Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The American Idol Tour....Part 1

How to describe that summer? That’s a hard one so I have to do it in two parts. Part one will be personal to me and part two will reflect what ClayNation went through. After the first concert in St. Paul, MN, we heard that a fan got video. We waited up most of the night to watch it. It was possibly two minutes long, in three parts, and it was sideways. We didn’t care. It was Clay. He sang a song called ‘Invisible’. It rocked. It was completely different Clay than any of us had seen. He wasn’t ballad-boy any more, he was Rock!Star!Clay! A lot of us watched that video with our heads cricked to the side and some turned their monitors on their side to watch. That video made me want to see Clay. You see, I had not bought a ticket in the spring, when they went on sale. I hadn’t been to a concert in 20 years. But that video. Oh, my God, that video! It made me want to see Clay in person. Really, really badly.

The very first video of Clay in concert, the three parts strung together. The very first piece of Clack. The 'OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! What WAS that move?' Watch the smile on his face after the song is over. It's priceless.

All the fans on the boards reported their concert recaps back to the message boards. As each performance was written about, each Clay sighting drooled over, the excitement kept building and building and building on the boards. We all wanted to see Clay in person. Remember, before this, we only saw him on our TV sets; now we got the chance to see him live. The guy that I invited into my living room for 14 weeks, twice each week. I loved him, I adored him, he had the best voice I had ever heard and he was so freaking cute!

As the tour progressed, the recaps got better and better and better. Two days before the Wilkes-Barre concert on 07/16/03, I casually logged onto TicketMaster.

Ticketmaster. I had never bought a ticket on-line before. This was a new experience. I was learning all sorts of new things because of Clay. What I’ve learned from Clay, so far:

• How to navigate a message board
• How to save pictures
• How to download media players
• How to download video
• How to use PayPal
• How to shop e-bay

Well, TicketMaster came through for me. I scored two second row tickets. So I took a friend and prepared for the concert.

This is my very first re-cap from my very first time seeing Clay in concert in Wilkes-Barre, PA., July 17, 2003. I was what the fandom considers an ‘angel-winger’ at the time, so the post is a bit ‘gushy’ or ‘fan-girly’, if you will.

OK, we left at 5:00 and thought it would take 1-1/2 hours, but we took the long way and we got there at 7:30. Line moved pretty quickly to get in the venue. Headed straight towards the bathroom, then to buy a program and a t-shirt. Got down to our seats just as they turned the lights off. The show started about 2 minutes later.

Charles Grigsby was amazing. He was so good and very personable and the crowd loved him. I made eye contact with him several time and we waved at each other.

Actually I made eye-contact with Charles, Ricky, Trenyce several times, and Julia, and I think, Clay, but he was looking all around!

Julia rose from understage and did excellent on 'Beautiful'. Ricky really worked the crown, got us clapping and dancing. Carmen worked the crowd, did well, (had some kick-a$$ shoes) but she doesn't have the charisma that Charlie had. She looked awesome, though. Kim Caldwell did OK. Trenyce knocked it out of the ballpark with Proud Mary.

Kim Locke was incredible! What a voice! The audience loved her! After she was finished she said something like, "you know what's next" and the audience just erupted!

Clay (be still my heart) rose from the floor to do TITN and the crowd went wild! That's when the audience rose to their feet and this tidal wave of noise just reverberated in the building! I had my red glowstick, but since I was in the second row, I didn't see very many.

Listen to the crowd. It was freaking amazxing, the emotion in that room, that night!

After seeing Clay, the rest of the concert went by in a haze. I know I was dancing and clapping and yelling, pumping my fist.

Then Clay talked a little bit, but it was hard to understand him with the crowd screaming and the sound system. Then he introduced Ruben singing Superstar.

Ruben sounded GREAT! I was very happy with the ovation and the yelling for Ruben, he really deserved it. Then they took a 20 minute intermission.

I had noticed there were 2 security guys sitting RIGHT in front of me and I was scared to throw the panties for fear I'd get kicked out, so during intermission, I went up to this bald (and really cute) security guy and said, "Look, there's this bet on Clay's message board about throwing panties and I was dared. I have this beany baby with the panties attached and a check made out to Clay's charity, could I throw them without getting into trouble?" He said, "You have to check with the guys in the suit jackets. They're Clay's personal security".

So I waited all intermission, but it seemed like Clay's personal security (I love saying that) were backstage with Clay. Just at the end of the intermission (about 5-8 minutes left), I see the bald security guy talking to Clay's personal security guy and pointing at me!

So Clay's personal security guy comes over and I tell him, "Look, there's this bet about throwing panties at Clay and since I'm no longer young and good-looking, I attached a check made out to Clay's charity. Could I toss it to him?" The security guy takes the bear, undies and check and looks at the check and says to me, "Stay right there" and leaves. He comes back about 5 minutes later and says, "Here, take these and at the end of the concert go where the security guards tell you".

YES! I got backstage passes!

OMG OMG OMG! I surprised myself and didn't flip out! I calmly put them in my purse and zippered it up and went back to enjoy the show!

They did a lot of group numbers, the Lady is a Tramp/Bootylicious was cute, the BeeGees were awesome. Clay sang To Love Somebody and he was wow, really, really good! Then some more group numbers until "Can you Feel the Love tonight. I think Clay really felt the love in that auditorium!

Then some more group numbers.

Now, the panty throwing part. I saw one pair fly from about the middle of the stage. Clay looked and giggled. Then, while he was singing, I saw about 3 or 4 more go flying. Clay's personal security had this VERY stone-faced look and started walking towards the middle, but I guess he saw that they were harmless.

Watch Clay singing 'Invisible' and be sure to listen to his audience banter!

After the song was over, Clay picked up one pair and looked at them and started giggling like a banshee! Then he looked around the floor and saw the rest and that's when he said, "I have more panties up here then you do in your drawers"! Then he picked up the Depends and carried that around for a while.

Ladies, He LOVED, absolutely LOVED the panties!

Then Ruben sang his new song and it had a good beat (Hey, I'm on Dick Clark's American Bandstand!). The crowd was into it, but no where near the way they were for Clay. The he did Flying Without Wings and got a really good response. He sounded great! He really is a good singer

Kim sang Somewhere over the Rainbow and blew the roof off the place!

Clay did Invisible and I knew all the words and was singing right along with him. It seemed a little slower than the video we all saw, he did move around the stage, but not as much as in the video. He wore a button down shirt (I think), no jersey. The crowd went CRAZY!

Then they did Imagine and GBTUSA. Clay got his 'yammy' face on during the song. During both Imagine and GBTUSA, he just held his mike down and looked out at the crowd with said yammy face and just sucked it all in! I really think he had not yet processed all the love that is out there for him!

After the show, they had about 50 of us and sent us to this room. Ricky, Charles, Kim, Kim, Julia came in a signed some autographs.

Then Clay came in. Here's the pisser part. His security only let him stay for about 3-1/2 minutes. They asked all the kids to get in front of the table and he signed autographs for them and some older people, but then they whisked him out! I was about 2 feet away and got some really good pics of him close up.

Gush part. He has the most gorgeous skin I've ever seen. It's luminous! I could see all his freckles and let me tell you, if I could have kissed everyone of them, I'd still be there! I still can't get over how beautiful his facial skin is. We did make eye contact and he smiled at me, but that's all, no Clay up close and personal for me, he only did that for the kids. I was REALLY hoping he would say something like "Where's the lady who wrote the check", but he didn't.

However, since that check went backstage to him, he does have my name, my address, and my telephone number (and my checking account number). So I console myself that he took the check off the panties and put it in his wallet to give to his Mom. Or maybe he just gave it to his 'people' to handle, but I prefer to think that my check is in his pants pocket!

I'm expecting a phone call or a nice thank you note! After all he does have my name, my address, and my phone number!

It's so nice to say that Clay has my name, my address and my phone number!

Clay has my phone number! WooHOO!

It was a great evening. You guys that are going, just have a BLAST!

I took 4 rolls of pics, but I have to get them developed so it will be a few days before I can post them. I don't know how to do it, someone tell me! I will have them put on a CD so I need help from there! And I got about 4 of Clay from 2 feet away, but I was using 800 speed film, so they may be blurry.

That's all, folks. I hope you enjoyed my story!

What I wrote that summer couldn’t capture the mood in the venues just before Clay made his first appearance. As the finalists sang their songs, one after the other, the anticipation for Clay kept growing and growing. The applause would get a little louder, our feet started to stamp on the floor a little longer, the air was filled with electricity. Once Kim Locke finished her song, the audience was about to jump out of their skin. The screams erupted, the yelling was so loud that you couldn’t hear yourself think. Then the music started. Up rose Clay on a lift from underneath the floor as the opening strains to ‘This is the Night’ began. The moment of actually seeing Clay live was an emotional experience for a lot of us. For some, it was just fun, but never in my life have I experienced anything like that. Ever. It was freaking amazing. Wonderful. Crazy. Joyous. Unreal. That first glimpse, the first time ever I saw his face, live, is indelibly etched in my mind and I feel so fortunate to have participated in the very beginning of the Clay phenomenon.

Stay tuned……………..

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

In the Beginning.....Look What Love Has Done

July 10th was when Rolling Stone came out with Clay as the cover story. We saw the cover before the magazine was on the newsstands. Was that really Clay on the cover with his shirt partly open, low rider dress slacks and his stomach on display? Yes……life is good. I found a lot of issues at the airport gift shop and bought about 7 copies, most for myself, but some to hand out. The article was excellent in that we got to learn things about Clay that we didn’t know before and realized that he had a depth to him that never came out on American Idol. He revealed things that we didn’t know, he talked about sex and masturbation *oye* He talked his biological father. That interview was message board fodder for weeks and weeks.

In the meantime, the message boards were humming along all full of excitement and energy and good times. People were starting to gravitate to their own kind, the type of boards that best fit their personalities. You had the boards that catered to a younger demographic, you had boards that catered to adults, you had boards that celebrated the vox, you had boards that celebrated the physical. I settled into Clayton’s Place, The Clackhouse, which was formed from The People’s Republic of Clay, and RedHotTopic. I was in a happy place on those boards, I made friends.

During the summer of 2003, a group of fans decided to try to raise money for Clay’s newly-formed Foundation, The Bubel-Aiken Foundation, dedicated to including children with disabilities into the life environment of their typically-abled peers. You see, Clay used to work at the Finley Y in Raleigh, where he first encountered children who were not included in activities because there weren’t enough trained personnel to know how to work with them, or there was no room in the budget to accommodate children with disabilities. It so resonated with him that he attended The University of North Carolina, Charlotte, to major in Special Education. He wanted to be a teacher and make a difference in their lives.

That’s where he met Diane Bubel. Clay was a teacher for their son, Mike, who was autistic. Clay worked with Mike for about two years, when Diane Bubel nagged him to try out for American Idol. Evidently, Clay used to sing around her house so she knew that he had a great voice. God bless you, Diane Bubel, for you were the catalyst of Clay Nation, as well as a wonderful spokesperson for The Foundation.

Anyway, this group of eight ladies decided to try to raise money for Clay’s charities. At the time, Clay had not yet started The Bubel-Aiken Foundation, but we heard rumblings that he was going to do something. These ladies organized into a group and called themselves the Look What Love Has Done organization, after one of Clay’s demo songs. Their goal? To raise $5,000 over the internet for a donation. Well, I just loved that idea and I was glad that I got in on it at the beginning because the 30 days that they spent raising the money were some of the best 30 days I had ever spent. They started a thread on ‘That’s The Clay’ and a lot of fans jumped on board. I guess we all wondered how we were going to raise money from strangers over the internet, but you know what? Clay Aiken fans are not strangers. That’s one thing that really jumped out at me from the very beginning; the fact that we were a caring, giving group of fans who had each other’s best interests at heart. Really. It still freaking amazes me to this day.

So the fundraising began. Posters were jumping in and donating $5.00 here and $10.00 there. We discovered the joys of PayPal. The donations grew and grew. I remember when we got to $800.00 and a poster said if we could get the donations up to $900.00, she’d kick in the difference to make it $1,000. Then we hit $1,500, then $2,100, then $2,500. That was a milestone, but we still were only half way to our goal. A company jumped on board and said they would donate a portion of their internet sales of glowsticks (a Clay concert staple) to us, and the LWLHD ladies held an auction on e-bay that included 12 Clay-signed Rolling Stone magazines (I won a bid and have mine custom-framed, hanging over my piano). Then I remember reaching $5,000. What a celebration we had! Imagine a bunch of strangers trusting each other enough to donate money, sight unseen, to total strangers over the internet! But the donations didn’t stop there. Clay’s generous fans kept on giving and giving. We hit $8,000, then $10,000, then $15,000, then $20,000. The excitement and camaraderie in that thread, the friends we made, the joy of doing something positive for Clay was overwhelming. Most of those who participated will never forget the fun we had. It was magical.

Think about that. $20,000.00 raised on the strength of Clay’s good name and the reputation of these eight ladies to facilitate the fundraising. $20,000 turned into $30,000 and in the end, The LWLHD organization raised $42,200.00 for a donation to The Bubel-Aiken Foundation.

Their plan was to get one of the local anchors in Raleigh to give the check to Clay, but Clay heard that they raised money, he didn’t know how much, but he said, “You raised the money, you present the check” so the LWLHD ladies flew into Raleigh from all four corners of the USA, dealing with lost luggage, wild runs through the local Mall to find something to wear, and an oversized check for the presentation. On August 06, 2003, when the American Idol Tour rolled through Raleigh, Charles Meeker, the Mayor of Raleigh, held a press conference for Clay and the check presentation was part of that. Diane Bubel spoke. She told me that it was her first time as a public speaker. I remember watching the video and starting to cry in the middle of her speech because she spoke from her heart. Her simple words were so powerful and emotional for a first-time speaker that it moved me to tears. Then Clay gave a short speech and for one so young, he has a poise that most men his age lacked. Then the check was presented. Clay did not know the amount and when he was presented the check, he looked at Diane and mouthed ‘wow!’ with a look of wonderment on his face. The whole fundraising experience culminating in the check presentation is a precious memory to me, for the friends I made during that time are still friends to this day.

Please watch all three segments of this video. It's the press conference and check presentation. Part 1 is Clay speaking on how important the Foundation is to him and what he wants it to achieve:

The second part is Diane Bubel's very first public speaking speech. When I first listened to this, I started crying. A simple speech that touched my heart in many ways:

This last part is the check presentation to the Foundation and Clay taking questions from the press. Watch until the end because Clay is just so freaking cute when he talks about his accent!

The 'Look What Love Has Done' organization. Eight ladies that I’ve admired for the past three years, who worked tirelessly to raise money not to meet Clay, not to draw attention to themselves, but to help children with special needs. In alphabetical order:


Ladies, stand up and take a bow!

I can’t say this enough, but I love you guys! The ones that I don’t keep in touch with anymore, I miss you, the ones who I only keep in touch with through Browneyes or Liska, hello, Browneyes and Liska…..hugs to you both! What you guys did was amazing!

During that memorable summer of 2003, most of the fandom discovered Clay’s demo CD’s. He made two, one called Look What Love Has Done, which the fundraising organization took their name from, and Redefined. He actually put a third demo CD together combining his favorite songs from the first two, called Look What Love Has Done, Volume II. If you’re lucky, you may still find a copy or two for sale on e-bay for hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

During this time, The American Idol Tour as rolling across America………

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

That voice could not be denied..In the beginning....Part 2

During American Idol, season 2, I was on the internet at the same time, but the only site I frequented was HGTV. You see, I had just bought my first house about a year earlier and I was getting all kinds of information on there, plus, they had this thing called a message board where you could go and talk about plumbing or spackling or electric and get some good advice from experts. I had no clue that there were message boards in cyberspace for other things, I thought it was unique to HGTV. I was wrong.

One of the message boards on HGTV was called Special Interests and I found it very enlightening because we talked about all kinds of things, not just home improvements. We went through the 2000 election sparring with each other, depending on who you were for, Bush or Gore. That was interesting and fun. I started giving reviews of each AI episode, what each Finalist sang, how they sounded, what the judges said, and each week, my Clay love got
stronger and stronger. One of the posters on the board was from Raleigh, Clay’s hometown, and she directed me to a message board called Bolt. So I went and that was my first forage into the wide world of internet message boards. I read about American Idol there for around a week, but the posts moved so fast it drove me nuts. Somehow I found a message board called “That’s the Clay”. It was all about Clay 24/7. All about his voice, his songs, his persona, his performances, the judges and what they said to him. I started reading and eventually made a few friends. Who would have thought that one could make friends on the internet? Not me, no way. But I did.

There were thousands of Clay fans on that message board. It wasn’t just me. I was learning something everyday. We all started to get friendly and talked mostly about Clay, but about other things, too. Like his charities, our families, our likes and dislikes, our pets.

Then Clay didn’t win.

Watch Clay singing Bridge Over Troubled Water once again and ponder the fact that Clay 'lost'.

About half way through the last show, I had a feeling that Clay was going to lose. Sure enough, he did. I was numb. I walked around my house for an hour, back and forth, back and forth. Then I cried. Not big hacking tears, but softly sobbing because Clay didn’t win. How could he have lost? Was there an anti-matter shift with the matrix that jarred the time/space continuum out of alignment? The next day, work was pretty horrible. I was feeling down all day.

I had to ask myself ‘Why’? This was a young man who had a great voice. That’s all. I didn’t know him; I’d never met him and probably never would. So why did I feel this shook up? Why was I this upset? Why did it affect me so much? Therein lies the mystery of Clay Aiken. Why him and why now? All I know is that I didn’t want to lose him. I couldn’t imagine never hearing him sing again. All I knew was that the runner-up in the first season faded from the public, but I didn’t want that for Clay, or for me. Little did I imagine that not only would Clay NOT fade from my life, but that I’d see more of him than I could have hoped for.

After the show was over, Clay was all over the morning TV shows, in many magazines and radio interviews, on Larry King Live, on Oprah. Enjoy the memory of those early appearances on........

Oprah, where Clay's hair was product-challenged.

GMA, where fan-girly Diane Sawyer swooned all over Clay.

The Today Show, when Katie couldn't remove the grin from her face.

Live with Regis and Kelly, where Kelly spouted some inane comments.

On June 10th, Clay's CD single, 'This is the Night' was released. Oh, man, how we longed for that CD. How anxious we were to get our hands on it. One of my co-workers volunteered to go to Walmart’s before work that morning and picked a CD up for all who wanted one. I remember ripping that cellophane off and throwing that sucker into my CD player. I was lucky I got any work done that day. Clay sold about 393,000 singles, unheard of in this current musical landscape. It was the best-selling single of the Soundscan era, with the exception of Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’ which he re-released to commemorate Princess Diana’s death.

Watch Clay sing 'This is the night' on GMA in June, 2003

I also remember calling up radio stations to request Clay on the radio. We all did, all the message board posters. We were laughed at. Or mocked. Or scorned. Maybe American Idol was too new to leave any kind of impression on these DJ’s and Program Directors. Maybe Clay was unproven. Maybe the demographic of Clay’s fans weren’t the demographic that radio wanted listening to their programs. Maybe RCA didn’t throw enough promotional dollars behind the CD.

Maybe the sky is green.

All I know is that Clay Aiken, with the best-selling CD single in ten years, had trouble getting radio play. Which is really another story altogether because radio airwaves are the property of the public and the public wanted to hear Clay Aiken on the radio.

I want to hear Clay on the radio. I think that America deserves to hear that voice on the radio. The summer of 2003 was not a particularly fun radio experience for most of us. But all was still well because Clay was out there, doing his thing and we were eating up every.single.word. out of his mouth and we were buying all the magazines that he appeared in…………Stay tuned for the next installment!

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

That voice could not be denied..In the beginning....Part 1

That voice could not be denied

I’ve been meaning to chart my journey into the World of Clay for a few years. At first, I thought I’d do scrapbooks, but it’s expensive just purchasing all the supplies, so then I thought I’d write a journal, and I will, but for now, I’m going to chart it on my blog.

I will be using the words ‘we’ and ‘I’ intermingled because this experience was not only mine, but that of (some of) the Clay Nation, too.

Summer, 2002…

I was flipping through channels and came upon this show with some really bad singers and this English guy being pretty nasty to them. However, every once and a while, there would be a really good singer that was ‘chosen’, so I watched it. That was the very first episode of American Idol, Season 1.

I really enjoyed this show. My best friend and I watched it together over the phone and we had our favorites:
Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, Tamyra Gray, Nikki McKibbin. We watched the entire season and were shocked, as was America, that Tamyra Gray was voted off way too early. The Finale was between Kelly and Justin and by the last three shows, Kelly proved to be the superior singer and won the show. Her ‘coronation’ song, ‘A Moment Like This’ went on to radio success, but the movie she and Justin made, ‘From Justin to Kelly’, flopped badly. We’d hear more from Kelly in the future, we were sure.

Winter, 2003…

When the second season started, I was glued in front of my TV, hoping to enjoy the show as much as I did the first season. I was not disappointed. Then came January 28, 2003, when the show aired the Atlanta auditions. Out walked this skinny guy, all arms and elbows, dressed a bit ‘differently’ than most of the guys who auditioned for American Idol, exclaiming with a charming southern accent, “Ah am The American Ahdol”. I thought that he was there as a ringer and that Simon would rip him a new asshole.

Then he opened his mouth and sang:

Take time to tell me
You really care
And we’ll share tomorrow
Baby, I’ll always love you
For – ever

Watch it again:

Only nineteen words and I was a goner. He got me, hook, line, and sinker. My friend and I called each other up on the phone and said, “Did you HEAR that guy’s voice?” We couldn’t believe that voice came out of that body! As the auditions progressed I had my favorites, Kim Locke, Frenchie Davis,who went on to star in Rent, Ruben, and Clay. In fact, since I love strong, powerful female voices, I loved Kim and Frenchie to distraction. Alas, Frenchy was asked to leave the show so my female love settled on Kim Locke and her marvelous voice. Kim, Ruben, and Clay were all part of Group 2 but only two people from each of four groups were allowed to go through. Kim, Ruben, and Clay had the most votes, but Clay was sent home, while Ruben and Kim went on to be part of the Top Eight. I couldn’t believe that Clay was sent home. In my opinion, he was much better than the two that were chosen from the first group, Julia DeMato and Charles Grigsby. There was nothing I could do about it.

But there was a hitch. The judges each picked a ‘favorite’ to put through as a Wild Card and America got to vote for the last one to be put through, making the Top Eight, a Top Twelve. One guess who America voted in.

That voice could not be denied.

Watch Clay sing "Don't Let the Sun go Down on Me":

Each week, I watched Clay come out and sing. Each week, he knocked it out of the ball park. Each week, he got better and better. I still loved K-Lo, but my Clay love was growing and growing. Until he sang Solitaire. Oh. My. God. I can’t describe what the song did to me. That song and that performance turned Clay from a cute boy with a great voice into a sensual man who was confident in himself and his talent. It was in his eyes. It was in his demeanor, the way he carried himself. That was also the episode that changed the focus of American Idol from The Simon Cowell show into the Clay Aiken show. Clay turned into a star that night.

Watch Clay sing 'Solitaire'

Stay tuned for part 2

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

DJ's and radio respect

OK. If you read my blog about Clay and radio play, you know that radio has never been that friendly to Mr. Aiken. Invisible got some nice airplay, but a lot of DJ’s mocked Clay. What I never understood was, why? That Clay can sing is undeniable, that his talent can compete with the very best out there, is understood. So why do these DJ’s mock and ridicule?

I think American Idol was considered to be nothing more than a karaoke bar reject, just taken to a larger stage. Kelly Clarkson, who won Season 1, hadn’t proved herself by the time Season 2 was aired. Even though the Clay/Ruben finale was the most talked about TV ‘moment’ for at least a year afterwards, again, the show and its ‘stars’ were unproven.

At least that’s what the media said. The media kept saying, “They haven’t paid their dues”. What dues? You mean playing in bars for 20 years before getting your big chance? That’s OK, if you’re in a band but what if you’re a solo artist? Where do you go? Broadway? Vegas? Hollywood? Waiting tables while trying to get gigs and going on auditions? I admire those people for doing that, but it doesn’t mean that others who chose a different way of doing things are any better or any worse and it doesn’t mean they haven’t paid their dues.

Some people realize that trying for the elusive brass ring is such a long shot that they made contingent plans, like teaching, or nursing. But looking towards one’s future realistically also doesn’t mean that they stopped doing community theater, or singing in church, or singing at weddings, or at the local bowling lanes.

Being on a show like American Idol makes the public think that the singers decide to appear on the show for a lark and go after instant fame. Maybe for some of them, but most of the contestants do have previous experience, they have paid their dues.

Which brings me right back around to Clay Aiken. Clay started singing when he was about three years old. He was a member of The Raleigh Boys Choir, he sang in high school, he was a member of a band called ‘Just by Chance’, he sang in community theater, he sang for the Johnson County Community Shows and Hometown Connection shows. Not paid his dues. Pah-leeze.

Anyway, I’ve been reading about how DJ’s are now starting to say nice things about Clay, as evidenced below, thanks to Inviible926:

I was listening to Kidd's show last week during my commute to Baton Rouge. It was a few days after the AI finale. The topic of discussion was ‘style’ vs ‘substance; substance being real vocal talent.

Kidd and his crew agree that Taylor won purely because of style. They weren’t too impressed with his voice. They felt that Kat got as far as she did because of substance. All of a sudden, I heard ‘Invisible’ playing and Kidd said that guy is 100% substance. He won because he can sing his butt off!!! Clay’s name was never mentioned. Kid’s tone was very complimentary. They talked about a few more past contestants, but Clay was the only one for whom they played a snippet of a song.

Kidd wasn’t the only DJ to speak well of Clay. So why is this changing? Why the shift in attitude? I think some of it has to do with American Idol being in its fifth season. It has stood the test of time. Some of the contestants are now very successful, not only Clay, but Kelly has had phenomenal success, Carrie Underwood is doing quite well, so is Fantasia and Ruben, not to mention Josh Gracin, Kimberley Locke and Bo Bice.

Obviously, from the name of my blog, you can see that I’m a Clay fan so this makes me very happy, but it also bodes well for others who take an unconventional path to success in their careers.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bruce Springsteen and Clay Aiken...my two loves

Go figure. My two favorite musicians are Bruce Springsteen and Clay Aiken. Musically, two diametrically opposed guys. So why do I love them both?

I remember hearing Bruce for the first time in the early 80’s. Dancing in the Dark. Loved the song, loved the video, bought the album and I’ve been a fan ever since. His music speaks to me, his passion speaks to me, his songwriting speaks to me. I can get lost in his music. I wish that I would have heard of him in the mid-seventies because that decade I spent going down the shore and hitting the clubs. Sure as shooting, I would have hit the Stone Pony or any of the Jersey bars that Bruce used to play. From his early efforts to the new Pete Seeger album, Springsteen’s passion, the quality of his work, and the always excellent band he has backing him fill a place in my heart that yearns to rock out on stage with him.

Although I never saw Bruce in concert, I’ve heard, and seen in some videos, that his concerts are freaking amazing. Here’s a man who can hold 20,000 fans in the palm of his hand for three hours while he rocks the night.

Enjoy Bruce singing “Born in the USA”

And another early favorite, “She’s the One”. The first three to four minutes are just Bruce jamming with his band. He starts the song about 4 minutes into the video.

The first time I heard Clay was on American Idol. It was the Atlanta audition and out walks this skinny guy, all arms and elbows, proudly proclaiming “Ah’m the next American Ahdol”. Having watched the first season of the show, I knew that the auditions were the place for the judges to mock, bash, and generally insult the bad singers. I thought that Clay was a ringer and said to myself, “Simon’s gonna rip him a new asshole”. Well, the joke was on me because Clay Aiken opened his mouth to sing and he grabbed me at “Take”.

Each week that Clay sang, I fell for him a little bit more. His voice was undeniably one of the best I’ve ever heard and his personality seemed to sparkle through his eyes. It’s hard to put it into words but he grabbed my heart, along with my ears *g* and three years later, I’m still here, still loving the vox and the man.

His growth in the past three years has been amazing. He’s grown vocally from a good singer who belted out his songs into a consummate vocalist who explores the nuances of a melody and evokes an emotion from the lyrics that grabs you and doesn’t let go.

Please enjoy this video of Clay singing
Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love me”. The beautiful, jazzy piano intro takes up the first two minutes of the video.

And watch Clay sing "Back for More" at the same concert, by the same videographer, the fabulous Spotlightlover. Watch the mic throw at 2:04.

Bruce just released his critically acclaimed album, "The Seeger Sessions" and while we're still waiting news of the release of Clay's third CD, we expect it QUITE soon.

So there you have it, Clay and Bruce, totally different, but I love them both. Go figure.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Homophobia in America

I never realized how widespread homophobia in America is until I started following Clay Aiken.

I watched Clay on American Idol Season 2 and fell in love with his voice and his persona. He was a nice guy who could sing his ass off. It wasn’t until I went on the internet did I realize how many homophobic jokes there were. About Clay. About Tom Cruise. About Keanu Reeves. About Kevin Spacey. And now about Taylor Hicks. The list goes on and on. What the hell was going on?

I watched some of the late night talk shows and heard sophomoric, bathroom, frathouse jokes about being gay. Unfortunately, these weren’t even funny jokes. Do people really laugh at Conan? Why? That is the most unfunny man I’ve ever seen. His ‘humor’ is what I laughed at when I was in 6th grade. I’ve grown up, hasn’t he?

I used to love
Howard Stern in my 20’s but I’ve grown up. Hasn’t he? One thing I have to say about Howard is at least he’s an equal opportunity basher. Doesn’t matter if one is gay or a horn dog, he’ll bash it.

I guess I just don’t understand what is so funny about being gay. What is so funny about living a lifestyle where one is mocked, ridiculed, doesn’t have equal rights under the law as their straight peers do, can’t get married, can’t share their partner’s health care insurance? It’s not funny, it’s pathetically sad that in this country, arguably one of the most progressive countries in the world, we still mock and ridicule gays.

Why? That’s the million dollar question. Is it because being gay is funny? Is it titillating? I think, without any degrees to back me up, that the people who mock gays are so insecure in their own skin that they have to put up a front, they have to mock, they have to bully, in order to make them feel good about themselves. In fact, it’s no different than schoolyard bullies, except the stakes are higher.

Clay Aiken, Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves, they’ve all said they’re straight. Why can’t we let them self-identify? Why don’t we take their word for it? Could it be because some people find it fun to call them names? Do they get attention for making fun of them? Are they that insecure that the only way they can feel good about themselves is to make fun of other people?

That’s sad. That’s pathetically sad. With the Congress all set to vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages, our illustrious President is making speeches supporting the amendment. Good call, Bush, spend time debating this issue and let the gas prices rise higher and higher, let our senior citizens live in poverty, let our children go without health care.

All because America is homophobic.

It’s disgusting.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Is Payola alive and well? You bet it is!

Ever wonder why you hear the same songs on the radio over and over and over again? Do you ever feel if you hear a certain song one more time, you’ll pull your hair out? Yeah, me, too.

Who picks the songs we hear on the radio? Who decides which songs get played? How are these decision made? That, dear readers, took some research. I remember reading about Eliot Spitzer, the Attorney general of New York State, bringing payola charges against several record companies. Payola is a word from the 50’s.


pay•o•la n.

1. Bribery of an influential person in exchange for the promotion of a product or service, such that of disc jockeys for the promotion of records.

2. A bribe or a number of bribes given to an influential person in exchange for a promotion of a product or service: “I do not mean to imply that most Wall Street analysts typically receive payola for touting particular stocks” (Burton G. Malkiel).

I was going to put the following in my own words, but I found this on
freepress.net, and they said it better and more succinctly than I could. Check them out.

Ten Things You Need to Know about Payola

Ever get the feeling that the same terrible
Celine Dion song is on the radio every time you turn it on? It’s not your imagination. The rapid concentration of radio ownership has ushered in a new age of “payola.” Major recording labels now shower radio station owners with money and prizes to plug and play their most bankable stars, securing spins of Dion, Ricky Martin and Ashlee Simpson at the expense of struggling local acts.
There’s a catch: Payola is against the law. The New York Attorney General’s Office, Federal Communications Commission and members of Congress are investigating radio industry corruption. There’s no better time than now for music lovers to protect the radio airwaves from insatiable corporate greed and end payola once and for all.

1. What is radio payola?

For decades, radio payola has been an unpleasant fact of American music. Radio stations hold valuable broadcast licenses and are the main drivers of 75 percent of sales for the record industry. All a record exec has to do is convince popular DJs to put their artists in heavy rotation. Money has long proved the elixir of persuasion. In 1960, disc jockey Alan Freed, was indicted under commercial bribery laws for accepting $2,500 to play certain songs; he claimed the money was a “token of gratitude” that did not affect airplay. But the FCC disagreed, passing regulations that ban payola in broadcasting. The playing of music or other programming in exchange for payments is now against state and federal laws, punishable by as much as $10,000 in fines and a year in prison. To date, no one has served a day in jail on payola charges.

2. Is payola still a problem?

In many ways, it’s much worse. Shadowy independent promoters are hired by the recording industry to launder hundreds of millions in cash and prizes each year, lining the pockets of big radio broadcasters who agree to add label “hits” to playlists nationwide. Last summer, Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting — America’s two largest radio owners, controlling 42 percent of listeners — were implicated with other major radio owners in a multi-million dollar payola scheme. Investigators called this single payola case the “tip of the iceberg.”

3. How does payola work?

Payola involves the flow of money and other perks from music labels to radio stations, and, through resulting record sales, back to the labels themselves. It’s a closed loop that shuns local talent, artistic merit and listener preferences. Once involving envelopes stuffed with cash and, even, drugs, payola in 2005 has taken on new forms, including back stage passes to Michael Jackson concerts, first-class tickets to Miami, Las Vegas hotel rooms and, even, Adidas sneakers. By law, radio disc jockeys must fully disclose to their listeners whether airplay of a chosen song was paid for by promoters. They never do.

4. Do big media companies really control airplay?

The 1996 Telecommunications Act eliminated national limits on station ownership. Prior to 1996, no one radio owner held more than 65 stations; now, radio colossus Clear Channel boasts some 1,200 stations. More than 75 percent of radio market share nationwide is controlled by companies owning more than 40 radio stations. In a consolidated radio marketplace, recording labels have fewer palms to grease to get their acts on the air, even if listeners don’t want to hear them.

5. Does radio play really affect sales?

These conglomerates use redundant playlists to air a limited choice of artists, even in the same markets. Commercial airwaves are flooded by only those artists that are acceptable to the corporations that profit from their sales. And more than 80 percent of the $12 billion in annual music sales are controlled by the four largest labels — Sony BMG, EMI, Universal and Warner Music Group. When consolidated radio and recording labels control the music industry, musical diversity suffers.

6. Doesn’t payola help musicians?

On average, performers see only $1 out of the $16 retail price paid by consumers for a CD. The bulk of sales revenue returns to the record labels, and through them to the promoters and big radio. This closed loop feeds the insatiable appetites of greedy recording labels and radio broadcasters. Big label artists see little of these profits. Independent musicians are even worse off. The corporate control of promotion, sales and airplay almost entirely prevents local artists from competing in the mainstream.

7. Aren’t big radio companies and labels just giving listeners what they want?

In a 2002 survey by the Future of Music Coalition, 78 percent of listeners said they want more variety on the air. More than half of survey respondents (51 percent) said that, at most, they only occasionally hear the music they enjoy the most when listening to the radio. Yet the radio behemoths continue to force feed listeners a mind-numbing stew of focus-group tested “urban,” “classic rock” and “easy listening” formats.

8. Don’t stations have a right to play whatever they want — even if it’s bland corporate tunes?

The airwaves belong to the public, not to media companies with the fattest wallets. The vitality of radio is sapped when music is selected based on bribes rather than merit. Big media owe it to the American public – and especially the music lovers and creative artists who are hurt most by payola — to end this deception. Radio stations receive free licenses to broadcast on public airwaves in exchange for an agreement to serve their communities’ best interests. They are supposed to put the public’s needs before their bottom line. Unfortunately, none do.

9. How can payola be stopped?

While anti-payola statutes have been in place for 40 years, recent developments offer the best chance in years to throw the book at payola once and for all.
• In July, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer reached a multimillion-dollar payola settlement against Sony BMG. Spitzer’s office is now investigating reported payola deals between other large recording labels (including EMI Group, Vivendi, Warner Music and Universal) and the nation’s biggest radio station chains (including Infinity Broadcasting, Clear Channel Communications, Emmis Communications and Cox Radio).
• In August, the FCC launched an investigation into payola allegations involving stations owned by Clear Channel, Infinity and other radio giants. FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has called for an overhaul of toothless payola rules.
• In November 2005, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) introduced legislation, the “Radio and Concert Disclosure and Competition Act of 2005,” expanding the definition of payola to eliminate the inside dealing and structural abuses in consolidated radio, which have locked local and independent artists off the airwaves for years.

10. How can I make a difference?

this freepress website for more information.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Clay is a Conundrum

I wrote this article for Beavers on Idol on October 31, 2004. Enjoy.

He's both simple and complex. He's open, yet he protects his privacy. He's a sexy beast on stage and a humble man off stage. He uses the royal "We' when speaking of his accomplishments, but everything he's done in this fledgling career of his, he's done by working his tail off, every day, day in and day out. He's goofy, yet incredibly appealing to all ages. He calls himself a nerd, yet his personality sparkles with wit and intelligence. When Clay Aiken talks, his fans listen.

Physically, he's one of the most beautiful creatures to ever walk the face of the planet. Just look at his face in pictures taken of him at his work. It is not only gorgeous, it radiates happiness and joy. This is a man who loves what he is doing. He has said, "To me, singing is the single most joyous thing a person can do." That sentiment shows on his face every time he sings. But more than just looks, it's the joy and love that radiate from his heart. A Raleighite said of Clay last weekend, "He's never met a stranger." That says so much about the kind of man he is. He's not perfect, he has his foibles and temper tantrums, he's quick to judgment, and maybe a tad impatient, but he seems to be a fair man, a good man, a decent man.

Clay loves kids. He wanted to be a Special Education teacher, helping children with developmental disabilities. He also loved singing. I wonder how much he was torn between his two loves? He ditched his last semester of college to audition for, and eventually appear on, American Idol. As he progressed into the show and experienced the effects of fame while doing something he loved, the singing part of his heart was satisfied, but what about the part of his heart that loved children? Clay saw the consequences of fame; he knew he could use his new-found fame for a higher cause than just being famous. He started The Bubel-Aiken Foundation.

You see, Clay wasn't idle during his down times on the American Idol 2 concert tour, he was finishing his college degree by taking long-distance courses. His project? To create a fictional foundation on paper and show a need for it. Not only did he complete his fictional project, he turned it into a reality - a very successful reality. He figured out a way to meld the two loves of his life, children and music.

Oh, and by the way,
he graduated college in December, 2003.

His fans want to know more about Clay Aiken; how he thinks, what he thinks. We want more details about his life. Clay has said that his life is an open book, yet his fans yearn for more, more and more. In November, his life will literally become an open book as he releases "Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life." Clay has said the book is an inspirational book about the people who have influenced him in his life, about some tough times he's endured and how he's dealt with them. He said he hopes it helps kids deal with the same things he may have had to deal with.

Clay's Internet fans have already been given snippets of passages from advanced copies of the book. This book of his will have his fans trying to demystify the conundrum for months and months to come. His childhood, his upbringing, his faith, his music, his take on life both before and after American Idol. Because his fan base is so diverse, many fans will absolutely love everything Clay has to say. Others will find themselves nodding in agreement or shaking their head in denial. And yet others will find things to pick apart. All of us are grateful that Clay (along with Allison Glock) chose to write this book for his fans, and maybe, a little, for himself.

But no matter what he says, no matter how much we may roll our eyes at some of the things he will tell us, no matter how different his upbringing is from ours, we have that glorious voice to fill our hearts, hopefully, forever. And if he continues to be the kind of man I think he is, we will have our 'idol' for the ages.

Watch Clay sing "Measure of a man" in Wilkes-Barre from 2004.

This November will be an embarrassment of riches for Clay's fans. Not only will we see the book with an audio tape, he is also releasing a Christmas album, tentatively titled "Merry Christmas, With Love." His "Joyful Noise" Christmas Tour, with orchestra, is already selling out in many venues, and he has numerous television appearances scheduled. And next year, we look forward to getting his sophomore CD.

It is this author's humble opinion that what we've seen so far of Clay Aiken's talent is just a small part of what he is capable of doing. As he grows, both personally and professionally, his life experiences will influence his choices in both music and in how he lives his life. Those experiences and conundrums are what make Clay Aiken so fascinating and complex.
There's a quote by Douglas Adams that I've seen used as a signature by a poster on one of the Clay Aiken message boards. It seems to fit him so perfectly: "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be."

Addenum: I think that Clay's appearance on
American Idol has made his fans even MORE anxious to see what's in store for us, both musically and personally. I know I am.

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