Monday, September 24, 2007

Clay Aiken: What's next?

Clay Aiken is at a crossroad in his career. He released a pop album in 2003, a Christmas album in 2004, and a covers album in 2006. He's toured nine times and he appears on countless TV shows. He's definitely a TV personality and as an entertainer he's garnering an excellent reputation as a live act who can sell tickets and put butts in the seat. So, what's next?

Clay has told us that he's working on a new CD and he has said that they are aiming for a Spring 2008 release date. His last CD was filled with cover songs, apparently a mandate from Clive Davis. From what I understand, Clay fought hard to include four original songs on the CD and two songs available by download only, 'If You Don't Know Me By Now' and the incredibly plaintive, Aiken-penned 'Lover All Alone'.

From some of Clay's remarks in his meet & greets during this last concert tour, it will be a CD of originals and, so far, he and RCA are on the same page.

Let's take a quick look back before we anticipate the future.

2003: Clay competed on American Idol and ended up in second place when Ruben Studdard triumphed as the Season 2 winner. There has been a lot of controversy over who really won that year because the vote was so close. Ruben has a wonderful voice, but something tells me that a lot of Clay fans just couldn't get through the inadequate phone lines.

After the show, Clay took off like a "rocketship to the stars' (tm Diane Sawyer). He toured the country with the AI2 tour, cut his first CD, 'Measure of a Man', which sold 613,000 copies the first week and was certified double platinum after the first week sales. He recorded a PrimeTime Live interview with Diane Sawyer, appeared on Oprah with Ruben and Season 1's Justin Guarini, appeared on countless TV shows, was on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, won a few awards, and ended the year touring with the Jingle Ball tour of various acts.

2004: In Spring, Clay embarked on his first co-head-lining tour with Kelly Clarkson which made it's way across America. Later that summer, he toured again by himself, his first solo tour, with the fan-titled 'Not-a-Tour' or NaT, due to the fact that his PR person told a few fans that it was not a tour, just a few 'spot' dates, which then escalated into a full-blown tour.

In the fall, Clay released a book that he co-wrote with Alison Glock called "Learning to Sing, Hearing the Music in Your Life" that went to Number 2 on the New York Times Bestseller list and he followed that with his first Christmas album, 'Merry Christmas, With Love", which was the best-selling Christmas album of the year. Clay toured the Christmas CD calling the tour 'The Joyful Noise Tour', or JNT04, his first Christmas tour.

2005: The beginning of 2005 saw Clay take a step back from the spotlight, perhaps recharging his batteries after the whirlwind of 2003 & 2004. Unbeknownst to the fans, he was putting together his most ambitious tour of the time, the 'Jukebox' Tour, a musical journey through six decades of pop music, from Buddy Holly to Elvis to The Beatles to disco to Prince to Heart to the Goo-Goo Dolls to his own music. It was a musical marriage of talent and entertainment that far surpassed anything he had done previously.

Clay toured his second Christmas Tour at the end of the year, this time by doing a musical play filled with vignettes that told the tale of a woman whose heart was opened through the friendship of a small boy and the love of her family and friends.

2006: We were expecting Clay's sophomore CD in 2006 and we heard rumblings that it would be a cover album of the greatest love songs. The fans want to hear Clay sing every song ever recorded but mostly, we want Clay to sing his OWN songs, so some of the fans were disappointed, yet others were ecstatic after hearing the tracks. The CD, 'A Thousand Different Ways', was released on September 19th with a kick-off on GMA. Clay sold over 200,00 the first week with sales totals to date of around 512,000. The CD went gold, but many considered it a disappointment when comparing it to the sales of 'Measure of a Man'.

Clay also mounted his third Christmas tour, this time, as a guest vocalist of many symphony orchestras, where they played the first half of the concert and Clay sang the second half. He also introduced banter in-between songs. Funny banter. Side-splittingly funny banter. Who knew that Clay Aiken could add stand-up comedian to his resume? The man is quick with a quip, plays to the audience while engaging them as part of his act, and is endearingly self-ingratiating. Clay released an EP consisting of four Christmas songs, Called 'All is Well' sold exclusively at Walmart. It sold out almost immediately and the title song is a vocal tour-de-force.

2007: Clay went on his 9th tour, the 'Symphony' tour, or, the Soft Rock and a Hard Place Tour in the summer of 2007. He performed with symphonies again because he loves the sound but realized that he couldn't sing just sloooooooow songs, so he mixed it up by doing a medley of TV Theme songs in the first half that got the audience singing along and laughing out loud at his George Jefferson parody. In the 2nd half, he performed a series of songs that one would never think could be done with a symphony. Songs like Justin Timberlake's 'Sexyback', Usher's 'Yeah', and Michael Jackson's 'Beat It', among others, which got the audience on it's feet, dancing and clapping and generally having a fantastic time. Oh, and he bantered some more and had us laughing so hard that we were crying.

So.........what's next for Clay Aiken? Some fans are speculating that what he does next may offer a glimpse of what we will be seeing for the next 5 years or so. What I do know is Clay Aiken is talented and versatile and quick and charming and has one of the best voices in the world. I'd love to hear him on the radio. I'd love if he wrote more songs and I can't wait to discover what next he has in store for us.

Bring it, Clay!

As usual, thanks to all the Clackgatherers. Your contribution to this fandom is immeasurable.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In Loving Memory: Joan McGhee Marbrey


In the quiet afternoon hours of Tuesday, September 18, 2007, Joan McGhee Marbrey slipped away from her family and friends to a place of eternal peace.
She was deeply loved and will be sorely missed.
Living on to cherish her memory are those to whom she devoted her life's work; husband, Larry Wayne Marbrey; her daughters, Yvette and her husband, Joel Rich, and Yvonne and her husband, Bruce King; her grandchildren, Brittany and Bailey King, Justin and Ashlyn Rich; her mother, Amaryllis Howard McGhee; her brother, Richard and his wife, Nancy McGhee; her sister, Donna Mcghee.
She is preceded in death by her father, Roscoe Wiley McGhee.
Joan also leaves behind numerous loving friends.

Tonight my heart is heavy with the news of the passing of Joan McGhee Marbrey. May her family and friends find comfort in her loving memory. This evening, many hearts are thinking of Joan's family and, perhaps, their own families, as well.

May you rest in peace, Joan.

Picture courtesy of the ofc.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Clay Aiken & Michael Buble, a Study in Contrasts

This was an article written by Dianne Austin and published on

Aiken and Buble—A “Diva” and “Geek” Play the Greek

I saw Aiken first. It was different than past concerts for the former AI star. This show sported no frills, bells or whistles (except those that went off in the minds of the Claymates of course). Unlike Clay’s last tour (Jukebox) that had him running from one era of rock n’ roll to the next while he ran from one end of the stage to the other , this was a really bare bones presentation. This time Aiken rested on his laurels and relied on the pure power and clarity of his voice to carry the show.

Did it work? You betchya! If there’s anyone who can pull off a show of this kind, Aiken can. He does it by simply singing. The only extras we got were his southern boy gift of gab and somewhat corny/dork sense of humor coming out in a medley that spoofed the fact that he is not “cool.”

Clay is clever enough to make his country boy image still work, and more than ever, he seems to be happy with who he is and what he’s about. He still wears his heart on his sleeve and it’s this fact and a down to earth demeanor that are so obviously infused into his pop persona now. Early Aiken showed a bit of a struggle with how he should present himself, but it’s clear now who he is--what he gets from his music, his fans, and his life’s work.

Mainstays Quiana Parler and Angela Fisher were there as always to back him with vocals and then take center stage to do their own solos. They continue to add beauty, fun, and talent to any evening with Clay. The two women also help the artist get a reprieve each night for just a few minutes when they become the featured soloists and Aiken gets a chance to rest his voice.

The highlight for me was when the artist performed a song he wrote the lyrics to: “Lover All Alone.” Producer David Foster wrote the music and the collaboration resulted in a piece that should draw serious attention for Grammy consideration. Will it though? Probably not—it was recorded only on a bonus track for Aiken’s last CD entitled “A Thousand Different Ways” and hasn’t been heard much. Still, if a tree falls in the forest. . .?? Yes, for me, it does make a sound. And trust me, the sound of Aiken singing “Lover All Alone” is something else.

Speaking of David Foster, here’s another commonality that Buble and Aiken share. Foster produces Michael Buble. So there you go!

I went to see Buble at the Greek a couple of weeks after I'd seen Aiken perform. He played to a sold-out crowd and it was magical. Michael’s presence and true vocal tone backed by his very BIG band were enough to send me. That kind of music under the stars just seems to be the sort of thing that makes people happy. And Michael Buble milks it for all it’s worth.

Sophisticated and savvy, sexy and smart—all those things that girls love—that’s what this young artist exudes. His voice? While not coming close to the power and precision of Aiken’s, it’s good. Buble has a keen tonal quality with a gift for hitting those bottom notes effortlessly. He delivers his big band style of singing with confidence and flare in the clipped, staccato manner that so becomes this genre of music. Michael is slick. He gives a lot, but he makes it all look so easy.

Yet Aiken is the opposite in this respect. When you’re through with one of his concerts, you have the sensation of being elated yet drained, of having soared someplace otherworldly, yet being set firmly back down on the ground. Aiken works hard at what he does. The sound comes out of his throat without trying, but the intensity with which he delivers the piece is so thick you can cut it with a knife. We’re not always there for the fun of it with Clay, we’re often there to feel the blood, sweat and tears he seems to draw upon when he performs as well.

But back to the boys’ similarities. Well, they’re about the same age—both in the “approaching 30” range. Ironically, however, they exhibit opposite traits with respect to age. Whereas Buble seems older, more mature, worldly and experienced for his age, Aiken exudes youth—innocence, boyish silliness, and naivete. There is even, at times, a bit of immaturity about him. Not so with Buble—he seems to have been around the block a few times, at least. But their age related characteristics seem to fit and are becoming to them, especially considering the type of music each performs. Buble seems older which lends itself well to the “rat-pack” reminiscence. Aiken appears younger with a vulnerability and innocence that envelopes the heart when you hear him croon those lover’s ballads.

Is there anything else we can compare between the two pop stars? Yes--neither one is very graceful when it comes to dancing. Clay has always claimed he can’t dance, and although he shows an ability to learn some of the moves, he does have two really big feet that can get in his way at times. Buble thinks he’s great at it (so it seems), judging from the way in which he attacks the chore, but in actuality, his large frame gives a bit of a hulky, somewhat awkward look when he tries accentuating the blaring horn-blowing notes on the upbeat with his body. He’s getting there though. He skids across the floor in his designer suits and Italian shoes and looks like he’s having one heck of a party up there doing it. One doesn’t get the impression that he’s working hard—just that he’s having fun.

We all know that Aiken is a self proclaimed geek. But did you know that Michael is supposed to be a diva? He may not have admitted it himself, but his slide trombonist does some quick schtick in the show telling us he’s nothing but.

Geeks and divas at the Greek: what’s the world coming to? Who would’ve guessed that two very different yet talented crooners who are just about the same age would be delighting audiences with their voices within weeks of each other at L.A.’s most wonderful outdoor arena?

Well, it was a bit confusing, yet oh so gratifying.

And then I went to see UB40 at the Greek last week. But that’s another story.

Dianne Austin--Columnist and Freelance Writer