Moments will present themselves when, as a 21st Century Renaissance Man, you will need skin as tough as the soles on a fire-walking Indian fakir. In my role as a professional, highly paid critic, I thought I was slapped around pretty good when I had the audacity to criticize the washed-up arena bands Journey, REO Speedwagon and Styx. Three dozen or so e-mails, some coming from Mexico, can convince anyone that they are truly an idiot.

Than I crossed the Clay Aiken fans…

“I so look forward to your next article decrying the late Mother Teresa’s lifelong efforts at making this world a better place in which to live.”

“JERK!!!!!! Can’t people like the music without critics such as yourself vomiting all over the performers?”

“Go peddle your reviews on some acid head heavy metal freak rap hip-hopper!!!”

“You’re a Democrat, and I think we all know what losers they are.”

“You sound like a hopeless loser to me.”

“I wouldn’t say anything about looks. I saw your picture.”

“The knuckle-draggers like you will never get it. Clay is more highly evolved than you can grasp in your pea-brain.”

“Wanna bet that he’ll make more money in a lifetime than you will?”

“Yet another idiot, who apparently doesn’t understand talent and that many Americans still love TALENT as opposed to mostly naked, gyrating fools putting on quite a ‘show’ to disguise their lack of talent. Fans love Clay Aiken for his incredible voice, thank you very much…. You idiot!”

The e-mails soared far beyond the 200 mark. Maybe 250, 300. Only five agreed with my review of an Aiken show, in which I criticized the medley-laden event as “hits swept from the cat box of each decade.”

I’m not sure what else to call The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” or Rose Royce’s “Car Wash.” Classics?

Here’s the passage that really sent them scurrying to their mouse pads:

But where does the adoration come from? The sex appeal? Why are the women screaming? The guy’s a nerd. He looks like he spent all four years of high school gym class being held upside by his ankles over a toilet by the team. And we’re not talking the football team. The chess team could have handled the job.

Aiken was being marketed as a sex symbol, so I felt obliged to comment on it. When something’s being sold, Consumer Reports is on the job.

Aiken may indeed be a really nice guy, a former special-ed teacher, and a spokesman for UNICEF and the Ronald McDonald House, as some e-mailers pointed out. So they should give the guy a humanitarian award, not a Grammy. If critics simply rewarded nice people, Frank Sinatra would never have gotten a good review in his entire career.

Our aim, in raising culture’s standards in the 21st Century, is to grab guys like Aiken by the ankles and shake them until the truth falls like change from their pockets. It’s startling how many fans think they know the real celebrity simply because of something they see on television or read in a magazine. And Aiken, like the Monkees, was a TV show creation.

While one e-mailer insisted “American Idol is irrelevant,” it is not. No one would have heard of Aiken without it. He wouldn’t have received a record deal without it. American Idol takes mediocre talents and makes them stars. Stars for a few moments, anyway.

Like many of the folks who rose to the defense of Journey, REO Speedwagon and Styx, the vast majority of Aiken e-mailers were not at the concert that I saw. Nor had most of them, judging by where they live or their comments, seen the Aiken anywhere at that point: The show I saw was only the third one of the tour. Most simply read my review on the various Aiken sites, and reacted like irritable Jack Russells with self-esteem issues.

Be more open minded, Aiken’s fans howled, even as many of them demonstrated a lack of tolerance for other people’s music, particularly hip-hop. They find its language offensive, and praised Aiken’s wholesomeness, even while filling their own e-mails with obscenities.

This is the fire pit, glowing with white embers, that you must walk. “I have reason to have ‘researched’ the Internet fan base of this kid,” wrote one e-mailer sympathetic to the cause of 21st Century Renaissance, “and I can attest to the fact that they are the craziest bunch of loons on the planet.”

Sure, I agree. Especially when it comes to defending their man’s manhood. “It’s obvious,” one wrote, “you haven’t spent too much time on the message boards (snort) or you would know that boyfriend is packin’. Big time.”

And the discussion gets cut off right there. That is more detail on Clay Aiken than my tattered self esteem can bear. Snort.