Monday, March 5, 2007

Clay or Ruben, Justin or Kelly? American Idol, Fanwars, and a Legacy of Obsession

What is it about American Idol that generates a level of obsession, of fanaticism, so intense that four years later, some of the fans (fanatics) are still obsessively loving or hating particular "idols?" Why is it that the spirit of competition generated is so intense that it even extends across seasons to include those never actually in competition with one another? Why is it that the first two seasons of the show seemed to generate the most passionate devotion or antipathy? How is it that some individuals -- "haters" or anti-fans -- feel justified in abandoning human compassion, decency, and honesty all for the the goal of crushing a person they don't know to elevate another person they don't know? How are the "fanwars" generated by the show exacerbated by the internet? How are these fanwars similar to or different from those that have preceded and followed them? To what extent did American Idol and the record label, RCA, manipulate and stimulate these fanwars and create a continuing competitive milieu? Normally, it's really OK and in fact normal to like more than one artist, and if you don't like an artist, you simply turn the station and don't listen, rather than try to destroy their life, so what's different here?

While I can't claim to have the definitive answers to any of the above questions, they are certainly worth exploring and the next 2-3 blogs will do just that.

First, though, let's look at some of the ways in which these fanwars manifested themselves amost from the very beginning.

It has now been four years since Clay Aiken's "wildcard night" performance on American Idol, yet the passionate involvement of supporters and fans, as well as detractors and anti-fans, still runs high. The interest of the media in virtually anything Aiken does is still tangible -- he continues to capture the "buzz" with very little effort. Putting his hand over Kelly Ripa's mouth was good for a week's worth of entertainment "news."

His innate talent is certainly part of it. His "geek to idol" transformation is another (though really, all that was was some new clothes, a good haircut and a set of contacts ... yet the media in particular is still fixated on that). His advocacy of charitable causes, coupled with an openly professed faith, also taps into deep emotions from both the fans who admire his efforts and values, and the anti-fans who either use those causes close to his heart as yet another avenue of attack, or who erroneously associate any kind of profession of Christianity to mean that one falls on a specific point in the political spectrum -- one quite a bit to the right of center.

A large and committed fanbase is also part of the buzz.

His American Idol fans loved him intensely. It was a fandom which was organized, internet savvy, vocal, and hungry for information. Although the vast majority of the fans displayed their love in fun, enthusiastic, and appropriate ways, a very few went over the top, elevating Aiken to a level of adulation which was probably not only uncomfortable for Aiken, but also to fellow members of the "fandom." They also gloried in his success in a way which other AI fanbases, rightly or wrongly, construed as either dismissive of their own "idol" or of "rubbing salt in the wound." It was that very small segment of Clay's fans which became the focus of the anti-fans and also of some in the media. It became, and still is, used as an excuse for the continuing anti-fan generated smear campaign directed against Aiken which has existed for nearly four years.

Add to all of that the competitive nature of the show itself, AI's further manipulation, the fact that some individuals simply didn't care for Aiken's voice or material, the fact that a larger than normal percentage of the active fans were women 30 and over (see Sexism, Ageism, andMiscogeny), fan support for other "idols," and the hot button issues generated by his faith and by questions about his sexual orientation (see Sexuality and Semantics) and you have the recipe for polarization, intensity, and a continuing hate campaign against both Aiken and his fans.

Competition between the "idols" (a loaded term to refer to the participants of the talent show) was exacerbated and manipulated from the very start when Clay and Ruben's singles and Justin Guarini's first CD were all scheduled to drop on the same day in June. The sales figure comparisons were inevitable and, as everyone knows, Aiken won that competition. This didn't sit so well with the fans of the other two, particularly when the Clayfans were so exultant at the triumph (which, as fans, was arguably normal and to be expected). It helped to breed resentment.

One of the first groups to take action was a small group within the Justin Guarini fandom... a group that seems to have been forgotten by many Clayfans. There had already been some conflict between this fan group and Kelly Clarkson fans. Now it was Aiken's turn. Clay Aiken at one point in time made a comment about Guarini's "smoothness" that could have been interpreted negatively. What followed was a near melt-down of the "That's the Clay" messageboard, due to the fact that the moderators of that board, like Sunny and AnnMarie, were die-hard Justin fans who perceived Aiken's statement as an insult. Compounding that was Clay's overwhelming success on the day that his single was released the same day as Justin's CD, and Clay's upcoming CD release parties that were being discussed (along with their association with Todd Venice--a whole other story). Leaving TTC and forming a new Justin board, they focused their anger and resentment on Clay and his fans, scapegoating them for Justin's failure to achieve the success they felt he was due. The hatred flew.

Even that far back in time, the lies began. As one poster noted at the Clackhouse messageboard:

Wed Oct 15, 2003 4:52 pm, ToffeeBrowne wrote:
Hey guys I just wanted to ask a quick question. I was just lurking on a Justin board and it seems like they are all up in arms about some radio interview that Clay supposedly did with some station in New Jersey. In this interview Clay supposedly said that Justin Guarini has only been getting by on his looks and that he looks like the 6th member of NSync. I know we don't want to bring other boards over here, but 1)I just can't believe Clay would say something like this and 2)how is it possiable that Clay did anything and there hasn't been any kind of report about it amongst the Claynation. Interestingly enough Annmarie of former TTC fame is the one who's cousin herad it and sent her a transcript of the interview. Now I know that the Justinites are sad, but to make shit up? That is just soooo tacky.

So the lying began early...making up something inflammatory and posting it on the boards as truth. Prompting such reponses as:

Clay's a third-rate, ugly, scumbag ass, who's gotten cocky enough to say something like this. He thinks he's God's gift to the music industry, and fuck anyone else.

Although no one was ever able to find the evidence that such an interview existed, and several of Justin's fans pointed that out, there were a few who used the fictitious statement as a pretext to continue their hate.

Even earlier, some of Justin's fans, along with some of Ruben's fans, had begun the practice of emailing others (media, blogs, etc.) while pretending to be over the top Clayfans.

At the Clackhouse, freethinker posted:

Tue Sep 23, 2003 9:18 am
Yesterday my guy received a forward of the full message from the Hunk of the Month woman along with a message with the forward saying Clay fans were threatening the owner of a website. Asked me for my view or explanation of it. Explained what I knew and that I suspected it was disgruntled Justin or Ruben fans. So - YES - these types of messages are getting to RCA. PATHETIC!

Which is not to say that all, or even most, of Justin's fans agreed with the competition, hatemongering, or the false emails. For example, as one fan posted at Justin's House,

cat4cj Sent: 10/17/2003 3:10 PM
Hi All,
I stated 6 months ago (on this board) that I was upset, because it seemed (to me) that a "war" of sorts was starting and fans were being forced to "choose" between Justin or Clay.
I honestly made an attempt to stay here and ignore it, but everytime something nasty would go down, I was hurt more and more by the viciousness I was witnessing. Since I liked both singers, it was easier to walk away, then to feel forced to choose.

So a small, negative, contingent of the Guarini fandom was making it uncomfortable for other Justin fans or people who were fans of both Justin and Clay.

There was a also small subset of Ruben Studdard's fanbase that became proactive in a negative way. Fresh from the heat of the competition, some of these fans appear to have been threatened by both Aiken's obvious popularity and by the fact that Aiken's first single outsold Ruben's in that previously mentioned competion manipulated by RCA/19. So they decided to do something about it.

They, too, found one of their favorite techniques to be pretending to be crazy Clayfans and then contacting DJs (who might have been inclined to play the newly released MOAM), shows like The View, or anyone else who would listen. Quite often these emails would be laden with derogatory, obscene, inflammatory, and/or racist remarks. What follows is a story that is familiar to many in Clay Aiken's online fandom, but may be unfamiliar to others.

Here is an excerpt from one Ruben messageboard conversation:

Dear Friends:
I understand that we all have a common goal in coming to this board and that is to Help Ruben by exposing Clay and his fans. We are extremely fierce in our quest, but WE CAN'T LOSE PERSPECTIVE HERE!!!!!
We are proceeding with caution and not putting ALL our eggs in one basket. We want you to write your letters, but don't waste ALL the evidence on someone less significant (DJ's).
We need to target Critics, in particular, because they are the ones who evaluate the sales of a CD. We need to emphasize the multiple CD purchases and provide them with proof.
Please, PLease, be polite and NEVER mention Ruben or being a Ruben fan. We are taking the dissapointed Clay fan angle or any other angle as long as it doesn't smell like "disgruntled, bitter Ruben fans".
I know we want to rip the elfin to pieces, but we have come too far to mess up. Good things happen to those who wait, we are patient. Continue the letter campaign, but use your discretion in writing to these people. Any indication that it is a mailing campaign and we will be doomed. So let's not get too impulsive. Okay?
You are doing an excellent job with the letters and we have accomplished a lot. Keep up the good work!!!!!
"Never underestimate the power of a Ruben Wackadoodle"
Edited by: emach1313 at: 10/17/03 12:15 am

One member of this small group of Ruben fans finally came clean, exposing the others who also congregated on a certain small board. This board used as its banner Clay Aiken's face superimposed on a sniper's target. Among the statements this whistleblower made were these:

What I am about to post here may shock some people. However, I don't think it will be any Clay Aiken fans that have ever dealt with the diehard Ruben Studdard group. I think the only fans to be shocked will be those in the Ruben Studdard camp. And they'll only be shocked because someone finally turned their back and called them out.

I won't be talking about all of his fans, just a small, select few that seem to be operating under the delusion that "nothing", and I mean nothing, can ever touch them. The few who spend all of their days on Bolt and the JRecords website, not to mention the Clay boards they frequent under various guises. The few who spend all of their time marching to the beat of Emach1300's and AngelicIsis' drums, including those two, themselves.

The point of this website? To let you know that AngelicIsis really is Jaysen Miller, and I can back that up.

Do you remember Jaysen Miller? Jaysen Miller wrote two very eloquent stories for Beavers On Idol about Clay Aiken. Two stories where he claimed to be a fan but was so turned off by the energy and devotion of the Clay fans that he felt the need to write. Each and every one of those stories were fabricated.

What followed were a series of quotes copied and pasted from that board to prove her point.

Author Comment
Giggle OP

Posts: 1285
(10/31/03 8:35 pm)

Here is my response from James Sheperd from Beavers Online. I even forgive him for his typo on my fake name. LOL

Hi Jason:

Thank you for your submission. I have reviewed it just once, but I think it is
quite suitable for publication. I enjoy seeing counter viewpoints, and your
article, plus the one you are refuting, help to support something I'm currently

I will let you know when your article is published.

Thanks again,
James Shepherd

I am sooooooooo tickled!!!!
Giggle OP

Posts: 1286
(10/31/03 8:57 pm)

Thank you friends!!!

What raleighlady needs to recognize is that she is not dealing with amateurs when she deals with Ruben fans. She'd better have her s--t TIGHT, or she'll have an emach, bone, dallasivy, black panther, mymanisclay, or an angel on her azzz!!!

High FIVE mah sistahs!!!!
Giggle OP

Posts: 1289
(10/31/03 9:27 pm)

hmmm...perhaps one of her 'detractors' should send my article to 20/20 with my permission....

Posts: 1031
(10/31/03 11:52 pm)

I'm On it, but it will add credibility if we ALL did as well!!!!! will get you the address!!!!!
Posts: 298
(10/31/03 10:10 pm)

Way to go angel. Can't wait until those stupid Claymutts read the article. What a joy it will be to read bolt.

Here's to you girl.....

But they were eventually discovered in that little charade:

Author Comment
Giggle OP

Posts: 1305
(11/3/03 8:42 am)


I need one of our regular super militants to take the blame. I prefer Bone, because of her eloquent writing style. They can't go after Johnnie because she is never on Bolt my idea is this:

Bone goes and posts on the Clay board, 'confessing' who she really is. She'll just say that she 'borrowed' my name not knowing that I (angel) had posted something in Ruben's guestbook. She'll say that she wrote the rebuttal because she has an opinion, and she'd do it again regardless of what they think. Etc. etc.

She tells them to not attack me (Angel) because it was her, and she'll say that she will post it on every board, and then she'll publicly apologize to me. Also Johnnie, you can say that you picked my name because it sounded like a 'guys' name, and you can say that you are a GUY - priceless!!!!

This will work because I have been moving ALL last week, and really didn't have time to do this, did I?

In fact, I won't go back to Bolt for a few more days....just to make it super real.

Further posts revealed more plotting with respect to how they were going to carry that out, infiltrate the Clay fanboards, and so forth.

What is unbelievable is that some of them are still involved in this kind of activity FOUR YEARS later, contacting media outlets, DJs, posting on blogsites, etc. It puts the so-called obsession of the Clay FANS to shame, since these anti-fans, or haters, clearly devote so much time and energy to their endeavors.

One has to wonder to what extent the perceptions of DJs and newspaper critics were influenced both at the onset and on into the present by these manipulating, lying, and over the top fans of other former AI contestants.

And then there are the fans of Kelly Clarkson. Just like the Clay fans or the Ruben fans or Justin's fans, most of Kelly Clarkson's fans are just normal, nice individuals. There are a few, however, who are obsessed not just with supporting their "chosen one," but also with eliminating any possible competition (even if that person is not actually "in competition" at all with Kelly). If the Pulse Music Board is any indication, then Carrie Underwood is perceived as being one of the more recent "foes," largely because of her Grammy success and because she will soon be outselling Kelly Clarkson, but Clay has also long been a target.

Unfortunately, a couple of the individuals who run one of the largest Kelly Clarkson fanboards, Kelly Clarkson Express, are among this group of obsessed fans, so they have had an influence disproportionate to their numbers.

It is at KCE that the hatred of Clay Aiken and his fans was nurtured over the years. It is at KCE that some of her fans organized themselves to go into retail stores and crack the cases on Aiken's CDs so that they would not be able to be sold. It was on KCE that hatred of Clay was promoted to the extent that one was not even allowed to type out his name on the board, asterisks being substituted for the letters as if it were a profanity. There were many impressionable teens on that board that were immersed into a board culture that promoted hatred.

This false competitiveness was enhanced when Kelly and Clay (who, incidentally, are friends) toured together and it became obvious that Clay elicited the more intense crowd response and numbers. Groucho (who was eventually banned for being too crazy even for KCE), Un4Gitible, Shully, Director Sandy -- these individuals and several more developed and spread their hatred at KCE, and continue it to this day. Groucho, blending hatred and misogyny and using any one of his many aliases, spread his own particular brand of hate on every message board and blog site and media outlet he possibly could. For four years. Others have acted similarly, but not necessarily with the single-mindedness of Groucho.

Now not everyone on the board was guilty of these actions by any means, in fact some tried to point out that the board was deteriorating in terms of its reputation and its focus on negativity. For example,

deedee 3/8/2004 5:23:00 AM
I have decided to risk the wrath of KCE because I seriously think we all need to stop the Clay fan hating or at a minimum the verbalizing of said hating.

This board has gone downhill in the last six months. I used to love coming here, but not any more. Yeah, I I will get all the comments like....well don't come or we have a right to our opinions.

You're right....I don't have to come. But guess what. I love Kelly and I come here to keep track of her and it seems like this board is just swamped with negativity and hatred lately. Way too much energy being wasted on hating. You're all have a right to your opinions.....but so do I and for once I'm gonna give it loud and clear.

I don't care if you all scream at me........this board is making a very BAD name for itself. Every hateful spiteful thing said about Clay and/or his fans is copied and repeated and we are making Kelly and this board look bad. I promise you this. I was lurking on a Clay board tonight in the hopes of seeing some good reviews about Kelly along with Clay and they were coming in....until.....someone who had been lurking here went back and reported how we were slamming Clay and Clay fans. I have to tell you, this particular Clay board is taking the high road. There are people on there that are refusing to slam us or Kelly. It won't last though if we don't get our acts together.

But of course, the louder and more prominent voices drowned her out, at least at that time.

And this was just the beginning.

To be continued in the next blog.

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