC politicians need to keep that in mind. They might laugh at Aiken. Aiken may very well lose. Even so, there’s a lesson here for our leaders. If they’re smart, they’ll stop laughing and start paying attention.

After all, I’m sure California politi- cians wish they had taken Schwar- zenegger seriously.

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Aiken, Barrino Among N.C. Music Hall of Fame Inductees

Aiken, Barrino among N.C. Music Hall of Fame inductees

  • Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 3:09 p.m.

KANNAPOLIS — Clay Aiken and Fantasia Barrino, two North Carolina singers who found fame on the TV show “American Idol,” will be inducted into the N.C. Music Hall of Fame this fall in Kannapolis.

Chairman Bill Kopald said he does not know yet which inductees will attend the ceremony on Oct. 16 at the Gem Theater or who will perform.

Aiken recently set aside his singing career to launch a bid for a North Carolina congressional seat. He’s running as a Democrat for the chance to take on Rep. Renee Ellmers, chairwoman of the Republican Women’s Policy Committee, in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, which is based in the central part of the state and Fayetteville,

Read more details and see the complete list of inductees in Thursday’s Post.

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Jobs and Economy

The dysfunction in Congress hurts our economy and hurts the American people. As long as partisan gridlock grips Washington, economic growth will be limited. Political instability cripples investor and consumer confidence. All the while, Congress seems to be more interested in scoring political points, blaming problems on the opposing party, and causing instability than in getting people back to work.

As your next Congressman I will work to promote innovation, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. We need to make sure that regulations are appropriate to scale and that we focus our energy on the entrepreneurs who create the jobs of tomorrow. I grew up around small businesses in North Carolina and I know how important they are to the economy of small towns and cities across our state. We need to focus our energy on policies that promote economic growth and return money to the pockets of the middle class who buy the products that power our economic engine.

Our investments in education are investments in our economy. Numerous studies show that we receive an immediate return on investment for every dollar that we spend on education today, while the long term economic growth of our state and our country depend on our commitment to educating each child who will one day guide our economy forward. We need to support creativity and complex thinking in our schools, recruit best and brightest to become educators, and support them once they are educating our children in the classroom.

Our people also need immediate job relief today. The American infrastructure is crumbling. Immediate progress should be made through a program that updates our roads, railways, and bridges. We must expand broadband access and move towards smart grid technology. We should promote advanced manufacturing through an increase in research and development. North Carolina has shown that investing in infrastructure, education, technology, and our people generates growth that will pay us back and provide our children with the jobs of tomorrow. Those investments will stimulate more job creators to grow here in North Carolina.

It is vitally important that we move forward on these issues now; it is an investment not just in our future, but in people who want to get to work immediately.

Small towns in North Carolina especially need an economic boost. We should cut payroll taxes in half for the first $5,000,000 in payroll to benefit small businesses and we should offer payroll tax holidays for employers that add new workers. It is long past time to ban discrimination against the hiring of the long-term unemployed. People throughout North Carolina and the Second District are talented, hard-working, and ready to make a difference again.

Minimum Wage

We must reward work. It is unconscionable that many Americans work 40 hours a week and still do not make enough to support their families. A single parent working 40 hours a week for every week of the year earns only $15,080 at minimum wage. Many of them have to work second jobs that rob them of time with their children. Hard-working families deserve better. And when workers do not make enough money to support themselves, other taxpayers are forced to pick up the tab through the social safety net. We must raise the minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage is not the only solution to this problem. We need to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit so that hard work is incentivized. Policies that reward wealth rather than work benefit only the few. Returning the Earned Income Tax Credit to prior levels will be an important step towards increasing demand on Main Street by putting more money into the hands of consumers.


North Carolina makes some of the highest quality products in the world. We know that “Made in America” isn’t just a slogan, but a statement about quality. We must enact policies and use every platform available to promote US exports, particularly in manufacturing, in order to make sure that companies which invest in the American worker are able to grow jobs and wages. We have a unique opportunity to generate high growth for American manufacturers today with a struggling Chinese economy and soaring energy costs making offshoring less of an advantage for multi-national corporations.

We must make every effort possible to stop the exodus of jobs overseas. Too many towns in North Carolina have been hollowed out because of policies that reward companies that ship jobs to countries with lower standards for workers and wages. Our government should take a stand against this behavior. We must end tax breaks, subsidies, and corporate welfare for companies that move jobs overseas. Allowing large companies to benefit at the same time that they are taking jobs away from hard-working Americans is unconscionable. Additionally, the US government must set an example and stand up for American workers by no longer entering into federal contracts with companies who ship jobs outside of our country.

We should also heavily scrutinize future trade deals. Trade deals that affect all American workers, businesses, and consumers should not be negotiated under a cloak of secrecy. By opening up trade with countries who do not stand up for their people, we are allowing United States businesses to move jobs to areas where they can pay workers the bare minimum.


I began my career as a special education teacher. I also benefitted from the instruction of some of North Carolina’s finest educators. I know what a good education did for me. I know what it can do, even for children with special challenges. But too many politicians treat schools and teachers as political footballs. Leaders from both sides have begun to understand the importance of early childhood education and universal pre-K for each child. But they have not yet made progress towards those vital investments. Obstructionism and obstinance in Washington led to the sequester, which has cut millions from special education, which hurts those with the most need.

We have made post-secondary education a focus, but at the same time we have made it more cost-prohibitive than ever before. Higher education is valuable and is a wise and important investment, but the amount of debt that students are carrying before they even graduate is unreasonable. The government should not be making money off of students who take out federal loans for college. It is time to make government loans for higher education interest-free.

Education needs to be a life-long pursuit. We need to provide tuition tax credits to working adults who return to school to improve their skills or prepare for new jobs. We need to accelerate the trend of community colleges who partner with business to train workers. Community colleges from around North Carolina are already leading the charge to retrain and develop our workforce and we need to empower them to continue this work including incentivizing businesses to partner with each college.

Military and Veterans

The unemployment rate for veterans is 11%, compared to the 7% average in NC. That is unacceptable. Our soldiers and veterans are prepared to sacrifice everything for our country. Their skills are fully developed, they understand how to work as part of a team, and they know how to create an immediate impact. We must develop a program with community colleges and state and local licensing boards in order to fast-track these certifications for military veterans who already have the skills but must translate them into credentials. We must offer tax credits for businesses who employ veterans. Furthermore, I support Senator Richard Burr’s legislation to require all higher education institutions to charge student veterans in-state tuitions regardless of their state of residence.

We must provide better healthcare to our veterans. Within the Second Congressional District, we should move additional resources to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fayetteville. It is unreasonable to require veterans from Eastern North Carolina to travel two hours or more to see a doctor in Durham. We should put our resources (doctors, equipment, lab space, surgical space) in areas where we serve the largest military and veteran populations. Fayetteville is the center of one of the largest populations of veterans and soldiers in the country. It is time to invest there.

We must also fight for and pass a version of the “Heroes Health Card” and allow veterans and their immediate families to receive healthcare anywhere. Requiring veterans, especially aging Korean War and Vietnam War veterans, to travel for hours to get to the closest VA facility to see a doctor is ridiculous and we should be embarrassed that we do not do better for those who gave their best for us. Available health services should also extend to providing our veterans with mental health services and counseling for as long as they seek such access.

Women and Children

We should make sure that equal pay for equal work is the law of the land. In addition, we should invest in women, and our families, by increasing the minimum wage, bringing better paying jobs to North Carolina, and investing in early childhood education.

My mother was a victim of domestic violence. I understand the importance of supporting women who feel alone during a horrific time of their life. I support legislation to invest in domestic violence shelters, sexual and domestic violence education programs on college campuses, and other legislative acts.

Respecting women also means that they and their doctors should make decisions about their health.

Too many women are forced to make a decision between work and their children. It is time to make childcare more affordable and accessible. I support additional tax breaks for businesses with on site child care centers or who have programs to support employees finding child care. We must also develop partnerships to improve access to quality, affordable childcare for rural and impoverished areas where childcare can be a roadblock to opportunity for hard working women.


The largest industry in North Carolina is agriculture and we must support our farmers. When I am in Congress I will support all policies which allow farmers to flourish. It is vital that we invest in a stronger, more resilient food system across our state. We must create systems that support small farmers and large operations alike in order to stabilize small town North Carolina and provide the foundation for our agricultural economy to grow.

We must protect our farmland and invest in infrastructure to support the growth of local food that is prevalent across the country right now. North Carolina is well positioned to be a leader in this movement if we enact the right policies. That will include increasing access to capital investments, ensuring that regulations are appropriate for every size farm, and support farm to table initiatives across the state — including making it easier for local, healthy food to be served in our schools.

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Clay Aiken Files for Congress, Fields Questions from Reporters

VIDEO: Clay Aiken files for Congress, fields questions from reporters

Posted on February 27, 2014 by BWarner

Clay Aiken officially filed to run for North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district on Thursday.

The former “American Idol” and “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant is seeking the Democratic nomination to take on two-term Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers.

Aiken will first face a primary fight against former state commerce secretary Keith Crisco, after which he would have something of an uphill climb winning a district that was drawn by the Republican-led legislature to favor the GOP.

A gaggle of media was on hand for Aiken’s arrival at the State Board of Elections in Raleigh on Thursday morning, as the singer was accompanied by a small group of supporters, including his mother and his former second grade teacher.

After paying the $1,740 fee to run for Congress and completing the required paperwork, Aiken fielded questions from reporters.

When asked whether he fully supported the Affordable Care Act, also called “Obamacare,” Aiken said that the law was imperfect but could be corrected without repealing it.

“I think that’s a problem that Democrats in general have, is an inability to recognize the fact that a lot of people do have problems with that particular law. That said, the number of things that are positive about the law, we don’t talk about enough,” Aiken said. “I believe that the law, if we look at it as a whole, has some deficiencies that can be addressed without throwing out some really, really important protections for people.”

Aiken was also asked about recent comments made by Ellmers, in which she said he had “San Francisco values.”

“Everybody up here knows I’ve been here my entire life, I’ve lived in North Carolina my entire life, my mom won’t let me have anything but North Carolina values,” Aiken said. “I’d love for (Ellmers) to explain exactly what she means by that, but I know myself, I know that I’m from North Carolina, proudly, and that’s who I am.”

Aiken’s mother, Faye, was asked if she ever thought her son would run for Congress.

“Every parent says their child’s going to be president one day, but no,” she said. “I used to tell him ‘use your voice.’ I don’t think this is what I was thinking, but he’s using his voice.”

North Carolina’s candidate filing period ends Friday at noon. The primary election will be held on May 6, with early voting beginning Apr. 24.


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newsobserver.com Under the Dome Blog

Clay Aiken Says Federal Health Care Law is Deficient

Clay Aiken says federal health care law is deficient

Posted by John Frank on February 27, 2014 Updated 7 hours ago

Read more here: http://www.newsobser...l#storylink=cpy

RALEIGH — Clay Aiken said the federal health care law is deficient and doesn’t go far enough to address rising health care costs.

The former ‘American Idol’ contestant’s remarks came Thursday as he filed papers to get on the 2014 ballot in the 2nd Congressional District, a seat held now by Republican Renee Ellmers.

In tackling the health care question confronting all Democratic candidates this election year, Aiken sought middle ground: criticizing it as he defended it.

“I don’t think that it’s completely perfect,” he said. “I think there are a whole bunch of things that should be fixed and rough edges that should be smoothed out. I think that’s a problem that Democrats in general have, an inability to recognize the fact that a lot of people do have problems with that particular law. There are a lot of people who have a lot of problems with a lot of parts of it.”

He pivoted to add: “That said, the number of things that are positive about the law, we don’t talk about enough. There are parts of it, like doctors not being able to be paid to prescribe you a particular medication, like hospitals now having to tell you what they are charging you for and how much they are charging you for. A lot of parts we don’t talk about enough that I think need to get more light on them.”

The deficiencies, he said, “can be addressed without throwing out some really really important protections for people.”

Asked what he’d fix, he added this: “I think you can take a look at the ratio between the most coverage and the least coverage. It’s at 3 to 1 now and I think we can probably address that disparity so that we can make healthcare less expensive for certain people. I think that there are certainly ways that we need to continue to address rising health care costs and I don’t think that this law goes far enough to address skyrocketing health care costs in general.”

Aiken did not get more specific. Ellmers is a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act, repeatedly supporting measures to defund and repeal it.

The Democratic primary to challenge her includes three candidates: Aiken, Keith Crisco and Toni Morris. Ellmers faces a primary challenge from Republican Frank Roche.

Aiken’s mother Faye Parker and a few of his former teachers joined him at the State Board of Elections in Raleigh for the filing. Aiken plans to make education a key part of his campaign.

Asked whether she ever imagined her son would run for Congress, Parker said no. “Every parents says their child is going to be president one day,” she said. “I used to tell him use your voice but I don’t think this is what I was thinking. But he is using his voice.”

Aiken appeared casual and at ease. Reporters called him by his first name. Standing behind a podium to answer questions, he quipped “I feel like a politician now.”

Read more here: http://www.newsobser...tml#storylink=c[/qutoe]


Clay Aiken Officially Joins NC Congress Race

Clay Aiken officially joins NC Congress race

Posted: Feb 27, 2014 3:55 AM CSTUpdated: Feb 27, 2014 12:12 PM CST

by Associated Press

by WNCN Staff

Singer and actor Clay Aiken is now officially making the switch to wear the hat of a North Carolina congressional candidate.

On Thursday, the former "American Idol" runner-up filed his candidacy papers in Raleigh for the 2nd Congressional District seat currently held by Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers. Aiken filed the papers surrounded by his family.

He said the issue he feels strangoes about it lowering unemployment, and he wants to run a positive campaign.

"This pervasive sense that in order to succeed in politic, you have to trash the other side, that's the thing that frustrates me the most," Aiken said. "I think if we can stop that culture of, 'The only way I can succeed is if I make you look bad,' then I think we'll have a lot more success in solving some of the other problems and working together."

Aiken is a Democrat and will face a May primary against at least two other candidates - former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco of Asheboro and licensed professional counselor Toni Morris of Fayetteville.

Aiken lives in Chatham County and grew up in Raleigh. He has said his non-singing background - he was a special education teacher - led him to get in the race. He's already got a campaign team and says he's raised more than $100,000 since announcing three weeks ago.

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huntingtonleadership.com (blog)

Feet of Clay

Feet of Clay

Posted by craig on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 in Blog


I just read that Clay Aiken, most notable for being a 2003 finalist in the reality/singing series American Idol, is running for Congress in North Carolina. To be honest, my initial reaction was pretty skeptical. The only things I knew about Aiken could be attributed to the tabloid reports that have periodically popped up online since his Idol days.

Aiken has released several albums and made a number of television and stage appearances. In 2008, he fathered a child through in vitro fertilization with a female friend. Later that year he disclosed he is gay. I didn’t think he fit the profile of a typical office-seeker running in North Carolina, a state that appears to be undergoing a conservative shift.

But Aiken also completed his course work while on tour to earn a bachelor’s degree in special education, and later became a special ed teacher. He has donated his time and his singing talents to support numerous benefit events and concerts. In 2004, he was appointed a U.S. Fund for UNICEF national ambassador with a mission to help see that children all over the world are afforded a primary education. In 2006, Aiken was appointed to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities by President George W. Bush.

Aiken, who has an interest in autism issues, also co-founded the National Inclusion Project that supports the integration of children with disabilities into the life environment of their non-disabled peers. And he has appeared at a Capital Hill briefing to discuss anti-gay bullying.

Will Aiken be successful in his run for Congress? It might be a long shot. Personally, I disagree with his stance to raise the minimum wage, but what I like about Aiken is the fact that he appears to take action. He finds causes to support and he does it. And he isn’t held back by the negative perceptions of others.

We all have weaknesses. Skeletons in our closets. Character weaknesses. Lack of experience. Fear of failure.

And the Voice of Treason knows them all.

What is the Voice of Treason? The Voice of Treason is that voice in your head saying, “Buddy, you’re no good.” We’ve all heard it. We all have those negative vibes trying to drag us down. It’s human nature.

Whenever I speak in public on such subjects as communication or leadership or strategic planning, I’ll ask my audience to raise their hands if they’ve ever heard that voice in their heads that’s telling them, “You can’t do it,” or “You’ll screw it up if you try,” or “you’re going to fall flat on your face and look silly, so forget it.” Most everyone knows what I’m talking about, and almost everyone raises his or her hand. For those who don’t, I say, “You know that voice in your head that’s insisting you don’t raise your hand? That’s the voice I’m talking about.”

We all have that voice.

Here’s something to remember. The Voice of Treason doesn’t play fair; the Voice of Treason plays upon your fears, and there’s not a person alive without some fears. Fear is an instinct. It’s a good thing when it comes to our survival, but not such a good thing when you’re trying to follow a dream or take a risk. Our biggest challenge is often distinguishing between fear and feeling, fear and fact, fear and reality.

Fighting the Voice of Treason is a continuous process. We have to do battle with it almost every day. It’s a part of life. But the good news is the more often you put the Voice of Treason in its place, the less often the voice jumps up to bite you.

From my perspective, it looks like Clay Aiken has conquered his Voice of Treason. Do I hope he wins? Not especially. But do I salute him for running?


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Aiken Makes Campaign Visit to Moore County

Aiken Makes Campaign Visit to Moore County

David Sinclair/Managing Editor | Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 5:38 pm

Clay Aiken says he has the best chance of the three Democrats running for Congress to defeat Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in November because of the attention he can bring to the race.

“We have to energize the electorate,” Aiken said during an interview with The Pilot editorial board Wednesday afternoon before attending a private campaign fundraiser that evening. “We need to bring attention to her record. Renee Ellmers needs to be held accountable for her record.

“People want something different. They are tired of what they have gotten for the last five years or more.”

The former “American Idol” runner-up and recording artist said neither of his Democratic opponents — former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco and Toni Morris, of Fayetteville — have the ability to generate that attention.

“People are paying attention to this race,” he said. “Republicans are nervous. They have put a tracker on me. That won’t be the case if I am not around in June.”

Ellmers faces a May primary challenge from conservative radio talk show host and tea party favorite Frank Roche, of Cary.

Aiken, a former special education teacher from Cary, said Ellmers is not listening to people in the 2nd District, which includes all Moore County

“She’s gone up there to serve herself,” he said. “Her record will show that. Her record in and of itself should defeat her.”

Aiken stressed that he is a serious candidate and that he will be competitive in raising the money it takes to win. He said this will probably be one of the most expensive congressional races in state history, pointing out that Ellmers may double the $1.3 million she raised two years ago.

“We are prepared for that,” he said. “This is a district where we have a chance. We recognize we have to raise money.”

Aiken said he has already raised $200,000. He said it will take a high-profile campaign to defeat Ellmers in what is a strong Republican district, something Steve Wilkins, of Whispering Pines, was unable to do in 2012.

“Steve was a great candidate and would have been a great congressman,” Aiken said. “He was knowledgeable and had a great resume. He didn’t have the profile that would make people pay attention to the race. We are able to do that.”

Aiken added that he is not running for Congress because he needs a job. He said he see a vacuum that needs to be filled by someone with “new and fresh ideas.”

“I am doing this because I want to represent people," he said. "I am a Democrat because I believe government has the responsibility and the ability to empower people."

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Thank You, Robert Holding

Thank You, Robert Holding

Gary Pearce posted on March 06, 2014 12:27

He helped answer two questions that I get a lot: Why are you helping Clay Aiken? And, of course: What’s he like?

When Holding said he was considering running against Renee Ellmers in the Republican primary (he didn’t, in the end), he said she “has gone Washington.” He added, “Do not underestimate Clay Aiken. He’s speaking from the heart. If he gets off the ground there is a concern on my side that he could get loose and win that thing.”

Bingo, Robert.

Aiken is known for his singing voice, but he has a unique political voice. As he showed in hisannouncement video, he tells his life story in a compelling way, he captures the public’s disgust with Washington dysfunction and he offers a clear and refreshing contrast. And he’s bringing attention to a race that wasn’t on the radar.

What’s he like? The first thing people say is: “You’re taller than I expected” (an inch or two over six feet.) He’s genuine, down-to-earth and likeable. Self-assured in the way successful people are, but not cocky. He’s not intimidated by cameras, media scrutiny or the Republican tracker who tapes his every move and utterance. Been there, done that.

He’s tougher, smarter and more informed than people expect. He’s a sponge for information and he sets high standards for himself and people around him.

He has a genuine distaste for what politics in America has become, just like many voters. And he has an internal compass that steers him clear of politics-as-usual. He’s a welcome contrast to a cynical, power-hungry, money-obsessed political world.

And his campaign is attracting smart, idealistic and committed young people. That’s good for the Democratic Party.

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Clay Aiken dazzles at Di'lishi

March 14, 2014

Clay Aiken dazzles at Di'lishi

By Larry Penkava, Editor

The Randolph Guide

ASHEBORO — Clay Aiken's appearance here recently seemed as much a fan tour as a campaign stop.

The former American Idol contestant and current Democratic candidate for the Second Congressional District was at Di'lishi Frozen Yogurt Bar to meet people and have his picture made with them. Some talked politics while others just seemed to want to see and touch him.

Marlo Francis, owner of Di'lishi, said the event was the result of a friendship between Aiken and Lane Ragsdale, who works at the N.C. Zoo.

"Clay's PR person asked me about visiting the Zoo," said Ragsdale, who added that Aiken's Zoo visit initiated a friendship between the two. "I'm honored by his friendship," Ragsdale said. "I'm glad he's able to come through today."

Ragsdale said Aiken's campaign business manager contacted him about Thursday's stop. Di'lishi was chosen since Aiken had patronized the yogurt bar while visiting the Zoo.

After about 40 minutes of pressing the flesh and posing for photos, Aiken sat down with this reporter to answer questions about his campaign. First, why did he decide to run?

"It's got to the point that's so frustrating to me that nobody (in Washington) is talking to each other," he said. "Nobody is willing to compromise."

Aiken said he'd visited with Congressmen in the Capitol who wouldn't speak to colleagues of the other party who were in the room. He said he thinks that with his public profile he can help change the situation.

Gridlock in Congress, Aiken said, has made the public apathetic. "We can get them to pay attention to this election," he said. "We have to hold our representatives accountable."

As for issues, Aiken listed unemployment, particularly among veterans.

"The unemployment rate in North Carolina is still too high," he said. "We need to address jobs going overseas and try to stop the flow offshore. We need training for new types of jobs."

Aiken said his brother is a Marine veteran and has had a difficult time finding work. He said unemployment among vets is four points higher than the general population. "That's embarrassing."

Then he brought the conversation back to the situation in Congress: "People are not willing to sit down and talk across the aisle," Aiken said. "How do you work with somebody and not even be friendly? Find a way to work together."

Asked about Keith Crisco of Asheboro, his opponent in the Democratic primary, Aiken said, "He has an incredible record as a lifelong public servant. I appreciate what he's done. But it's time for a change."

Aiken said he hopes to "put energy into" the race ... and get people to pay attention."

Pictures from the article:





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N.C. Congressional Candidate Clay Aiken Stops in Fayetteville, Fort Bragg

N.C. congressional candidate Clay Aiken stops in Fayetteville, Fort Bragg

By Gregory Phillips Staff writer | Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 6:51 pm

Clay Aiken isn't naive. As a political newcomer, the 35-year-old realizes he's known principally as an "American Idol" runner-up. Most candidates don't have people interrupting them every few minutes to ask for a picture or a hug.

But Aiken uses that unusual level of name recognition - something many first-time candidates would kill for - to get people to listen to his ideas as a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the state's Second Congressional District. The seat is currently occupied by Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers, who is seeking re-election.

"I'd rather be in a position of name recognition and need to change it, than having none," he said. "One problem that any first-time candidate has is getting people to listen."

Aiken was in Fayetteville today, touring Fort Bragg before meeting a small group of military spouses at the Marquis Market on Person Street downtown. Dressed in a grey suit and open-necked shirt, he was laidback and easygoing.

The hour-long chat with spouses focused mostly on the efforts of military families to navigate their way through the health care system and to find work.

Aiken, whose brother completed two tours in Iraq with the Marines, asked questions, listened and pledged to be accessible if he's elected.

"I would like to get an idea of the needs," he said as he sat down at a row of tables pulled together.

The meeting ended with warm hugs and group cell phone pictures.

In the May primary, Aiken faces Keith Crisco, a former state secretary of commerce, and Toni Morris, a counselor from Fayetteville. Aiken said he was moved to run by the redrawing of districts - "I won't use the g-word," he said - that has been challenged in court for, among other things, packing Democratic voters into as few districts as possible and making more districts GOP-friendly.

Aiken said he was also spurred by what he called Ellmers' "tone-deaf" response to the federal sequestration budget cuts in 2013.

Redistricting created an especially disparate Second District, a three-pointed star that juts into nine counties including Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Lee and Moore.

Aiken lives in Cary and has been touring the district's various communities - suburban Wake County, retiree-rich Moore County, Cumberland's military population and the rural areas that surround them.

"The things I don't know about, I want to learn about," he said.

One thing Aiken said he's learned is the need for civilian professional licensing organizations to recognize military training and qualifications, to make it easier for veterans to get jobs for which they're already qualified.

Aiken said instructors at Sandhills Community College told him they had taught veterans who knew more than they did, but who had to take courses anyway.

"We need to streamline that and make it easier," he said.

As Aiken readied to leave Marquis Market, he was interrupted more than once by fans and well-wishers.

"I used to watch you every night on 'American Idol,'" one woman said.

With a primary and, he hopes, a general election to come, Aiken didn't miss a beat as the woman walked away.

"You have two more chances to vote," he called out to her.

Staff writer Gregory Phillips can be reached at phillipsg@fayobserver.com or 486-3596.




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Clay Aiken Meets with Harnett County Folks

Clay Aiken Meets with Harnett County Folks

by Harnett

March 20, 2014

Congressional candidate Clay Aiken was in Harnett County today meeting with local people discussing our district and the problem that we’re facing. The event was held at the Campbell house located on the University campus. The crowd of 40 greeted and talked with Clay about what they want to see happen for the district. Paul Long hosted the event and introduced Clay to the guest. Clay told the crowd that the district needed representation that was available for the public to get in touch with and talk to. He said that although the 2nd congressional district was drawn to be a safe conservative district, history shows that democratic have done very well and referenced former Congressman Etheridge terms and wins as our congressman.



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Clay Aiken Visits CU

Clay Aiken visits CU


When people hear the name Clay Aiken, they are reminded of the American Idol contestant who was runner up to Ruben Studdard.


Democratic nomination for the congressional member of the Second District speaks with CU students in Marshbanks Dining Hall.

Photo by Courtney Schultz.

Clay Aiken, who visited Campbell’s campus Thursday, explained that throughout his entire life he has been a North Carolinian and had a strong interest in politics.

“I’ve been involved and attentive to politics and what has been going on around the world for my entire life,” Aiken said. “This is just a different way for me to advocate since I have been on American Idol.”

In February, Aiken announced his candidacy for North Carolina congressional office in the SecondDistrict. This position is currently held by Republican Representative Renee Ellmers.

“This is not as big of a transition as many people believe it is,” said Aiken.

After Aiken’s journey as a singer fresh off of Idol, he started an organization for people with special needs and has been an ambassador for UNICEF.

Aiken said his ability to listen would be beneficial in his role as representative for North Carolina.

“Representatives have the description of their job in the title which is to represent,” Aiken said. “Right now in the office there’s a lot of tone deficit between people who are supposed to be represented and the person who is representing them.”

Hunter Outlaw, a senior business administration major and Student Government Association Vice President, said, “Someone who gathers data on consistent needs, and isn’t pursuing their own interests, but what they are elected to pursue, is a true representative.”

“The ability to listen, to be there for people, and maintain highest priority for citizens’ needs are the primary functions of a representative,” Aiken said.

Clay said the goals he has will have to line up with the constituents in the Second District.

The biggest issue he believes he needs to cover is jobs in the economy.

He said another major issue of citizens is the dysfunction of politics from Raleigh to Washington, D.C.

“Unemployment is an issue I am glad Clay Aiken covered,” said senior Emily Tadlock, a communication studies major. “I’m worried that I will not be able to find a job as easily due to the unemployment rate.”

Aiken said he wants to be the voice of his constituents.

“I’m not doing this because I need a job, I recognize that people aren’t being listened to and I can listen to people and they can listen to me. My desire is to speak up for the people who have placed me in this position,” said Aiken.

By Mary Ashley Badgett

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Clay Aiken Makes Appearance At ECU's College Democrats Gala

Clay Aiken Makes Appearance At ECU's College Democrats Gala

Posted: Fri 10:02 PM, Mar 28, 2014


An American Idol runner-up turned politician is focusing on the youth vote to keep a high level of energy around his campaign.

Congress hopeful Clay Aiken was in Greenville on Friday.

Aiken told WITN, "I need to make sure people see me in a different light. It's not been that difficult, having a name that people recognize has allowed me to get in front of folks. They're curious, they want to talk to me, they want to hear what I have to say."

Aiken is running for the state's 2nd Congressional District currently held by Republican Renee Ellmers. He's running against fellow democrat Keith Crisco.

On Friday night, Aiken was at East Carolina's Heart Institute speaking to ECU students at the College Democrats Gala.

Aiken said, "These are the young people who are going to be making the decisions about the direction this state goes in. The direction this country goes in."

His journey is unique and one that ECU's College Democrats President Ebony West admires.

"Turning from American Idol and also pursuing a career in politics is really good," said West. "I feel like it'll really inspire a lot of people, especially me to want to pursue politics in the future."

Aiken said he chose to run for office when he recognized an opportunity to get people to listen to important issues like education.

The convention continues Saturday. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper will speak at a luncheon at the Hilton in Greenville.

Aiken's opponent, Keith Crisco, will speak at the Greenville Museum of Art Saturday night.

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Popular Democrats attend political convention

Popular Democrats attend political convention

Published On: Mar 29 2014 02:25:07 AM CDT


Lots of familiar faces will be in Greenville this weekend, and all of them have one thing in common --they are democrats.

The North Carolina Young Democrats of Pitt County and the East Carolina College Democrats are hosting a convention over the weekend and invited political figures from the party to come and talk about issues they are concerned about.

Among them was US Senator Kay Hagan. Hagan discussed issues such as healthcare, immigration reform and college debt to a room full of interested constituents. The senator was the first political figure to kickoff the event.

The next to take the stage was a pop star that many know from the popular show, American Idol.

Clay Aiken is a candidate for Congress in the second district. He says he is passionate and excited about running, and believes people will see how much he cares about his home state during his campaign. Aiken attended a gala at the East Carolina Heart Institute...along with other Democratic political figures.

Hagan and Aiken are the first major faces to sweep through the weekend convention. Also coming over the weekend to speak is the North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper.


Clay Aiken Stumps for Votes in Greenville

Clay Aiken stumps for votes in Greenville

Posted: Mar 28, 2014 10:52 PM CDTUpdated: Mar 28, 2014 10:52 PM CDT

By Brandon Goldner

GREENVILLE, N.C. -Senator Kay Hagan and reality show runner-up Clay Aiken paid a visit to Greenville to drum up support for their campaigns.

They're two of several prominent names at this year's North Carolina Young Democrats convention taking place in Greenville.

Many young Democrats came from as far away as Raleigh and Asheville.

They're in the East to network and learn from each other.

The students and young professionals are also here to get a glimpse of big-name Democrats like Senator Hagan.

"I know that you're going to make all of our communities and all of North Carolina great," Sen. Hagan said. "You're going to make our leaders proud, and one day, I hope it is you standing behind this podium."

Both she and Aiken are excited to meet the younger generation.

"Anybody who's willing to be a part of the process I think is wonderful," Aiken said. "Being able to talk to them is great, and hopefully they'll leave here and be able to take some of that enthusiasm out to their schools, their neighborhoods or their areas."

The convention continues through this weekend.

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Building a Bridge to Broadway: NC Theater Enters Its Fourth Decade

Building a bridge to Broadway: NC Theatre enters its fourth decade


by Andrew Kenney

photograph by Travis Long

Saturday night at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the 30th season of North Carolina Theatre is a formal affair. Heels and dress shoes click down Fayetteville Street toward the tall columns and glass walls of the theater. They’re here for Les Miserables – and for the theater group that literally cut a lock from the doors of this 1930s-era palace three decades ago and built a bridge to Broadway.

The lobby’s packed. Carolee Baxter, the show’s producer, stops for hugs with one patron and to explain that she couldn’t dig up tickets for another. Les Mis is deep in its run, but there’s always an opening-night sense of happening here.

Baxter cuts through the crowd, spinning between a few more couples and onto an unmarked side door. There are quiet cinderblock halls, a darkened room where a stage tech sleeps in a huge prop wheelbarrow – and then there’s backstage.

It’s 30 minutes to curtain, and the back of the house is humming. New York actors in filthy-looking rags pace back and forth, muttering their lines, and local kids pop across the room wearing long blond tresses or French guards’ uniforms.

For the actors, it’s easy to forget that close to 2,000 people are waiting on the other side of the curtain. Just the same, the crowd’s missing part of the story too. The production is so grand – the set’s looming apartment blocks, the names in the program – that it seems like a Broadway company has stopped on tour.

This is a local group that came from almost nothing, that has grown and changed with the city, and that even now is stocked by characters with narratives of their own. Much of the talent is local and the productions are planned at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The story behind the place has as many ups and downs – well, not quite – as the play that’s on tonight. North Carolina Theatre’s alive, and it’s an institution.

Actually, founder De Ann Jones, 75, winces at the mention of the word “institution.”

“Oh, I hate to hear that,” she says at the suggestion that her baby has become such a thing.

She’s sitting for an interview at a coffee shop in Cary. For an hour she has been dialing up stories of how her scrappy crew made do in the musical theater’s earlier years, ticking easily through the names and playbills of three decades’ work.

This word, though, sends her somewhere else. She looks off to the side, her silver bangles still for a second.

“I don’t hate that. It’s just – ah, the excitement of not knowing, the excitement of walking on the edge…”

Her mission at the beginning of the theater’s story was to make art downtown, where there wasn’t much. “After 5, they cut the lights out,” Jones says.

Raleigh Memorial, built during the Depression, was largely unused by the ’80s, hosting the occasional high-school graduation and the symphony a few times a year.

Jones, in the early ’80s, was working with Theater in the Park, which had just debuted the now-traditional A Christmas Carol performance in Pullen Park. The city government, seeking a boost for downtown, asked Jones to “come downtown and do some theater.”

The first sign of a tall order: No one could find the key to unlock the grand theater. Some apocryphal histories say Jones herself cut the lock, but she says a groundskeeper actually did the deed.

Inside she found a dusty theater with no backstage and inconvenient dressing rooms stashed away upstairs.

“But being adventurous, I guess, I said, ‘All right, we’ll try, but I want to do professional theater.’ ”

With little more than a building and some money, Jones convinced her friend Terrence Mann to come down. Mann was a North Carolina School of the Arts alum who had made a start on Broadway, the kind of person who was proof to theater kids of some higher plane of professional drama.

Mann wanted to be King Arthur in Camelot, and by May 1984, the show was ready to go. De Ann Jones had spent most of the theater’s budget by the last curtain call.

“The city gave me a $75,000 interest-free loan to start,” she says. “I spent it all on the first show. I was supposed to do three shows … By the time of West Side Story, I had not a dime.”

It was a hardscrabble stretch of a few years, with cramped offices and cleverly repurposed sets squeezed into the budget.

“Well, yeah, I’ve had a lot of fun, but I have also spent (all) night cutting costumes upstairs…in Memorial Auditorium,” she says. “I had lots of energy back then. I’d give anything for 15 minutes of it now.”

Her plan was big: to bring top-notch musical theater to Raleigh. Theater here was then the product of well-loved community outfits. For theater professionals, the local stage was a few yards too short.

“There was nowhere to go. You had to go to New York, and Chicago,” Jones says.

As the curtain rises on this recent Saturday night, the musical’s darkened Paris set with its finely detailed buildings looks like it has been painted into the air. Jean Valjean – played by Craig Schulman – takes the stage with a weighty grace that seems natural to the part.

In fact, Schulman has played Valjean more than 2,000 times, according to the performance program. Yet behind his name are the biographies of kids from Wake County who are only in their first dozen productions of anything. Because the theater itself produces and directs its shows, its organizers are free to draw in local actors, costume artists, technical directors, and more.

A spotlight beams from the back in an early scene, catching the character of Fantine. The actor, Lauren Kennedy, 40, is an alum of the theater’s earliest years, when she attended its prototype performing-arts school in Raleigh. Like so many of Jones’s and North Carolina Theatre’s protégés, she has come back to Raleigh.

The difference between those early years and now is that, increasingly, the talent flows both ways. More than a draw for New York talent, North Carolina Theatre and its conservatory have become a springboard for young local actors.

English Bernhardt, almost 18 on this night, sweeps onto the stage as Eponine, leaping from sonorous lows to glassy highs in a solo. She looks young and sure-footed on this stage, because she grew up on it. Now a senior at Ravenscroft School, she looks to the show’s veteran actors for advice about a performer’s life.

“I have a huge decision in my life in terms of next year,” she says. “Some people say go to college, go to New York, don’t go for musical theater… They have all kind of taken different paths. Working with the people that come from New York – they have honestly shaped who I am as a performer.”

Clay Aiken, the singer and current Congressional candidate, says North Carolina Theatre introduced him to performance. A nosebleed view of Martin Moran performing in Big River when Aiken was 13 “was probably the first time that I’d ever realized that you could make a living singing. That was kind of powerful to me,” he says. And his years performing with the theater, he says, gave him connections for the rest of his career.

Reed Shannon, the 13-year-old actor who plays the character Gavroche, has already made his first leap out of Raleigh, traveling with his father to Chicago just weeks after Les Mis ended in order to take another stage.

The boy who used to watch from the doorway as his sister sang and danced through North Carolina Theatre Conservatory classes is set to play a young Michael Jackson in the traveling production of Motown: The Musical.

“It’s going to be hard for me to leave,” he says.

There’s no doubt by the end of Les Mis that there will be a standing ovation. The crowd roars for the old-hand stars, and they’re louder for the hometown kids.

Just as carefully as these people have watched the stage, the theater is watching them – and their entertainment habits. North Carolina Theatre has seen its patrons distracted by new entertainment offerings, including the massively popular, newer touring shows that stop at the younger Durham Performing Arts Center.

“We have competition from all the wonderful things there are to do in this community,” says Lisa Grele Barrie, the nonprofit’s president and CEO of four years. The theater’s base of subscribers has eroded from a high of about 14,000 season ticket-holders in the 1990s to about 5,000 today.

Barrie has had the delicate challenge of taking over a theater company run by Jones – a kind-hearted force of a woman – and her son, Wally Jones. Jones improvised the business side and obsessed about the littlest details of the stage. Barrie’s approach seems bigger-picture, driven by overarching concepts like mission, vision and strategy.

In her office, she lays out her efforts to find out what audiences want, to communicate better with the rest of Raleigh, and to convince donors to add philanthropic giving to their ticket-buying dollars. An adjustment in strategies already has yielded massive increases in ticket sales – for example, the group now collaborates with Broadway Series South, which once competed with its touring shows.

“We’re harnessing creativity, we’re building community, and we’re affirming the power of our collective human spirit,” she says, bringing it back to layman’s terms.

Beyond the building and the tickets and the dresses and suits, that spirit is perhaps what has kept theater alive here when so many would predict its death at the hands of big televisions, professional hockey, and any number of other cultural and entertainment options in the Triangle.

De Ann Jones, the theater’s founder, still watches from the audience, scribbling notes in her pad during each performance. The performance, she says, is everything.

“Theater has to be spontaneous and have light. You can take a blank stage and two lights and a great talent, and you don’t need anything,” she says. She calls it “the light of the spirit,” but she doesn’t seem satisfied with the term.

Whatever it is, it comes from the people. No matter its age, no matter its stature, the theater is permanently temporary.

“You come together in these little groups of people and you create this product,” says Ray Walker, director of the group’s conservatory. “You have this very intense personal experience. You give birth to this thing, and then it’s gone.”

Read more here: http://www.waltermagazine.com/building-a-bridge-to-broadway-nc-theatre-enters-its-fourth-decade/#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.waltermagazine.com/building-a-bridge-to-broadway-nc-theatre-enters-its-fourth-decade/#storylink=cpy

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usnews.com Washington Whispers

Clay Aiken Doesn't Want to Talk About "That Show"

Clay Aiken Doesn't Want to Talk About 'That Show'

No, the "American Idol" runner-up will not be singing at his political fundraisers.

By Nikki Schwab March 31, 2014

Here are two things to know about Clay Aiken the congressional candidate – he still considers “politics” a dirty word and he has a complicated relationship with “American Idol,” the television show that made him a celebrity.

“I’m not entering politics – I’m trying to do something to speak up for people who put me in this position in the first place,” Aiken says on a recent phone call with Whispers. He has, of course, announced his intentions to run for Congress. In February, Aiken, an openly gay Democrat, put out a nearly five-minute long YouTube video explaining why he was trying to unseat incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District. Ellmers barely won the seat in 2010 from Democratic Rep. Bob Etheridge, but that was before the district's lines were redrawn in favor of Republicans, with Mitt Romney winning 57 percent to President Barack Obama's 42 percent in 2012.

“I’ve got this platform and this microphone now because the people in this district and this state who supported me on that show and voted for me then,” he says to Whispers, refusing to give “American Idol” a name drop. He also doesn’t plan to call in any favors from his fans, called “Claymates.” And at fundraisers, Aiken said he won’t be singing for his supper. “No, I think I’ve retired from that for awhile,” Aiken says.

Instead, Aiken is campaigning the old fashioned way, grip-and-grinning through North Carolina. “Honestly, the thing I’m probably the most passionate about is dysfunction,” he says. “People are more interested in tearing down the opposite team then actually doing something positive.” Aiken said he would absolutely work with Republicans if he got elected. “I’m going to be representing Republicans, so I certainly ought to be working with them,” he says.

He even names one when Whispers asks if he has a “Political Idol.”

“I certainly would discourage you from making anybody think that I would judge folks by how good a politician they are,” he begins. “But, you know, I admire folks like John McCain … I don’t agree with him ideologically all of the time, [but] he’s someone who’s willing to work with the other side and I think that’s the kind of elected official that I would want to be,” Aiken says.

He also gives a hat tip to retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. “I learned so much about Tom Harkin when I was in school and his role with kids with special needs and individuals with disabilities,” Aiken says. “So I’ve always admired him.” Aiken studied special education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Harkin is a longtime advocate on the issue.

Last week, Aiken came to Washington to get a feeling for the place and meet with potential endorsers.

“I was just trying to figure out the map of the city, so I could drive around here,” he joked. The trip brought him to the Democratic National Committee for a meet-and-greet with staffers. Aiken worked the room as young people drank from cans of cheap beer. And then, one person asked for a picture and the selfies began. Aiken posed for picture after picture, asking people where in North Carolina they were from. (And learning, quickly, that many of them were not and simply wanted to see what all the fuss was about.) He even took a selfie with Whispers to indicate to his press secretary that he had agreed to do an interview.

But on the phone call, Aiken again didn't want to look too famous and he wouldn't take a stance on selfies. "I'll abstain from that vote," he said laughing.

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