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Clay Aiken's Political Reality: Results Mixed For Stars Like Him

Clay Aiken performs a special one night only concert at the Progress Energy Performing Arts Center in Raleigh, N.C., in March 2010.
Jim R. Bounds
Clay Aiken performs a special one night only concert at the Progress Energy Performing Arts Center in Raleigh, N.C., in March 2010.

Reality television star Clay Aiken set the political class chattering Friday with rumors that he may run for Congress.

Frozen in time as the elfin man-child of American Idol fame, the runner-up from a decade ago is reportedly considering running as a Democrat in his home state of North Carolina.

At least that's what unnamed sources, speaking with the promise of anonymity, spilled to the Washington Blade, a Washington-based gay publication.

If he gets in, Aiken will be just one in a line of reality stars aiming for political careers.

Still, the news that the now 35-year-old, out-gay dad has political aspirations was tailor-made for a social-media/reality show-obsessed culture, lighting up the Twittersphere and "Claymates" fan sites.

It's not like we haven't elected entertainers and actors before, whether it's Bedtime for Bonzo movie star Ronald Reagan or Harvard-educated Fred Grandy, who starred as "Gopher" in television's Love Boat and later was elected to Congress from his home state of Iowa.

The list of actors turned politicians is long, including Ben Jones ("Cooter" from The Dukes of Hazzard), Clint Eastwood and Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

But can the decade-ago reality show darling of pre-pubescent girls and blue-haired grannies, now a disability activist and music veteran, find love among the voters of North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District?

The second-place finisher to Ruben Studdard in the 2003 Idol singing contest, Aiken wouldn't be the first reality show participant to test the political waters. But he would be the most famous.

Aiken parlayed his American Idol climb — including his makeover during the show's duration from spiky-haired special education teacher to marginally hipper version of same — to an international stage as a UNICEF ambassador, a representative of gay American parenthood, and appearances on albums and Broadway.

His path has been paved by fellow semi-famous reality show cast members, who have met with mixed success.

Here are some other aspiring politicians who have used reality show fame as a springboard to attempts at elective office.

Rep. Sean Duffy: A Wisconsin Republican first elected in the 2010 GOP wave, Duffy earned his reality chops as a cast member on the MTV show The Real World: Boston in 1997. He met his future wife, a Real World: San Francisco cast member, in 1998 when they both appeared in the reality show Road Rules/All Stars. He made another appearance on Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle of the Seasons in 2002. An accomplished log roller and speed climber, Duffy also previously worked as a prosecutor and as an ESPN sports commentator.

Duffy cruised to re-election in 2012.

Kevin Powell: Another Real World cast member, Powell twice challenged longtime Rep. Ed Towns, a Brooklyn Democrat, in primaries and lost — most recently in 2010. Towns retired last year. Powell appeared on the MTV show in 1992, when it was filmed in New York.

Surya Yalamanchili: A contestant in the 2007 season of The Apprentice, Yalamanchili was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress in 2010. Running in Ohio's 2nd District, he lost to incumbent Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt.

Yalamanchili was "fired" by host Donald Trump in Week 8 of the series. Trump predicted, however, that Yalamanchili was destined for an "outstanding career."

Rupert Boneham: A veteran of several Survivor reality show iterations (his first was Survivor: Pearl Islands in 2003), Boneham ran unsuccessfully for governor in Indiana as a Libertarian in 2012. But he won more than 100,000 votes in his loss. The bearded Boneham has been described by People magazine as one of the reality show's "most iconic" characters. His wife, Laura, competed with him last year on Survivor: Blood and Water.

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Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.
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