Expect a Thank-You Note from Clay Aiken

12/16/2003 10:00AM

The year-end awards season is in full swing, so it seems only polite to mention that spiky haired "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken, proving himself to be the fine Southern gentleman he is, heads the 12th annual list of the "10 Best-Mannered People of 2003."

The honor comes to him by way of the National League of Junior Cotillions, reports the Associated Press. The league, based in Charlotte, N.C. (Aiken, 25, also hails from North Carolina), is an etiquette and social training program for American young people.

Anne Colvin Winters, executive director of the league, said the selections are based "demonstration of honor, dignity and respect. Clay Aiken ... was chosen because of the courteous manner in which he treats fellow performers and fans."

Oprah Winfrey, 49, came in second, "for the warmth and kindness she extends her guests," gushed the league.

Other nice people are, at No. 3, Gen. Tommy Franks, the former Central Command chief who ran the Iraq war (for "his composure during a difficult assignment"), and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick (No. 4). Vick recently returned to the field after suffering a broken leg in the preseason, proving to be "a positive role model to young athletes."

Surfer Bethany Hamilton, 13, who lost her left arm in a shark attack, landed at No. 5, "for the manner in which she handled the adversity of a shark attack."

Rounding out the Top 10: NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, first lady Laura Bush, actor-filmmaker Mel Gibson, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
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