No, it wasn’t a task for The Celebrity Apprentice (wrong network, for starters). Former American Idol runner-up and current Celeb Apprentice contestant Clay Aiken appeared this morning on CBS’ Face the Nation on a panel about gay marriage — and the real headline is that the one-time America’s Next Top Model guest judge played the part of talking head quite admirably.
Dressed in a sharp suit with a not-too-flashy pocket square, Aiken appeared on the venerable Sunday morning political talk show alongside some heavy hitters like Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay marriage Family Research Council; Ted Olsen, the super-lawyer heading up the federal case attempting to strike down California’s Proposition 8; G.O.P. campaign strategist Mark McKinnon; and same-sex marriage activist Evan Wolfson. None of these people, however, had ever weathered weekly criticism from Simon Cowell and Donald Trump.
That kind of trial-by-fire only helped Aiken appear at ease throughout several segments of the program, especially the sections in which Perkins repeatedly cited “natural law” as the core reason for his opposition to gay marriage, and said legalization would force churches that don’t believe in gay marriage to recognize them anyway. To this last point, Aiken said, matter-of-factly, “When my mother married my stepfather, she went to a Baptist church and said she had been divorced. They wouldn’t let her get married there. So churches are able to decide who gets married at a church.” (Click here and here to watch video of the exchange.)
Aiken’s presence on the panel appeared to be largely due to his North Carolina heritage, so he could speak to the controversial amendment that passed in his home state this week banning both same-sex marriage and heterosexual domestic partnerships. Aiken cited polls that show that over 60 percent of North Carolinians support some sort of recognition of same-sex relationships, and gently swatted down the notion that President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage (the day after the N.C. vote) would damage his reelection chances in the swing state this November. “I think that we’d like to see politicians speak out on principle a little bit more and not just make a political calculation,” he said.
Finally, when Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer asked how Aiken’s decision to come out in 2008 had affected his career — which Schieffer oddly assumed was based in country music — Aiken just smiled. “Today, it’s even less conservative in the country music world than it was in 2003 when I was on Idol,” he said. “[Coming out] hasn’t really had much of an impact at all in a negative sense; it’s had more of a positive impact.”
In truth, the picture of Aiken’s post-coming out career is a bit murkier. While his record sales have been sluggish for years, he was dropped by RCA in 2009, after he’d come out — and, you know, he’s now appearing on The Celebrity Apprentice. But Aiken was so well-spoken on Face the Nation, maybe he could accomplish what Trump’s only teased about doing and make a run for public office. Stranger things have happened!