Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life

Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life

4.8 49
by Clay Aiken, Allison Glock

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“My mother prophesied years ago that my voice would take me places. She was certain that there was a reason I was able to sing. I am still discovering what that reason is, what it is that God wants to happen.”
–CLAY AIKEN, from Learning to Sing

When he was a kid singing in his church choir, Clay Aiken never dreamed of becoming


“My mother prophesied years ago that my voice would take me places. She was certain that there was a reason I was able to sing. I am still discovering what that reason is, what it is that God wants to happen.”
–CLAY AIKEN, from Learning to Sing

When he was a kid singing in his church choir, Clay Aiken never dreamed of becoming a pop music star. His ambition was to be a teacher, maybe even a high school principal. But Clay’s mother was right, and the music that was Clay’s joy in life was destined to lead him to unexpected triumphs.

In Learning to Sing, Clay details what his astonishing success has meant to him. He writes from the heart about his life before and since his instant stardom on American Idol, how he has changed, and how he struggles to adapt to life in the public eye. He speaks candidly about his lonely childhood: the father who abandoned him, the school bullies who tormented him, the mother who taught him to be strong, and the friends and teachers who–more than they ever knew–kept him going. He describes his new high-profile life in Los Angeles– the awards shows, the free clothes, the unfortunate presence of avocado on all the food. More significant, he reveals what he has discovered from diving into the white-hot center of pop culture: what it takes for him to stay true to himself and remember the lessons he learned growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Clay shares his struggle to remain a man his mother can be proud of, and writes about the faith that sustains him today just as it did when he was an awkward, unpopular outsider. “I believe God has a direction for me. He did not give me this life just so I could buy a big house and an SUV. My job is to give back and to be a decent human being no matter how many people cheer my name.”

Clay’s friends–the old ones from North Carolina and the millions of new ones who love his voice–will hold this inspiring memoir as close to their hearts as they do his music. Learning to Sing reminds you that anything is possible. Like a perfect song, it will send your spirit soaring.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Listen First

When I was a kid, the punishment I disliked the most was writing sentences. My mother loved to make me record my transgressions– always a minimum of five hundred times–and she even bought special spiral notebooks for me to fill up.
“I will not talk back.”
“I will not say my dinner is yucky.”
“I will not say Granny’s face needs ironing.”
No matter how many notebooks I went through, there was always another one waiting in the kitchen drawer.

I’m not sure writing sentences stopped me from acting out. But it did make me afraid of writing. Still, here goes.

I wanted to write this book primarily as a thank-you to all the people who have helped me become the man I am. So much has happened since American Idol, and in many ways I haven’t had an opportunity to reflect. I have toured three times. I have moved twice. I’ve flown across the country to appear on television programs that I used to watch. I recorded a solo album. A chicken with his head cut off has nothing on me. My hope is that by writing this book, I will force myself to slow down a little and take the time to savor both the past and the present, to give myself a chance to remember what matters. I also wanted to share stories about my life in the hope that it might enable a handful of other people to feel better about themselves. I was dubbed a loser throughout most of my childhood. As a kid, I was an insult magnet–a nerd who loved his grandparents, who wore the wrong clothes, who liked the wrong things, who had goofy hair and glasses, who didn’t smoke or drink.

It made for a lonely childhood. More than a decade later, I figured out that the real reason people didn’t like me was that I didn’t like me. When I learned to believe in myself, to have faith and to remain stubborn in my convictions, my life changed. Once I decided I was okay, other people agreed. And those folks who didn’t agree didn’t matter so much anymore. My mother taught me that we all have the power to achieve our dreams. What I lacked was the courage. The people I write about in this book gave me that courage. I learned from them, and as a former teacher, I believe that lessons should be passed along.

Many people think they know me from watching me on television, and in some ways they do. I like to think that what you see is basically who I am.

I like to talk. I’m a terrible dancer. I love my hometown. I have freckles and oversized ears. I’m a geek. I have tried not to hide who I am or what matters to me. Growing up in a friendly Southern town, I wasn’t trained for subterfuge. My mama believed in honesty and integrity, and I have endeavored to live up to her example.

No person matures by himself. We have all had someone who reached down and picked us up when we couldn’t manage to rise on our own. We have all been carried. I know I have been.

I was blessed with a mother who is strong, smart, and filled with the sort of decency that is out of fashion these days. Her fortitude enabled me to rise above circumstances that otherwise would have crushed me.

“Que será, será,” she would sing to me every night as I drifted off to sleep. “Whatever will be, will be.”

Mom helped me to see that every person is like a painting. When you come into contact with another life, that individual dabs a little bit of color onto your soul. It isn’t always a color you like, but even ugliness provides its own lessons.

I learned this the hard way. There was no shortage of ugliness in my childhood. My daddy drank too much, and when he did, he turned to violence. Mom and I spent much of my early childhood disentangling ourselves from him.

Then I went to grade school and discovered a whole new form of cruelty: the heartlessness of exclusion.

Pain happens to everyone. To grow up, to fulfill your potential, to develop into what God wants you to be–this process takes support. No one succeeds alone.

It is like making an album. I may sing, but someone else writes the songs, someone produces, another person engineers, another person packages, another person markets, another person sells it, another person buys it. To say I created a platinum-selling album is silly. A group created it. Life is collaboration.

Now, I’m able to screw things up on my own; that’s not a problem. But getting things right–that takes assistance and guidance.

I believe God has a plan. God has a direction for me. He may put me on a few detours, but the path will ultimately reveal itself. My job is to be a decent human being no matter how rocky the road gets.

Lately, the road has been pretty bumpy. Adjusting to life in Hollywood, far from the comfort of home, has been a challenge. I have had to adapt to so many things. Distance from my family. Traffic. Avocado on all the food. Most of my new life is amazing. But then there are times when I look around and notice that everyone around me is a stranger. In Raleigh, I had friends for eighteen years. Out in L.A., I spend my days around people who have been in my world for only three months. I may see them every day, but they don’t know me.

When I taped the Primetime Live interview with Diane Sawyer, I was struck for the first time with how significantly my life had changed. We were setting up in an old nightclub in New York City. There were arches, banquettes, and a curtained stage. The floor was checkered. It reminded me of the sort of place where Sinatra might have performed. When I arrived, there were bright lights and cameras everywhere. People scurried around with clipboards and cell phones. There were producers and management teams and makeup artists and wardrobe consultants and camera operators and lighting experts and caterers and assistants for the assistants. I was stuck in the corner and I watched these masses of people rushing and bustling because of me. I wondered: Why? What had I really done? I sang. But I had always sung. Suddenly, people cared. Since then, my entire circle of friends has changed. The people I thought would always be my peers really aren’t anymore.

I used to imagine what a typical day would be like once I grew up. I thought maybe I’d have a crappy time at work and I would call my friends who were also teachers and ask their advice about how to reach a particular student. Then I’d drive home or maybe meet my family for dinner at Applebee’s. Now it seems all my new friends are people who work for me. And when I don’t have a job for them, they may not be around. There are many days when I consider quitting. I fantasize about trading places with buddies who are teaching back in North Carolina, leading the life I thought would be mine. I relished being in the classroom. My whole existence had been mapped out down to the career conflict I would have: Would I want to be a principal or stay a teacher? Would I move to a high school or continue teaching elementary-level special ed? When my friends back home tell me stories about connecting with children, I feel acutely that I’m not making a difference. I find it difficult to believe that my getting more famous helps anyone else. Some days it would be nice to forget it all happened and go to the mall. When I feel down like that, I try to focus on what is good about my life now. I am making more money for charity than I ever would have been able to earn as a teacher. I have a broader platform for calling attention to children with special needs. I am singing.

To me, singingis the single most joyous thing a person can do. A song is like a smile. If you meet someone from another country, even if you don’t speak the same language, you know what a smile means. A song works the same way. Music produces feelings that need no translation. My mother prophesied years ago that my voice would take me places. She was certain that there was a reason I was able to sing. I am still discovering what that reason is. I am only twenty-five. I still have many unanswered questions. I’ve had to learn that whatever comes out of this is what God wants to happen. The challenge now is to find a way to do good work. American celebrities have an amazing amount of influence on the way young people in our country think, feel, and act. I believe that such influence should be used in the most constructive way possible. I want to use my voice to inspire good in others. I never want to produce anything that a family could not enjoy together. I never want to create art that would embarrass my own children later.

I do this because it feels right.
I do this because if I didn’t, my mother would snatch me bald-headed.
As she should.

One Sunday afternoon I decided to stay home with Clayton instead of going to my mother’s house. He must have been around two and a half. It was a mistake because I became so blue during the day. I found myself sitting on the sofa looking out the window. The stereo was playing some sad music and the depression finally overcame me. Clayton, being such a sensitive child, noticed and said, “Mama, what you thinking about?”
“Oh, a lot of things,” I said.
“Mama, you got cry in your eyes. What you need? You need me?”
I told him the music was making me sad.
“Okay,” he said. “You come to my room and I’ll play you some happy music.”
And he took me upstairs and sat me down and started to sing for me.
–Faye Parker

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

About the Authors

CLAY AIKEN was one of the two finalists in the 2003 American Idol season, and is undoubtedly the biggest star to emerge from that hit show. Aiken’s debut album, Measure of a Man, hit number 1 on the Billboard 200 in October 2003, selling 612,000 copies during its first week. Aiken’s single “This Is the Night/Bridge Over Troubled Water” won the 2003 Billboard Music Award for Bestselling Single. He was honored as the Fan’s Choice winner at the 2003 American Music Awards. Also in 2003, People magazine named the North Carolina crooner one of its Top Entertainers of the Year and one of its Sexiest Men Alive, and he became TV Guide’ s Fan’s Favorite Reality Star. For more information on Clay Aiken, go to www.clayaiken.com.

ALLISON GLOCK is the author of Beauty Before Comfort, an acclaimed memoir about life in West Virginia, now available from Random House Trade Paperbacks. She has written articles for many magazines, including GQ and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Learning to Sing 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
People are always judging Clay Aiken. Thet dont know him. This book will open up your heart and make you cry. Ive read it 20 times. And there is 2 different audio versions. Clay reads one, and a old guy reads the other one. If you think you may know Clay as the 'gay nerd' then think again. Because hes just like you. I really reccomend this book and the audio. Buy the one read by Clay himself. I love this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Clay Aiken is about as down to earth as you can get. He seems so normal to have fallen into all of this stardom. His life story, the good and the bad, tell it best. And hearing him tell his own story is even more moving. It's an easy read and a great listen in the car or at home relaxing. Clay is a great example for young and old alike. His faith is inspiring. I can't wait to see where his faith and his talent lead him.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read this book over and over - and also have the audio read of the book by Clay. So witty, funny, sweet, inspirational--makes you know the real guy and love him all the more. Recommend for people of all ages. You'll laugh & cry!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it is so interesting and inspirational. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down until I had read the whole book. It held my interest and I found myself crying and laughing. I would recommend this book for anyone to read. Very good book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
mr. clay aiken's learning to sing is truly an inspirational book. it is both funny and sad at the same time. i was inspired by clay. i too, have an abusive dadddy. and, after reading this book, my heart was changed towards my daddy. now, i am willing to start a father-daughter relationship with him instead of just ignoring him and taking in all of the abuse. clay taught me to believe in yourself, and that you are who you are, no matter what people think of you. i thank clay so much because....without this book, i would be totally hopeless!!! thanks mr. clay aiken. my mum and i love you so much!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I received Learning to Sing as a 15th birthday gift from my mommy. Yes, this has got to be the most moving, touching, inspirational and a little funny book for me! out of all the books i read, i have to say i was deeply touched and moved with this one. Mr. Clay Aiken really gives the inside-scoop of his life. you can almost feel what he felt growing up in an abusive childhood life with his biological father and stepfather. i too, have an abusive father. I can relate to clay, and what he went through, because i am going through it right now. Thank you Clay, for writing this book. it changed my heart, and you are my inspiration!!! RUN, DON'T WALK TO BARNES AND NOBLES, AND PURCHASE THIS BOOK!!!! YOU WON'T BE SORRY!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I learned about and fell in love with Clay's beautiful singing voice when I just happened to tune into American Idol. Music is the universal language and Clay is speaking it so elegantly. He is so real and has such high morals for a young man his age. Since I am an avid reader and a huge Clay fan, I couldn't wait to read his book. It was warm, funny, a little bit painful, and so inspiring. I also purchased the audio version of his book, and so enjoyed listening to him reading it. He reads as he sings, with so much expression and warmth, with a dash of humor! I think, God, through American Idol, brought Clay to the world because he is someone we should all know and aspire to be. I am a 49 year old mother of three and grandmother of one, my two older children are about Clay's age. I would be proud to claim him as my own. It is so refreshing to see a young man with strong convictions, not willing or finding it necessary to follow the crowd, a true leader. Someone who is a good role model for young people in a world that needs that desperatley. Clay endured difficulties but chose to rise above them and learn from them. Life is all about choices. My prayer is that Clay remains true to himself and continues to bless us, fans and others, through his gift of music and his wonderful personality. The main thing that I took away from Clay's book, is that we all need to believe in and love the person we are. This is true, no matter how old you are. Thank you Clay for your beautiful music and candid memoir.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in 1 day. Couldn't put it down. Reads true to heart, reads everyday life. Recommending for my nephew, Seth (10) who has been and is experiencing similar life experiences. And to his mom, Teresa, an enlightening inspiration into her heart's yearning to change in her life and support her two sons. This book is awesome. My husband is a social worker and is putting it on his reading list. I cannot exclaim enough how honest this book is and how easy it is to relate to and more importantly thinking through the quotes and convictions of the people that intertwine his life and my own life. Life is a struggle to live and yet there are successes inside yourself at different turning points, perhaps we all forget we have experienced. Clay is so young to have published a memoir, he has so much more life to live....I look forward with hope that he finds the inclination to write again in another 5 years so that we can grow with him and his convictions to be himself and true to his life's expectations to give back to those who need that something special. Thank you, Clay!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just purchased this book yesterday and it was so good I couldn't put it down and finished it today. It left me speechless. Clay is heartfelt, 100% honest and very funny. Clay lays all his cards on the table and lets you see every aspect of his childhood good, bad and ugly. I'm his #1 fan and our lives have proved to be very similar. I have a physical disability and have experienced the same ridicule at school when I was younger. He understands exactly what it feels like to be ostracized. He is the type of person I hope to become thoughtful, selfless and a servant of God. I wish him the best of luck in his career pursuits and personal life. This book is a must for all Clay fans. I love you Clay and may God bless you always.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is great. i recieved this book for Christmas from my parents, who know im a huge aiken fan. i finally had peace to read it a couple of days ago. i read it none stop starting at 1030pm to 1am. the book was very moving. i had recently been complaining to my parents i didnt get everything i wanted, sounding like a 20year old brat, but i was mad. after reading the book i thanked my parents for what i got, i mean one christmas clay got batteries. i recommened this book to my whole family and all my friends, who arent Claymates. the book is a must have it will make you look at your life in a new perspective and see how fortunate you really are. i now see life in a whole new way. And i feel so fortunate and grateful
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Learning To Sing: Hearing The Music In Your Life' is a very inspiring, entertaining, and emotional book by an extremely talented singer and now very talented writer/author, Clay Aiken.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is inspirational, emotional, and humorous! When I read some of the reviews, they were mostly the same. That's because what everyone says is true! I know what it is like without Clays father, I had to go through the same thing. Clay helped me see that with or without his book that you don't need a father. When I was reading this book, I couldn't help but cry because everything he said, I can relate to me! I never stopped crying but I laughed while I cried! This is the best book ever. My all-time favorite! I am so inspired by this book! Well I urge everyone, everywhere to read this book even if you aren't a clay fan! From a devoted Claymate! Remember, I'm ACHEIN' for CLAY! Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Devoted Clay fan or not, you'll be moved by his compelling, candid and inspirational story -- one that will find you at times chuckling and at other times shedding a tear -- but unable to put the book down! To become the remarkable person he is now, after having survived so much hardship, is a testament to the power of his faith and the love and wisdom of his very special mother. After reading this book, you'll admire Clay for sure!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is extremely touching and funny. He talks about very serious times in his life, but adds humor. This book is very enjoyable to read, and best of all it is 100% true.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I personally am a claymate and I loved this book...It is sooo inspiring...I like this book because I can relate to the whole problem with his father because I never knew my father but I turned out just fine...Anyone who has any negative comments about it should think twice and read it twice...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was for me, the best book I've ever read. As a devoted Clay fan, of course I would think that, but I honestly think I would have enjoyed it just the same if it were written by Hilary Duff, my least favorite person in the world, because it was just a great autobiography. I cried and laughed through the whole book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Clay Aiken has battled through so much. His story is inspirational, exciting, eye opening, funny, heartfelt and life changing. It reminds you that anything is possible if you believe. You cry and laugh throughout this book.It lifts your spirits. I highly reccomend this book to anyone who loves to read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Someone wrote he wasn't 100% truthful and they could not be more wrong. In fact Clay is painfully honest and open in his book. His family has read it, and his father had the opportunity last year to make amends with Clay and CHOSE not to. I have read the book 3 times! It is a great book for anyone who is struggling with their past or even those who are living through painful times. Clay shows you can have painful things happen in your life and you can rise above it, find what you excel at and go with it. You are not stuck with just outward appearances or experiences. You can grow and change by changing how you feel about yourself. Be yourself, like yourself, love yourself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My only regret is that some of the things mentioned about Clay's past is very far from the truth. It is just sad to see that a star would talk about his deceased father in such a way and the man can not even defend his actions. Please let the man rest in peace. He was by no account a wonderful father but he is no longer in this world. Stop using this pity story to climb up your social ladder.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Clay's new book is truly amazing. It made me laugh, and at times it made me cry. It's such an inspirational book, and I just couldn't put it down. This book explains how hard Clay had to work to get to where he is today, and believe me, it wasn't easy. This was the best non-fiction book I have ever read. I read this book in 1 day, and I plan on reading it over and over again. From a 'claymates' point of view, I think Clay is an amazing writer. Words cannot explain how great this book really is, so you'll have to read it to believe it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is really outstanding! I could not stop reading it. It was interesting to hear some of Clay's experiences that he has encountered thus far. I could really relate to this book, and I thought he did an amazing job in writing this memoir. I AM CLAY'S #1 FAN! GO CLAY!