In a video posted on his new campaign website and in an interview with the (Raleigh) News & Observer Tuesday, Aiken says his personal story -- growing up in amid domestic violence -- inspired him to be a voice for the powerless.
Besides being a hugely popular entertainer, Aiken taught special education students in Wake County and worked with UNICEF. After months of exploring whether to dip into politics, he decided to put his entertainment career on hiatus.
"I saw this as the best place I could serve, because I think Washington, in general, is dysfunctional," Aiken told the News & Observer. "I think it's high time we put people in Congress who were not beholden to their party, and not beholden to anything but the people who they live around and grew up around, in my case."
While he didn't win "American Idol" in 2003, his appearance led to several bestselling albums, other TV appearances and a role in the Broadway play "Spamalot."
Aiken, 35, said jobs and the economy are major themes for his campaign, stressing education as a way to get return people to payrolls.
He said he would press Ellmers to explain her voting record that included cuts in funding for military families.
"She didn't have to run on her record last time," Aiken said. "I plan on changing that. I want her to have to talk about and defend some of the things she's done to people in this district."
In 2008, Aiken publicly declared he was gay, and he and his partner have a son.
Aiken said Tuesday he doesn't think being gay would be an issue with voters.
"People care about jobs, they care about the economy, they care about being able to pay for college," he told the News & Observer. "That [his sexuality] is an issue that doesn't affect many people in this district or this state."
Ellmers' campaign staff, however, used Aiken's sexual orientation when assessing the potential Democratic field:
"It speaks volumes to the state of the N.C. Democratic Party that the primary is shaping up to be a choice between the failed [former Gov. Beverly] Perdue administration's Keith Crisco ... an activist [Toni Morris] who's own party rejected her in the last Democrat primary -- and Aiken, a performer whose political views more closely resemble those of San Francisco," spokeswoman Jessica Wood wrote in an email to the Raleigh newspaper. "Renee best represents the values of the voters in the 2nd District and remains focused on fighting for their families."
Ellmers faces a challenge from the right in the Republican primary from investor and radio talk show host Frank Roche of Cary.