WASHINGTON: With his goofy smile, boyish charm, dulcet tones and strongly espoused Christian beliefs, Clay Aiken has won legions of female fans and sold millions of records since starring in the 2003 series of American Idol.
But now a group of disillusioned "Claymates" have lodged a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission after a less straightforward version of Aiken emerged in the tabloid press.
The nine women claim that his record company, RCA, and its parent group, Sony/BMG, duped them with their marketing and promotional campaigns into buying the 27-year-old's music and merchandise.
The former fans said that they were also considering a class-action lawsuit for damages.
The precedent-setting case will be watched with concern by other entertainers whose squeaky-clean public personas do not always match the reality of their private lives.
Max Clifford, the British public relations guru who has shaped the images of countless stars, reacted with dismay. "Well, that's the PR industry finished if their case succeeds. I'd never be out of court," he said. "Showbiz has always blurred image and reality. It's just a bit of light relief."
The controversy erupted after two magazines ran the accounts of men who said they met Aiken through online gay-sex chat rooms. The unmarried singer has previously denied rumours that he is homosexual. His publicist has declined to comment.
Aiken's former fans have drawn their own conclusions. In a statement, they said: "As consumers, we feel ripped off. It is obvious now that the private Clay is very different from the manufactured, packaged Clay that was marketed to us … This is tantamount to a manufacturer concealing information about a defective product. Therefore these actions were unfair and deceptive to consumers."
Internet gossip sites and Aiken's official website are abuzz with fans claiming that the tabloid stories are false and that accompanying photos were doctored.
The commission declined to discuss the case, saying that all complaints lodged with it are private. Aiken finished second in the American Idol contest but went on to record the best-selling US single and album of 2003. He has maintained that success and his songs often have an overt Christian message.
Mr Clifford said he could not comment on the Aiken case but expressed alarm at possible implications. "The simple fact is that there is a huge image smokescreen surrounding some stars. It goes back to the earliest days of the Hollywood dream machine and has thrived ever since."
This is a joke right.. Tell me how you can stop appreciating an artist for their voice, after you learn that the artist doesn't like women? WTF? Ricky Martin would have lost fans yearssssss ago.
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