Friday, October 19, 2007

Clay Aiken: Committed to the Cause

Are celebrities lending more than just their names to a cause, or is it all about the photo-op?

"Celebrities are like major recruiters to the humanitarian cause," said Prendergast. "They certainly increase the number of people and donors interested in the cause."

Lisa Szarkowski, who heads the ambassador program for Unicef agreed.

"Celebrities have the ear and attention of the public," said Szarkowski. "They tend to command more attention than talking heads from our organization."

Attention that leads to big bucks. Aiken asked fans to donate money to Unicef to help the children in Lebanon and raised more than $75,000 in 24 hours.

So getting involved in causes may help celebrities draw attention to a specific need in some other part of the world as well as get their names in the spotlight -- but just how involved are they?

How Do Celebrities Get Involved?

It's not easy to be selected as a Unicef ambassador. The group sets high standards for celebrities to live up to.

"In terms of becoming an ambassador, it's definitely a process," said Szarkowski. "We like to work with people who are committed to the cause and the mission and to align themselves with us for the long term."

Aiken made the cut when he was named a Unicef ambassador in 2004. The organization approached Aiken after hearing of his involvement with his own charity, the Bubel/Aiken foundation that helps young people with special needs.

Aiken said he felt obligated to help those in need.

"One of the most important responsibilities that you have if you're answering to the public is that you try to use that position in a way that serves the people you're trying to entertain," said Aiken. "I think you have a responsibility when you realize you have kids watching you. ... You can set an example to have kids doing drugs, or you can set an example to have kids helping their communities or their world."

Preparing for a Trip

Despite some common misconceptions, celebrity representatives don't just jet set off for a photo-op; they prepare for months before taking a trip.

"We prepare them pretty well," said Szarkowski. "People don't become ambassadors or supporters of ours unless they go through a process of learning about us and engaging with us."

Celebrities sit through classes to learn about Unicef and all the various issues that threaten children's survival around the world.

"We study as much as we possibly can before we go," said Aiken. "And I study after I go, because I want to be an expert on it. I think it's a disservice to the country you're going to and the children you're trying to help if you don't know what's going on and can't speak knowledgably about your experience."

Aiken said the preparation is necessary in order to meet with health ministers and other officials on these trips.

"It wouldn't behoove anyone if we just went in to take pictures and came back," said Aiken. "The goal of all these visits and the reason we sit through extremely long sessions sometimes is so when we come back we know what we're talking about."

What Really Happens on Field Visits

Aiken didn't know what to expect during his first visit to Uganda. He walked into the minimalist community center, where he expected nobody to know his name. Suddenly, he was greeted with bows from the crowd.

"When we walked in, they kept calling me your excellency," laughed Aiken. "I think both visits we've been on there have been misconceptions about how important I am."

All joking aside, no matter how famous -- or infamous -- a celebrity is, celebrity support is essential.

But with so many problem areas across the globe, how do celebrities decide which country they want to visit? For most, the decision is made based on where the greatest need is at that time.

"The celebrities we work with want to go where they can be most helpful," said Szarkowski. "We're fortunate to have that caliber of people who basically say to us, 'Tell me where you want me to go.'"

In her eight years at Unicef, she said she's never had a celebrity refuse to go where they were asked to go. And the places they're asked to go certainly don't come with luxe accommodations.

"It's usually a tent somewhere.That's our standard accommodation," said Szarkowski.

Aiken and others pay their own way when they travel on behalf of Unicef. However, once they reach their destination, they don't have the need for many expenses. Most nights they're sleeping in tents on the ground.

In addition to the bare bones travel accommodations, celebrities must cope with extremely dangerous situations. In order to avoid conflict, Prendergast said every minute detail of the trip must be mapped out.

"These trips have to be planned very well to ensure maximum impact and security," said Prendergast.

Security is something Paris Hilton has expressed concern about regarding her upcoming trip, which has some people questioning her motivations.

"I'm scared, yeah. I've heard it's really dangerous," she said. "I've never been on a trip like this before."

All Attention Is Good Attention

Hilton, who is not with Unicef, will be filming scenes for her new reality TV show while she's in Rwanda, which has left some questioning the genuineness of her visit. But not everyone is upset about celebrities like Hilton lending their name to causes without much further involvement, if that is so in her case.

Aiken cautions, a focus on one organization or charity is important to the public.

"I get requests from every organization to come and do this or that," said Aiken. "It's not that I don't have a passion for kids with cancer, because I do. I feel like you can dilute your message if you talk about too many things."

While it remains to be seen how involved Hilton will be with her organization of choice, one celebrity who no doubt has stolen the humanitarian aid spotlight is in it for all the right reasons, according to Aiken.

"I look to Angelina Jolie as a prime example of someone who is doing an amazing job," said Aiken. "She really has a passion and she goes in and makes a point to educate herself about what's going on and that's the only way to do it."


  1. Anonymous8:33 PM

    Beautiful article and really shows the importance of the work.

    It is a shame that some people, like the jerks at the hate blog Fraud Squad, would go out of their way to belittle the work and this ambassador. At least now they are shown for the fools that they are, and now we know why they call themselves frauds.

  2. Anonymous9:43 PM

    This is my very favorite writeup so far. There's not a trace of sarcasm and Clay is portrayed as exactly who and what he is; a fine caring man and an example for kids both young and really old to follow.

  3. Anonymous10:27 PM

    Clay is a great role model. He should never look up to people who are lower than he is. Angelina Jolie is not a good example of a role model. She's beautiful and a good actress, but she's not intelligent and hasn't done anything of real merit. She also doesn't make that much money and is too much in the tabloids to be considered interesting.

  4. Anonymous10:29 PM

    I love the picture of Clay and Tyra you have posted Chexxy. You know, they had a Tyra repeat on tonight and she was talking about how her and Clay went out to eat. It's so strange, one of my good friends owns the restaurant they were talking about. Go figure! Small world!

  5. always and forever loving clay aiken11:27 PM

    So refreshing to see Clay Aiken portrayed exactly as he is; an intelligent and articulate young man who is trying to make a difference in this world - which is just what he said to everyone almost five years ago.

    Sometimes, Clay, dreams really DO come true. Thank you for allowing your fans to share a part of that dream with you.

  6. Anonymous3:55 AM

    Its about time that Clay got some positive press.
    All his hard work for both UNICEF and his own charitable organization Bubel/Aiken go unnoticed much too often, only to be replaced by tabloid selling sensationalism.
    It makes you wonder what is more important to people now-a-days.
    Clay should be portrayed as the man who is making a difference in children's lives.

  7. Anonymous4:37 AM

    Great blog- great truth- I do believe that Clay is passionate when it comes to his causes. In the very beginning, he said that was one of the main things that he wanted to use his celebrity for. Unicef is a great organization.

  8. Anonymous5:53 AM

    Does Clay have any plans of expanding his charity? Does anyone know?

  9. Anonymous8:09 AM

    This is a wonderful article. I love the way it is written. Clay is a very intellegent man. I love the fact that he does not hesitate to give credit to others who are trying to make a difference also, like Angelina Jolie.

  10. Anonymous8:53 AM

    We should not care what the Fraud Squad thinks. They find something wrong with EVERYTHING Clay does. If Clay fans ignore them, then it will be just like they don't exist. :)

  11. Anonymous9:40 AM

    For the first entire year of my "enthusiasm" for Clay, I kept asking myself, "Is he for real?" He seemed almost too good to be true. Could there really be such a fine human being amongst us? Now, closing in on five years of my devoted fanhood, and inspired by chexxxy's blog, I can undisputedly answer that: CLAY AIKEN IS THE REAL THING!!!

  12. Anonymous10:23 AM

    Why does anyone even read the Fraud Squad? Those jealous bitches are no different than the bullies in grade school. They make it their life's work to belittle others to try and make themselves feel better about what pathetic losers they are. Why would anyone care what a loser thinks?

    Clay is everything that they're not. He makes them see themselves for the black holes that they are. That drives them crazy, so they try to bring him down to their level. It's not a reflection on Clay; it's a reflection on their sorry souls.

  13. Anonymous11:10 AM


  14. Anonymous11:13 AM

    If you mean plans to open new summer camps for children with
    disabilities, than, yes.
    TBAF is planing on opening 100 new
    centers in 2008. To help make that dream possible, many fundraisers are underway to raise funds.

    I never did volunteer work,
    until I was inspired to follow Clay's lead.

  15. Anonymous7:12 PM

    Slowly but surly.. the rest of the world will get it..and it starting.. finally

  16. Anonymous8:10 PM

    Does Clay have any plans of expanding his charity? Does anyone know?

    5:53 AM
    I read from a M&G, I believe, that Clay said as Michael approaches 18, that the BAF would expand to include older people. He didn't specify how.

  17. Anonymous7:58 AM

    I don't think Clay does any of this for his self promotion. In fact, the light he can shine on the children is the motivator for him. He did it before Idol and continues to this day. You only need to look at his past to see if his present is a true reflection of who he is. I think it feeds his soul and always has.

  18. Anonymous3:35 PM

    Clay is a great guy and isn't anything like the way he's been portrayed by those who have an agenda.

    He isn't some sex-starved internet-trolling sleaze, he doesn't meet strangers who could turn out to be crazy (sound familiar?) for anonymous sex and he isn't a diva.

    He has been totally maligned by haters, many of whom are the fans of several other idols. Their actions indicate that they have little faith in their own idols making it on their own unless Clay is driven from the business.

    They are pathetic and some of them are seriously mentally ill.

  19. Anonymous6:27 PM

    WORD! Beautifully said, Anonymous 3;35. Thank you.


  20. Anonymous6:34 PM

    He has been totally maligned by haters, many of whom are the fans of several other idols. Their actions indicate that they have little faith in their own idols making it on their own unless Clay is driven from the business.

    They are pathetic and some of them are seriously mentally ill.------------------------

    No kidding. Groucho and emach come to mind. They are in this up to their eyeballs. Talk about a psychiatrist's dream. Groucho should be chained to a bed in a psychiatric hospital and emach is well on her way.

    Clay's people have had those two nutbars on their radar for almost 4 years and have files on both of them.

  21. Anonymous7:16 PM

    I'll never understand the need some people feel to get on a blog and bash Clay 24/7. It's so ridiculous to spend your life bashing people when all that energy could be put toward a more positive use--such as supporting charities of their choice, or other stars who fit their idea of the perfect person.

    Clay is who he says he is. He is a caring person and I don't believe for a minute that UNICEF would have approached him to serve if he wasn't. I'm sure they have researched his past and present activities and found him to be a totally wonderful representative of their organization. The same thing with the President's commission. I'm sure Clay's past and present were thoroughly examined before they asked him to serve on their committee. Haterz should get a clue--people in much higher places than you "know" who Clay Aiken is. Haterz are going by rumors and tabloids.

  22. Anonymous4:17 AM

    It is bad enough that the haters say such awful things about Clay, his family and fans but the impersonation of fans is shameful. They hurt Star Jones causing her to cry on the air. To this day, I still hurt when I think about how she must have felt receiving those racist letters. The truth came out months later when the group who did this was exposed. Star was terribly hurt, yet they were laughing because they caused another problem for Clay and the "claymates". Laughing at what they had accomplished completing forgetting about the human side and that they hurt someone real.

  23. Cincy4:21 AM

    The recent write-up for Clay really touched me because it let Clay's actions speak for themselves. As a proud member of Chexxxy's board, I feel strongly that Clay should always be taken at his word...if he says something, then I don't question it. And the reason for that is that his actions speak even louder than his words.

    People who call themselves fans and yet go to the OFC and post with innuendo, lies and disrespect for Clay, guised as "opinion" or "free speech" need to take a good look at not only Clay's spoken word, but his actions and this article, more than any I have seen, says it all when it comes to Clay's motivation for his actions. Is it any wonder I stand behind Chexxxy and others like her? Just like Clay, I take her and want to be taken at my word, backed up by my actions, motivated not in hate but in love and support.

  24. Anonymous4:05 AM

    I agree with everything you said Cincy.

    Chexxy is all about respect for Clay. Is it any wonder we're fans of someone who gives with all his heart and soul? Proud to be a fan and proud to be a member of Chexxy's?


  25. I love pearls. Preferably real, raw freshwater pearls attached to a raw Z+ diamond. However; I have gained respect and love for Chexxy's pearls, as she has provided a great medium about Clay. Whoever you are Chexxy, you are a good soul. Stay as you are.

  26. Anonymous4:48 AM

    -Hmmmm haven't seen or heard from that Groucho in a while. Maybe he's in a padded cell and they took his computer away!

    But on to people that matter....that Clay is a great guy and puts so much effort in everyhing he does. His Christmas show is going to be great again!