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Why reality TV was the perfect prep for Clay Aiken's jump into politics

Story highlights

  • Ex-"Apprentice" star Omarosa Manigault says reality TV was good training for Clay Aiken
  • Aiken announced he is running for Congress in North Carolina as a Democrat
  • Manigault: Reality TV makes you appeal for mass votes and requires you to have thick skin

Reality TV may prove to be a golden ticket for Clay Aiken's congressional bid.

Nearly a decade ago, Americans were introduced to the adorable schoolteacher from North Carolina. Aiken wowed viewers and judges early in the second season auditions of "American Idol." No one expected such an incredible voice to come out of such an unassuming package. He came out of nowhere and stole the show.

His singing won him a golden ticket to Hollywood, but his resolve won him a unique place in the hearts of American viewers.

And that could be just the training he needed for his next career.

This week, Aiken once again presented himself as an unassuming candidate, this time jumping into North Carolina politics as a Democrat to challenge U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Republican, for her 2nd Congressional District seat.

Omarosa Manigault

As a former political appointee and reality TV show participant, I am intrigued by Aiken's foray into the world of politics. He and I got our start on TV right around the same time.

In all of my encounters with him over the last decade, I have found him to be kind, warm and authentic. I bet the voters in North Carolina will see the same thing.

A friend asked me if I thought Aiken's TV background would help or hurt him in his congressional race. That's easy. National TV has uniquely prepared Aiken for this adventure into politics. Here's why.

Aiken has had to convince millions to vote for him -- first via a toll-free 866 number and soon in a voting booth. He has had to deflect the barbs of critics -- I'm not sure who is worse, Simon Cowell or Sean Hannity. And he has had to learn how to win over the media -- first in Hollywood, now inside the Beltway.

Back in 2003 and 2004, reality TV was a lot different. Aiken and I both were parts of instantly successful franchises at the peak of their popularity. Each week, millions of viewers tuned in not only to watch but also to vote for their choices -- or vote off whom they didn't like.

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Clay Aiken running for Congress

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This created a new entertainment democracy. Viewers were empowered to choose their favorites, and contestants had to campaign and compete for a spot on the show -- and for the hearts of America on an unofficial campaign trail.

Reality TV requires you to have thick skin. When you have to face harsh critics such as Cowell or Donald Trump weekly, you have no choice but to be tough.

But the toughest critic of all proved to be the American public. Aiken was subjected to intense, relentless scrutiny. He was forced to learn and apply leadership principles that were essential to his longevity and success, on screen and off. And even when he got knocked down, he had to get back up and fight again.

There are skills that we learned being on a reality show that may help Aiken win.

First, his message, which he has already tried and tested during his "American Idol" days, will get refined in the political arena.

He proudly shared Christian beliefs and his passion for young people with special needs, both traits that resonated with viewers -- and likely with North Carolina voters.

Secondly, his relationship with the media during "Idol" taught him how to deal with them in a smart, shrewd yet upfront and sincere way. The press can spot a fake a mile away.

On "American Idol," he quickly learned to forge relationships with the media to connect with those who would cast their votes each week.

In his congressional race, he will likely be able to reach voters in ways that his competitor can't. Because of his TV training, he already knows how to do so.

Lastly, his two previous losses -- he came in second place behind Ruben Studdard during the second season of "Idol" and placed second behind Arsenio Hall in the fifth season of "Celebrity Apprentice" -- could prove to be just the hook in his bid for Congress.

Going up against an incumbent in a traditionally Republican district, voters will see Aiken as the underdog and may rally behind him. Voters may feel that his time has come.

And everyone roots for the underdog.

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