Well, this doesn't exactly explain the "Clay For Pope" campaign, but if we're talking about the rabid nature of Clay's fan base, the discussion so far -- including abrahammy's eloquent analysis -- has neglected mention of a very BIG factor: CLAY'S SEX APPEAL
What is it about him that makes so many girls and women find him swoon-worthy, want to plaster their computer screens and walls with his image, fantasize about him, and, in a lot of cases, go to great lengths just to get to see him in person and get a hug or just shake his hand?
I have given up trying to make this post into a concise, Pulitzer-worthy treatise, but here are some thoughts I have on the subject. (Bear in mind I'm talking IMAGE here; I don't claim to know about Clay's private life.)
In a nutshell, I think Clay's sexuality is so spellbinding to so many women because it's elusive, enigmatic, subtle, just under the surface.
It's the promise of more and better things to come. The promise of a smoldering libido that seems pretty much an unmined motherlode at present. Clay's sexuality seems to be like a dormant volcano that's making rumbling noises like it could erupt at any time. (As of that Pittsburgh concert, it reminds me a lot of Mt. St. Helens about May 15, 2000.)
It's the appeal of a reluctant sex symbol. The guy who went from nobody's ideal prom date to sex object so fast it still makes his head spin without being able to really comprehend it or take it too seriously. A guy who believes in premarital chastity yet who's gonna be "majorly" tempted over the next few months or years and who's already getting phone-number-accompanied thong panties thrown at him while he sings.
If Clay had come out on AI or even afterwards in tight, revealing pants and done the kind of bump and grind moves that permeate today's pop and rock music videos, it would probably have killed much of his appeal. For one thing, that sort of thing is so NOT-Clayton that it would have seemed silly. (Clay could get by with "Grease" and even win the crowd with it because it was tongue-in-cheek, self-mocking even while being provocative, and quite tame even compared with Elvis's moves in the 50s.)
Clay's still in the process of his metamorphosis. In Atlanta we saw, basically, Clark Kent, dorky but revealing subtle signs of his alter ego. As he morphed from geek to "chic," we also saw him learn to keep his eyes open and embrace his audience while he sang. We saw his body become freer. We saw the suppressed dancer begin to emerge.
Clay's sexuality, like his body, has been gradually exhibited to his audience, much as the classic strip teaser -- in contrast to the in-yo-face lap dancers of today -- made her audience wait patiently, their appetites building, as she promised, then delivered, each new little glimpse of her charms.
Here's a guy who sings about "lying here with you," and "I'll make you mine," and other really romantic or erotic lyrics but who, according to reports, hasn't had a girlfriend in several years and values premarital chastity (though he won't speak specifically about his own sexual history or lack thereof).
And for the most part on AI, Clay kept his "bootay" well concealed under untucked shirts, baggy suits and jackets, and "sports briefs" that he wore under his trousers. Especially on the nights when he was dancing or cuddling with Carmen or the other girls. (After seeing some of those tour concert photos, I now understand WHY!)
Clay kinda flirted with the AI2 girls, especially Carmen, on screen, but for the most part it was very tame stuff like kissing them on the forehead or hugging them the way a brother might.
Ricky, Corey, Charles, and even Ruben were out there "shakin' what their mamas gave 'em, while Clay protested that his dancing was something "you folks really don't want to see." (Whether genuine or staged or a bit of both, Clay was in effect teasing us: "C'mon, ladies, beg just a little more!")
Clay still exudes humility, bewilderment, and little-boy glee about women finding him sexy. This, in contrast to the egomaniacal attitude of many sports and rock stars, is irresistable to many women!
Part of the FANTASY that Clay inspires in many women, especially the non-teenagers, is that of "introducing an inexperienced, nubile young man into the joys of the flesh." Plus, Clay's obviously sensitive nature -- being "in touch with his feminine side" says, to a prospective wife/lover, "I won't just "do" you, I'll MAKE LOVE to you. And I won't roll over and turn on the football game right afterwards." (We all know there'd be "pillow talk" with Clay, because, well, the boy does love to talk!)
Over the course of AI2, Clay went from closed eyes during most of a song to really reaching out and embracing the audience each time. His body became less inhibited as the show progressed; his "inner dancer" is even now in the process of being set free.
We saw him move from the "Aw, shucks!" guy who mouthed "Thank you." every time someone cheered or praised him to the confident but not cocky performer who OWNED that stage on BOTW as he seemed to sing directly to everyone there and in the TV audience.
If Clay comes to be seen as more experienced sexually -- he gets married or has an affair -- and if he starts taking himself seriously as a sex object, I'm sure it won't hurt his appeal as a singer, but it will pop quite a few fantasy bubbles, and he may lose some of his special appeal to women and girls. (Paradoxically, it might make him more acceptable to the Hollywood in-crowd, though.)
Anyway, this analysis and about $5 will get you a double latte at Starbucks!