Not all of us know what it is like to have a celebrity son or daughter, but it's interesting to pick the brain of a mother who has shared the "stage" with a famous offspring. And who better to talk to than Faye Parker (or better known as Clay Aiken's mother)?
Parker opened up about her son's sudden fame in 2003 (when he was named runner-up on American Idol); how she's treated by his fans; and how she felt when Aiken told her he was gay. She also gave us her take on her son's appearance on Celebrity Apprentice and a few photos of her and Aiken, which you can see in the slideshow below.
How did your life change after your son became famous on American Idol in 2003?
When Clay went on American Idol I did not know what to expect. I thought life would go on as usual for me and [his brother] Brett, but that is not how things go. My life became a roller coaster of events, one after the other. I did not expect to be having so many interviews myself or being put on a stage so that others would know me when I walked out the door. Locally, I could not go anywhere without taking extra time to prepare myself. Going to the grocery store was a three-hour event. Once, while shopping at my favorite store, even the press came out. I was invited to attend national events. I even judged three state Miss America pageants. Whoa, what did I know about that? I did learn quickly, and it was fun.
Clay's fans are called "Claymates." Were you inundated with people wanting to get close to you from his fan base?
We had people driving by the house all times of the day taking photos of our home from their cars. Some brave souls, bless them, even came to the door and rang the bell. The most overwhelming was the fan mail that arrived daily. We had boxes and boxes that were sent from the Idol studios and to my friend's P.O. [box] as she was brave enough to put that out to keep so much from coming here. I wish I had time to have read them all. They were sweet, sad, and very supportive. Once he had his book published (where he talked about conflicts with his birth father, his stepfather and bullying he had to endure as a child) we received many letters from people that were hurting just like we had experienced. I was not happy having my life on display with all the dirty laundry hung out to dry. But as I accustomed myself to the fact, I hope that our lives made the lives of others easier to bear. It is always good knowing you are not alone with problems you are going through.
The other things were the gifts people made for him and sent. I have a room above my garage I lovingly call "The Shrine" with such wonderful mementos from his fans. There are over 100 scrap books included in this and the love and devotion put into them was amazing. I think I treasure those most -- not to slight any of the other things that were sent.
You have two sons, one who's famous and one who isn't. How do you make your son Brett feel as "important" in your life as Clay? And how close are Clay and his brother Brett?
Brett is my hero too. He is famous in his own way. He served four years in the Marines and [did] two tours in Iraq during the war. The thing about Brett is that he is laid back and did not want the attention. He was supportive of his brother and enjoyed a lot of things that came with Clay's stardom, but he liked being behind the scenes. He was confident enough in his own self that he did not have to have constant attention. I think Brett knows how important he is to me and how much he is loved. We try to do things together when we can and started a new tradition during some of the holidays when Clay was out of town. As for the closeness of the boys as brothers, there is seven years difference in age and this gap has put them closer as the years go by. Right now Brett actually lives with Clay and they get along extremely well and do lots of things together.
Show business is an up and down proposition. As Clay's mother, how do you feel when his career is up, down, sideways, and back up again?
Mothers always are concerned about their children's welfare and their happiness. When his career is going well I am always elated. When it seems like a dry spell, I sometimes get concerned. Faith is a big part of my life and I try to leave that in God's hands. He never forsakes us, even when we think He is not there. Do I think Clay is strong enough to weather the ups and downs in the entertainment business? Yes I do. He is intelligent, business savvy, and I believe he can work in so many avenues of the entertainment world, not just singing. I am concerned that his music does not get heard, but I know he is smart enough to write, produce, etc.
Do you ever offer career advice?
I laugh as I say this. Yes, I sometimes offer but I am blowing in the wind. Does he listen? Hard to say sometimes. I think he does not, but then once in awhile I will hear him say, "Mom said that too." I think, like other young people, he listens and then makes his own decision. That is okay. But once in awhile Mom would like to know she said something profound.
When Clay came out as gay, how did he tell you, and what was your first response?
I actually don't remember my first response. I think I was quite surprised. He told me as we were on the way home the night we dropped Brett off at the Marine base to leave for Iraq. Too much in one night to handle. I do remember he had a very hard time telling me and I think I tried to act calm. He would know.
Do you think Clay feels like you support him as a gay man?
I do support him very much. I think he would like me to be more of an advocate. I am not one for speaking publicly about anything really. Sometimes I have had interviews about his entertainment experience and what he is doing on tour, etc. I have not been asked much about this subject. My friends know that I support him. Fans have sent me emails when someone in their family comes out, and I try really hard to show them I understand where they are coming from. They want to know how I handled the situation. I think it brings them some comfort. I love my son dearly and what makes him happy I am going to support. I don't believe being gay is a choice and feel that people need to get more educated on this fact.
Now that Clay is a father, how has fatherhood changed him? Do you get to spend a lot of time with your grandson?
I love spending time with my grandson. He is the apple of my eye ... so much like his daddy. I do get to spend a bit of time with him even though we are 3,000 miles apart. Parker gets to visit and Clay allows him to spend time with me also.
I don't know that fatherhood has changed Clay in any particular way. He loves being a father and loves his son. He is a disciplinarian but disciplines with love and understanding. Parker is a lucky boy to have him for a dad. Clay has so much to teach a child. He impresses me with his patience with Parker and how he teaches him about the things around him. Watching them together delights me. I see my son in Parker and that brings good memories. You know how we mothers hate for our children to grow up so we get to relive that time through our grandchildren.
I've been watching Celebrity Apprentice and it looks like Clay may be headed for the final two. If that happens, how much do you want him to come in first this time, and why do you think he should?
I want with all my heart for him to take first place. I am tired of him being called runner-up (Laughs.) But most importantly, I want him to win the money for his charity the National Inclusion Project. This foundation is close to his heart, and it is the main reason he went on Celebrity Apprentice. I hope more people will check out the website and see the importance of what the money goes for. I think Clay should win because, in my opinion, he has played the game with integrity and has been one of the kindest persons on this season. Of course, that's his mother talking. (Laughs.)
What is your favorite Mother's Day memory with your sons?
I think my favorite memory of Mother's Day is when both the boys were young and they made the little gifts from school or picked wild flowers from the yard. One of the cutest things I can remember was from Brett. He gave me a card one Mother's day that read. "I love you so much I could clean my room." Don't know where that came from but it was so cute. I still have boxes of the things they did for Mother's Day and other holidays. Maybe they will have fun looking at them one day.
Taken during American Idol, Aiken is 24 years old in this photo.
Aiken, 10, blowing out his birthday cake at home with his mom, circa 1988.
Parker and Aiken, 6, on her wedding day.
Aiken, 24, and Parker.
From left to right: Aiken, Parker, Brett Parker (Parker's youngest son), and Ray Parker (Aiken's late stepfather).
Aiken, Parker, and Brett Parker, circa 1995.
Clay Aiken performs Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on American Idol.
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