Aching for Aiken

How did a baby-faced, jug-eared special ed teacher—and American Idol runner-up—become the fantasy fodder of women everywhere?

  1. Clay Aiken smells like fresh laundry. It's the first thing you notice about him—that he's well-scrubbed, radiant in his cleanliness, a walking, freckled dryer sheet. The second thing you notice are his lips, which are plump and ripe and shell pink. Much has been made about his hair—the whole flatironed, geek-hipster red nest of it all—but little, too little, has been made of his lips, perhaps because most of the world has only ever seen them contorted and trembling in song.

    Aiken, for the uninitiated, was the second-place finisher in this year's American Idol contest. "I lost," he says, then laughs, which is easy enough for him to do since his single "This Is the Night" has already gone platinum. He has also graced the cover of Rolling Stone (before Idol winner Ruben Studdard did; the issue allegedly sold more copies than any in the last two years, including the Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, and Eminem covers, to name a few). His first album, Measure of a Man (RCA), out in mid-September, was ranked number three on Amazon.com back in July. His fans range from Diane Sawyer (who admitted to a serious Clay crush on Good Morning America) to Neil Sedaka, who cried on camera when Aiken covered his hit "Solitaire." "His voice is incredible—the pitch, the tone," says Sedaka. "I think he'll be the new Frank Sinatra."

    "So much has happened in the past nine months that I haven't had time to think," admits the 24-year-old, from the back of the van that's shuttling him from N...

Originally published in Elle, September 2003