Despite having a devoted following of "Claymates," "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken has run into his fair share of critics and haters. But building up a thick skin is something Aiken did long before fame, and on Tuesday's "Dr. Phil" he'll reveal his experiences with bullying and share his advice with young people.
Aiken talked to the TV-show host about how being bullied isn't the end of the world. "It was a really tough time," he confessed to Dr. Phil. "Middle school's really tough — I think everybody has trouble with middle school. It's about finding out who you are and being happy with who you are and being comfortable with who you are, because everybody in middle school is confused."
In his book "Learning to Sing," Aiken revealed his experience with being picked on and the loneliness and isolation of not belonging while he was growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina. He described what it was like getting wedgies and being "dodge-ball bait."
"I was dubbed a loser throughout most of my childhood," he wrote. "As a kid, I was an insult magnet — a nerd who loved his grandparents, who wore the wrong clothes, who liked the wrong things, who had goofy hair and glasses, who didn't smoke or drink."
Coupled with the anguish of an abusive, alcoholic father, his childhood was further troubled by such ill treatment outside his home. "I went to grade school and discovered a whole new form of cruelty: the heartlessness of exclusion," he wrote.
His mother, Faye Parker, told The Associated Press, "I don't know that he was bullied so much as he was just ignored. So I don't know. We'll have to hear more about his story when he tells it on TV."
Aiken told Dr. Phil that his experience shifted by the time he got to Raleigh's Leesville High School: "It's about being comfortable with who you are, and once ... I figured that out, you know, who cares what people think about me? I know my parents love me, I have friends who love me, I love myself. Once you have that and carry it with you, everybody wants to know, 'What is it that he's got that I don't have?' because everybody's insecure. They're picking on me because they don't have anything about them that they could be proud of, so they've decided to make themselves feel better."
Aha: so that's how he dealt with Simon Cowell's snide comments.
This all seems appropriate for the sensitive singer who covered "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and, after he topped the albums chart with his Measure of a Man debut in 2003, spent much of his efforts trying to help others. Before his sudden stardom, he had earned his bachelor's degree in special education from the University of North Carolina and was a special-education teacher. His Bubel/ Aiken Foundation assists the families of children with developmental disabilities, particularly autism.
Aiken's recent work with UNICEF is another example of how the compassionate pop star has channeled his experience with bullying into good deeds. As a UNICEF ambassador, he traveled to Indonesia's region of Aceh, which was devastated by the tsunami disaster.
More traveling is in Aiken's future, as the prince of positive pop will soon announce even more dates for his summer tour — probably for July, according to his rep. Before that, he'll head back to the studio to start working on his next album in May.