'Idol' bits: Clay Aiken, Justin Guarini, Ruben Studdard, Neco Starr, Bria Anai Johnson

Clay Aiken is the first "American Idol" contestant to run for Congress. He is seeking a House seat in North Carolina as a Democrat.

He made the announcement in the video above, citing his poor upbringing. "If you only know the part of my story that begins with a golden ticket -- something that still seems unbelievable to me, even to this today -- you might wonder what would qualify me to run," says Aiken. "Well it starts with a life I remember all to well."

"More families are struggling than ever in history," he added. He noted his past as a special education teacher and his time working with UNICEF. He criticized his opponent Rep. Renee Ellmers' support for the government shutdown.

Ellmers recently dismissed him in a radio interview, saying, "Apparently his performing career isn’t going so well and he’s bored."

When Aiken's pending candidacy leaked out a few weeks ago, there were plenty of skeptics, folks who felt he won't be able to be taken seriously. And he's facing an incumbent, always a challenge.

In that Times story: Ellmers' spokeswoman Jessica Wood wasted no time playing another sort of culture card, telling the News-Observer in Raleigh that Aiken, who is gay, was "a performer whose political views more closely resemble those of San Francisco than Sanford."


<> at Brooks Atkinson Theatre on November 3, 2013 in New York City. Justin Guarini has nabbed yet another Broadway acting role in "Wicked." CREDIT: Getty Images

Credit: Rodney Ho

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Credit: Rodney Ho

Justin Guarini, "Idol" runner up from season one who spent summers in Atlanta as a child with his father Eldrin Bell, has been cast in the supporting role of Fiyero in the Broadway play "Wicked" starting Tuesday, February 25.

He has a long history in theater. His first Broadway gig was "Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" in 2010, followed by "American Idiot" in 2011 and "Romeo and Juliet" in 2012. He was also in Atlanta's "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" in 2012.

He gave up a spot on 'The Lion King" to try out for "Idol" in 2002.


Ruben Studdard, winner from season two, showed up on the Tuesday season finale of 'The Biggest Loser," where he competed but didn't get too far. He did end up losing 119 pounds, from more than 450 pounds to less than 340. He has a new album out as well today ("Unconditional Love.")



I interviewed two locals who go far in Hollywood on "American Idol" starting this week: Neco Starr and Bria Anai Johnson.

Johnson is a confident 16 year old DeKalb School of the Arts sophomore from Lithonnia. She has been singing since she was a little child and competitive going back to pre-K. She recalls winning a kindergarten talent show singing "Greatest Love of All," then a first-grade contest with "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera. She even did an "Idol"-style competition show at her school in second grade. She came in second.

Johnson has been active in plays and musicals over the years. She tried out for "Idol" the first year she was eligible.  She was intimidated at first given her age but she said she takes her music seriously and quickly got over it. She opted for a tough Adele song and impressed the judges.

Her reason for wearing purple lip gloss: "It matched my pants! It did. I think now that I'm looking at it, yes, they were kind of a distraction. At the same time, they remembered me. I wanted to do something that stood out. I wanted to make sure I was a stand out without going all crazy."

Without giving away too much, it's fair to say I interviewed her for a reason and we'll be seeing at least some of her in Hollywood.

Here's her original audition:


Neco Starr, 22, of East Atlanta wants to be a star so he changed his last name to star. That is similar to Ryan Starr, who changed her name partway through the competition from her original name Tiffany Montgomery.

He tried out two years ago and made it to Hollywood, falling just short of the semifinal round. He took some time off to work on his voice and build himself up. "I just wanted to become a better artist," he said. "I matured a lot. I experienced more in life. I've become mentally stronger."

He hopes he can make it further this time around.

"American Idol has been my home," he said. "It has always been a foundation for me. I have tried to push my career on my own and found it really difficult. It's been a struggle."

He was happy that judge Jennifer Lopez remembered him when he auditioned. "I want to leave a mark," he said. He, too, sang Adele in his audition. "I sang it in the original key," he said. "I don't think many guys did that." He also did Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." His inspirations: Michael Jackson and Ne-Yo.

Here's a sneak preview of Starr's Hollywood performance:


Here are some more promos:



There is one singer that really stands out here and it's not the dude who forgot the words: