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American Idol” contestant Clay Aiken has lost his bid for a House seat in North Carolina, CNN projected.

Aiken, a Democrat, trailed incumbent Renee Ellmers 57% to 43% with 69% of the vote counted.

In a district that leans Republican, Aiken was an underdog. He downplayed his celebrity and instead focused on local issues, while Ellmers tried to dismiss his candidacy given his showbiz connections. She even tried to tie him to President Obama’s economic policies, calling it the “Aiken-Obama economy.”

At a recent debate, Aiken tried to tie her to a dysfunctional Congress.  “The most embarrassing reality show in the country right now is Congress,” he said.

When he announced, Aiken talked about his upbringing at the poverty line and his work as a special education teacher for children with autism. More families are struggling now than at any time in our history and here in North Carolina, we’ve suffered more than our share of pain,” he said. He cited his appointment by President George W. Bush to a commission on autism.

“About 11 years ago, after ‘American Idol,’ we came up short in another vote,” Aiken told supporters on Tuesday, referring to his runner up status on the talent competition. “WE found reason to be happy. We found opportunity to see a win. …Tonight we see quite a few wins as well.”

But his name recognition is what undoubtedly made him more than an also ran in a race that otherwise would not have been on election prognosticator’s radar screens. He is openly gay, although he also did not run on issues of marriage equality. At a fundraiser in the Hollywood Hills in September, he told a crowd of about 100, including many from entertainment, that “I had enough of the spotlight for 11 years,” according to Karen Ocamb of Frontiers, who attended the event. If he were elected, it would have been a new kind of spotlight.

Aiken did face criticism from Bill Maher, who chided him for distancing himself from Obama even though the chances were that Aiken would lose the race. “Obama gave people health care, not herpes. Own it. You’re gay in North Carolina. I think the redneck vote has sailed,” Maher said.