NBC Promotes Democrat Clay Aiken Running for Congress: 'From Pop Singer to Politician'

On Friday, NBC's Today kicked off its 2014 midterm election coverage by doing a fawning puff piece on former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken running for Congress in North Carolina as a Democrat. Co-host Willie Geist proclaimed: "A race that's getting a lot of attention. Clay Aiken is used to being at the mercy of the voters. He came in second on American Idol in 2003 and now he's running for Congress in North Carolina..." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

In the report that followed, correspondent Kelly O'Donnell touted Aiken on the campaign trail: "When he says hello at Brownie Lou's restaurant or breaks out a smile for selfies, Clay Aiken is campaigning for a big career change. From pop singer to politician."

Later in the segment, O'Donnell revealed where NBC may have gotten the inspiration to do a profile on Aiken: "The attention he does get often turns to pressure to perform, even from Stephen Colbert." A clip ran of Colbert interviewing Aiken and urging him to sing.

Aiken showed up on The Colbert Report on Wednesday. The left-wing host proceeded to mock the Republican currently holding the congressional seat before conducting a friendly softball interview with the singer.

On Friday's Today, O'Donnell was bit more challenging. She asked Aiken: "Do you think you're being taken seriously as a candidate?" After Aiken admitted "that's a challenge for me," O'Donnell added: "He knows that some fans who voted for him 11 years ago on American Idol could reject his jump to politics."

Moments later, O'Donnell observed: "He's 35, openly gay, and a single dad. One of three Democrats running in a conservative Republican district." She wondered: "Does being a gay candidate have any impact on this race?" Aiken replied: "It's not an issue for me. It is not an issue for most of the people who I speak with in this district."

O'Donnell highlighted a key part of Aiken's campaign platform: "Aiken campaigns on his work advocating for special needs children." However, she failed to mention attacks coming from one of his Democratic primary opponents that Aiken never showed up for a single meeting of the Presidential Commission for People With Intellectual Disabilities which he was on.

At the end of the report, O'Donnell noted: "By just trying politics, he says he may not be accepted back as an entertainer." She fretted: "Win or lose, is your singing career over?" Aiken remarked: "I sing at home all the time." O'Donnell concluded: "So Clay Aiken is giving up the applause for a shot at a new public stage."

After O'Donnell's piece, Geist declared: "Fun to see Clay Aiken running there. He's got an uphill climb to actually become the congressman of North Carolina."


Here is a full transcript of the May 2 segment:

7:18 AM ET

WILLIE GEIST: We'll make a little bit of a turn here now to politics. A race that's getting a lot of attention. Clay Aiken is used to being at the mercy of the voters. He came in second on American Idol in 2003 and now he's running for Congress in North Carolina, hitting the campaign trail ahead of next Tuesday's primary. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell caught up with him.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: This...Is American Politics; Former Idol Clay Aiken Running for Congress]

KELLY O'DONNELL: When he says hello at Brownie Lou's restaurant...

CLAY AIKEN: Louise, I'm clay.

LOUISE: I know you.

AIKEN: Oh, do you?

LOUISE: You're famous.

O'DONNELL: ...or breaks out a smile for selfies...

AIKEN: Now you put that on Facebook – do you have Facebook?

O'DONNELL: ...Clay Aiken is campaigning for a big career change.

AIKEN: You going to vote on Tuesday? Don't forget. You going to vote for me?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah.  

O'DONNELL: From pop singer to politician.

AIKEN: This is the kind of stuff that we already have enough of in D.C.

O'DONNELL: At home here in North Carolina, Aiken is a Democrat running for Congress.

[TO AIKEN]: Do you think you're being taken seriously as a candidate?

AIKEN: I think that's a challenge for me.

O'DONNELL: He knows that some fans who voted for him 11 years ago on American Idol could reject his jump to politics.

AIKEN: We are all just waiting for obscurity. And while I've got this microphone and this stage and this platform, I want to do something with it that matters.

O'DONNELL: But that fame may not be enough.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B: I just think that he might not have the gravitas.

AIKEN: A very good answer!

O'DONNELL: Aiken campaigns on his work advocating for special needs children.

AIKEN: Can I stand back here with you guys?

O'DONNELL: He's 35, openly gay, and a single dad. One of three Democrats running in a conservative Republican district.

[TO AIKEN]: Does being a gay candidate have any impact on this race?

O'DONNELL: It's not an issue for me. It is not an issue for most of the people who I speak with in this district.

O'DONNELL: The attention he does get often turns to pressure to perform, even from Stephen Colbert.

STEPHEN COLBERT [SINGING]: O say-

AIKEN: But I'm going to leave it to you.

COLBERT: Really?

O'DONNELL: By just trying politics, he says he may not be accepted back as an entertainer. Win or lose, is your singing career over?

AIKEN: Um, listen, I sing at home all the time.

O'DONNELL: So Clay Aiken is giving up the applause for a shot at a new public stage. For Today, Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News, Siler City, North Carolina.

GEIST: Fun to see Clay Aiken running there. He's got an uphill climb to actually become the congressman of North Carolina.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Don't you feel like we should ask Carson for like expert commentary here?

CARSON DALY: From a political race, to a horse race, here we go.

GUTHRIE: Oh, okay, I was just thinking because The Voice, American Idol.

DALY: No, how's he going to do?

GUTHRIE: You know, yeah.

DALY: What was the question? I think he'll do fine. He'll do fine. Good luck to you, buddy.

GUTHRIE: Back to the derby.

GEIST: From our political desk.  

NATALIE MORALES: That was a total scratch, guys.

GUTHRIE: I was going with The Voice, American Idol angle.

DALY: Oh, you were. I thought you wanted my political opinion on Clay Aiken running in North Carolina.

GUTHRIE: No, I do. But maybe later.

DALY: Okay, good.

GEIST: Chuck Todd, your job is safe.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC