Carmen Rasmusen, Rickey Smith, and Vanessa Olivarez back their pal's decision to come out

By Jessica Gold Haralson
Updated September 24, 2008 04:25 PM
Roger Karnbad/Celebrity Photo

Although Clay Aiken says his decision to come out might lose him a few fans, three of his former American Idol competitors have his back.

“This news does not change my opinion of him or my friendship with him,” says Carmen Rasmusen, 23, who competed alongside Aiken during the show’s second season. But she admits she was somewhat shocked by the news. “I’m surprised, I guess because he kept it quiet for so long!”

Rasmusen, who is expecting a son with husband Brad Herbert this Christmas, added, “As I’m also going to be a mom, I know how parenthood completely changes your perspective. I think it’s great that he’s raising his son with a mother involved, and that he understands the importance of being up front and honest with his child.”

Ex-Idol contestant Rickey Smith, who, like Aiken, identifies himself as a Christian, says, “He has to do what makes him happy. I’m just glad he’s doing what makes him feel comfortable and confident.”

Aiken tells the upcoming issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, “I still consider myself a born-again Christian, and I am absolutely comfotable with my salvation.”

Vanessa Olivarez, 27, recalls that Aiken “never ever” discussed his personal life with his fellow contestants. (He tells PEOPLE that fellow finalist Kimberley Locke, 30, was the first person he told he was gay.)

Yet Olivarez says she had a feeling about Aiken’s sexual orientation: “I have good gaydar – Claydar! – and it definitely wasn t the shocker of the year!”

She adds, Clay is religious, and I think it’s great that he’s showing you can be religious and be gay. People will see that you’re not going to burn in hell if you’re gay.”

2003: Relive Clay’s Idol days!