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May. 3rd, 2005 @ 11:59 am Book Review: Clay Aiken's Learning to Sing
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Self Portrait
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Title: Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life
Author: Clay Aiken with Allison Glock
Publisher: Random House, 2004
Pages: 258

There are many who scoff pop star Clay Aiken's music without even listening to it. Many more, surely, will reject his "inspirational memoir" Learning to Sing without so much as cracking its spine. In truth, Aiken is an easy figure to write off. (His youth, pop music career, and inimitable appearance make this an easy enough task.) Still, Aiken's book proves he is something different than your typical Hollywood icon. And with all the white space between the covers it's an easy enough read.

There is decidedly little to distinguish Clay Aiken's story from that of other famous personalities and their memoirs. The abusive father, the life of rural poverty, tenure as a social outcast in high school, shaking off stigmas as a young adult, followed by a meteoric rise to fame. We have come to expect these stories from our celebrities, much as we expect to find their books filled with the cliched lessons these tough experiences have taught them and not a little veiled preaching at the end. On this score, Mr. Aiken follows the standard celebrity memoir template established by ghost writers many years ago.

What separates the pop idol from his Hollywood neighbors, though, is his lingering outsider status, how foreign the L.A. scene is to him. In many ways, Aiken, beneath layer upon layer of fame and fortune, is still a special ed teacher and YMCA counselor from Raleigh, North Carolina - and deliberately so. His comparisons of the two cities are stark and certainly not designed to please the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. "It seems to me that L.A. is all about what someone else can do for you," he writes. "Nobody is out to get anything from anybody in Raleigh." This consciousness of his roots and desire to stay true to them frames Aiken's star status throughout the book. It shapes the price tags on his concert tickets, the (sometimes Christian) songs he sings, and even the smaller size of the venues he plays.

If you are part of Clay Aiken's wide and varied fan base - if you have "drunk the Kool-Aid" on this Carolinian crooner - you'll certainly enjoy the book. Those unfamiliar with the idol, though, will probably get their fill of enjoyment from scoffing at its place on the shelf at their local bookstore.