The Most Perfect Picture: Clay Aiken In a Technicolor Dreamcoat

Go, go, go Joseph, you know what they say/Hang on now Joseph, you’ll make it someday

Clay Aiken is better than all of us, but you wouldn’t know that from his time on TV.

First appearing on the second season of American Idol, Clay had to sit through comment after comment about how he “doesn’t look like a pop star” aka “you’re a weird looking ginger.” Though he did make some questionable pooka shell necklace choices, America managed to overlook his khakis and unnecessarily spiked hair and keep him on the show week after week. Not because it was fun to laugh at the skinny kid from North Carolina, but because Clay Aiken had (and still has) the glorious voice of a thousand Mariah Careys. Though it seemed like Aiken could be America’s next Idol, Ruben Studdard eeked out a win. Clay got second place.

Later, Aiken appeared on Celebrity Apprentice. Though thinking back on the original kingdom in which Trump reigned is now pretty painful, Clay made the most of the ridiculous reality show. Consistently, he was the most intelligent, most capable, and most talented contestant. Yet, in one of many poor Trump decisions, he awarded the Apprentice crown to Arsenio Hall. Clay got second place.

In 2014, Aiken ran for Congress in North Carolina. After winning the Democratic nomination and getting national attention…Clay got second place.

Despite all the second place finishes and injustice that Aiken isn’t a bigger star, I keep thinking about a photo that makes all the unfairness melt away. The picture of Clay Aiken in his costume for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Ogunquit Playhouse. With a flowing wig of long auburn locks and a coat of many colors swirling around him, Clay looks perfectly at peace playing the Biblical dreamer.

In the show, Joseph wears a cool coat, has dreams about the future, and everybody wants to kill him for it. But Joseph doesn’t mind. He’s there to spread his message and try to enlighten his envious peers. And also wear a Drag Race worthy ensemble.

Every time I see this picture (and I’ve seen it many times), I burst into a smile of true happiness. Finally, Clay is exactly how he was meant to be. Festooned in a rainbow of colors and wearing a wig that would make Nicole Kidman jealous.

In this photo, Clay is 2nd place to no one. He is the dreamer of a better future. He is the coat worthy of jealous rage. He is Joseph and he’s on a higher plane than any of us can dream of being. Never has a photo better captured a person in their purest form in their highest state of grace.

Clay didn’t need to win first place to star on Broadway, become a UNICEF National Ambassador, fight for LGBTQ rights, and make a number one hit album. Just look at the picture — Clay is simply gracing us all with his presence. Whether we give him first place or not, that’s none of his concern. Any dream will do and he’s done a lot of them.

So, go, go, go Clay. You’re doing fine. You and your dreamcoat, ahead of your time.

Writer for Thrillist, Bustle, Parade, Greatist, MTV, IFC, Snooki’s blog. Want to hear about open writing jobs? Sign up for my free newsletter at