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Clay Aiken Exclusive! 

And other Blair-ish fiction

The now-familiar spiky hair. The twinkling blue eyes. And he's taller in person. Those are the first impressions as American Idol runner-up and UNCC student Clay Aiken arrives alone at the CL offices. I'd gotten a call that on his quick tour of Charlotte, he would speak only to CL, so here we are.

"It's so nice to be back in Charlotte." Aiken smiles and gives me a hug and air-kiss, as he sits down with a triple-latte half-caf, no foam. He's dressed in blue jeans, a nifty, crisp white shirt and a black leather blazer. Those might be Prada loafers, but you don't want to stare at someone's feet.

Aiken has had an amazing ride for the last six months. The story is familiar for Idol fans by now. UNCC student auditions for the show, gets rejected in Charlotte, and drives to Atlanta to try again. Makes it, but only gets to the hallowed finals by winning the "wild card show." They do away with his geek look; he improves each week, and is narrowly beaten by R&B big man Ruben in the May 21 finale. Now, he'll record a CD and go on a national tour with other vanquished "Idols." So, how does it feel?

"I've never been so tired in my life," Aiken sighs, "but it's been worth it. How else would I have gotten from cheesy talent shows to national TV, and get free suits, too?"

A co-worker and her pre-teen daughter, named Amber or Brittany or Cameron or something, interrupt us. "Just a picture?" they ask, clutching a disposable Kodak. "Sure," says Aiken. One snap, and they're gone. I close the office door.

"Thank you. I get so tired of that. It's the only bummer: a fan base of little white girls and their moms," Clay moans.

"Have you had lunch?" I ask.

"I would kill for a Brooks burger and a sweet tea," Clay says.

We get into his new convertible squeezed into the parking lot, and peel out for NoDa.

That's how easy it is, writing something that never happened. My friends, you've just been "Jaysoned." I speak of Jayson Blair, the now infamous New York Times reporter whose fictions, errors, and embellishments are already the stuff of journalistic legend, the subject of a 14,000-word apology/explanation in the mackest newspaper daddy in the land.

This was a reporter who simply made a lot of stuff up and got by with it at a place where the checks and balances of journalism are supposedly strict.

Journalism's latest exercise in self-flagellation has begun, with the venerable paper apparently believing that their own scandal is more important than any other. Pundits can argue the angles, validly or stretching their points.

What I see is another reason for Americans to be mistrustful of the free press. What stories that they saw, read, or heard today were really true? Or were they a figment of a writer's imagination? Yes, errors are made, but editorial stopgaps are supposed to fix them. Readers and people written about must also call for that accountability when mistakes are made.

No, like Stephen Glass (another disgraced journalist), young Jayson will probably emerge with a book deal, which should suit his fiction-writing skills.

For us poor saps who were taught to write a story with the facts in place and the details confirmed, here we go again. For the media consumer, no wonder the National Enquirer sells millions. Fiction is becoming stranger than truth.

The May TV ratings period is over, with no big surprises but some big numbers at WCCB, thanks to Fox programming, including, yes, American Idol. The finale scored a whopping 31 rating and 41 share in Charlotte, higher than the national average, and almost quadrupling The Bachelor on ABC.News numbers were fairly flat, with WSOC-TV's strength showing at 11pm. ABC was third in Charlotte, but Channel 9 managed to rise from the rotten lead-in and win, while WBTV and WCNC numbers fell slightly from their higher lead-in programs.

Also having a good May showing were talkers Dr. Phil and Oprah, also on WSOC-TV.

One morning note: NBC's Today show, usually number three here, is gaining (finally) on CBS' dreadful Early Show.

Other dust in the media wind: Lake Wylie will be getting a low-power radio station next year. The FCC's granted a license for an FM outlet to be called 93.7 WYLI-LP, a non-profit station with an eye toward education. Some of the ideas in the works are to create programming about boating, water recreation, and environmental conservation. . .

The Observer's "Best of" edition rolled out in a skimpy section May 21, and we were underwhelmed by the effort. Sure, CL prides itself on over a decade of such issues, but truth be told, the O's version had predictable picks with little edge. Advice for next time? Don't let winners run ads with the "Best of" logo in your paper two weeks before the issue even comes out. It was a mega-wine store, I believe. . .

Stay tuned. . .

Shannon Reichley is an independent television producer and former news manager at WBTV. E-mail her at Shannon.Reichley@cln.com.

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