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TV review: Clay Aiken makes for a frank ‘Runner-Up’

Clay Aiken lets f-bombs fly and jokes (prophetically) about the death of his Congressional opponent in the docuseries.
Clay Aiken lets f-bombs fly and jokes (prophetically) about the death of his Congressional opponent in the docuseries. LIGHTBOX ENTERTAINMENT

One thing you can’t call Clay Aiken in “The Runner-Up,” a new docuseries that chronicles his 2014 campaign for a North Carolina Congressional seat, is “phony.”

Aiken, followed by a film crew from near the start of his primary race in early 2014, doesn’t play nice guy for the sake of cameras. The former “American Idol” and “Celebrity Apprentice” star lets f-bombs fly, complains about members of his staff, talks frankly about his changing views on religion, and makes several unfortunate comments about the age and appearance of his opponent, the 71-year-old Keith Crisco.

Those comments – the type many of us make, if we’re being honest with ourselves, about people all the time – are mostly unfortunate because Crisco would die suddenly less than a week after the primary election ended.

Several times during the first hour of the four-part series, which begins at 10 p.m. Tuesday on the Esquire Network, Aiken and his staff make jokes about Crisco’s age and how bad he looks, commenting that he looks to be “at death’s door” or that they’ll have to pry the election “from his cold, dead hands.”

Viewers in other parts of the country may be surprised by Crisco’s death at the end of the first episode, but viewers in central and eastern North Carolina will not. Crisco’s death was big news, so the quips are jolting. But would they have been if Crisco had not died? No.

Aiken’s openness – in the first installment, at least – is commendable. He is frank about his insecurities and frustrations as a candidate, he doesn’t try to hide his anger or temper his language when Crisco’s campaign goes negative, and he says things that may shock and turn off some viewers.

But it’s refreshing to watch – and Aiken is highly watchable, as his career as an entertainer has so far proven. Whatever you think of Aiken and his politics, he doesn’t hesitate to say what he thinks in front of the cameras or to them, even if it makes him look less than perfect. (It’s also worth noting that those aren’t qualities that often make for a successful politician.)

The series is by Simon Chinn (“Man on Wire”) and Jonathan Chinn (“30 Days”), both Academy Award-winning documentary filmmakers, and they had full access to Aiken throughout the campaign.

And considering the ire Crisco raises in Aiken in the primary, we can’t wait to see ole Clay when he goes up against Renee Elmers in the main election. That should be entertaining.

Cain: 919-829-4579;

Twitter: @brookecain

Watch “The Runner-Up”

“The Runner-Up” airs at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on the Esquire Network.

Locally, the Esquire Network can be found on Channel 114 on Time Warner Cable; Channel 235 on DirecTV; Channel 191 on DISH; and Channels 380 and 1380 on AT&T U-Verse.