Thursday, December 25, 2008

Clay Aiken: Merry Christmas, with Love, v. 2008

It's just another Christmas day. Every year, I eat dinner at my brother's house with my nephew, bro's roommates and a few friends, this year is no different except my nephew crashed his car last night and couldn't make it. He's fine but the car is not.

Dinner was wonderful; we had a filet and a spiral ham with baked potatoes and The Salad. Note the capitals for 'The Salad' because it's the best freaking salad in the entire world, bar none. We don't make it too often, it's very expensive to make with about $10.00 worth of pine nuts, but worth every penny.

Every holiday we visit my dad in the nursing home, but he passed away this past September and he's in a better place now.

I don't have a big family. One brother here, one brother in Houston, two cousins close by. The holidays aren't a big deal to me, in fact, I can truthfully say that they really don't mean anything to me, just another day to get by, eat a good dinner, and get together with the few relatives in my life.

I look back at Christmases past and think of the good times we had as children. I remember the year my dad was putting toys together at 3:00 am and didn't have a tool so he threw on an old ratty coat, got in his car and drove to his store to get what he needed. The cops saw him jiggling the lock, trying to get the key in the door and almost arrested him for breaking and entering. And the year the angel hair over the fireplace caught fire. My mom yelled out 'the house is on fire' and ran out, leaving all of us to deal with it. Or the year when she persuaded my father to put up all green and blue lights around the roof of the house and once he had them up, she didn't like them so he took them all down and put up the multicolored ones.

I remember the year I had my tonsils out and the next morning waking up with a nose bleed, a serious nose bleed where the blood was pouring out of my nose. My older brother took me into the bathroom and woke my parents. I ruined the brand new carpet that year and it had to be replaced.

I remember the year I got my piano. I was 9-1/2 and my dad's delivery men brought it over on Christmas Eve in a snow storm. My eyes were bigger than the moon that year. I remember the year that I got my first pair of skis. My first record player, my first TV. Funny, though, I never got that pony that I wanted so badly. I remember that every year we got our dad a pair of munsingwear pajamas and a tie. He had so many freaking ties!

This year, as I have the past five Christmases, I think about how my life has changed because of Clay Aiken. I remember going to my first concert in 20 years to see him, then of, course, I had to go again. And again. And again. 52 appearances later, I'm still planning on going to more. I've made so many friends and acquaintances because of Clay Aiken and this incredible fandom that has sprung up out of nowhere. I've discovered message boards and have met so many wonderful people at the concerts and pre and post-concert parties. I've seen some of my friends go to college, graduate, and get married! Others have passed away in the prime of their lives. Some live charmed lives yet others have problems that have made them stronger.

This year was a special treat for those of us who live close to NYC because Clay is starring on Broadway in 'Monty Python's Spamalot' as Sir Robin. He started on January 18th, took a break over the summer when his baby was born, then resumed the role in September. He'll play Sir Robin through January 4th, 2009. I've seen the show about 10 times. Yes, each show is a bit different because the actors get to do some ad-libbing in spots and I've grown fond of the ensemble. The show is closing for good on January 11th, 2009 and they will be sorely missed.

Oh, yeah, something is a bit different in Clay Nation. In August, Clay had a baby boy named Parker with his 'dear friend', Jaymes Foster, sister of David Foster, and Clay came out of the closet and is living openly as a proud gay man. So while some perspective has shifted, for the most part, nothing has really changed except we have to share Clay with his baby. I, for one, am thrilled that he has the child he's always wanted and I'm very proud of him for coming out so publicly. It's hard enough to tell your religious family, especially the older generations, but to have to worry whether or not he'd still have a career left....well, that's courage.

The cookies have been eaten, the leftovers are in the refrigerator, my dog is asleep at my feet. All I have left to do tonight are some dishes in the sink.

I assume that Clay has spent this Christmas holiday with his family, either blood relatives or his theater family and blogging about the need for education for UNICEF. He's a good man with a good heart.

Clay, I'd offer you one of my chocolate chip, white chocolate chip, raspberry chocolate chip, macadamia nut cookies, but that would kill you, so *smack* hands out of the cookie jar!

Merry Christmas to my fellow Clay fans. I'll leave you with this message from Clay:

She leaned with her head on the window
Watching evergreen bend in the snow
Remembering Christmas the way it had been
So many seasons ago.

When children would reach for their stockings
And open the presents they found
The lights on the tree would shine bright in their eyes
Reflecting the love all around.

This year there's no one to open the gifts
No reason for trimming the tree
And just as a tear made it's way to the floor
She heard voices outside start to sing.

Merry Christmas to all who may dwell here
Merry Christmas if even just one
May the joy of the season surround you
Merry Christmas with love.

Carolers sang as she opened the door
Faces of friends in the crowd
And all of the shadows of lonely reminders
Driven away by the sound.

Now the heart that for years had been silent
Was suddenly filled with a song
As she clung to their hands like a child in the night
She found her self singing along.

Merry Christmas to all who may dwell here
Merry Christmas if even just one
May the joy of the season surround you
Merry Christmas with love

Friday, October 10, 2008

Michelle Obama, our next First Lady?

Well, my header does say that sometimes I'm going to talk a little about politics. The election is less than one month away so now's a good time.

I'm a Democrat. Always was, always will be. Why? The values of the Democratic party speak to me in ways that the Republicans have never been able to.

I'm a Hillary supporter. Always was, always will be. I think that woman is brilliant and she would have been a fabulous President at this time in our history. But it was not to be so I threw my support behind Barack Obama. The more I learned about him, the better I liked him. He's a smart, intelligent, caring man who I believe wants to be President because he wants to truly improve the lives of everyday Americans. I'm not blind, it is the most powerful position in the world and he's ambitious. Good for him.

However, I was never a Michelle Obama fan. I didn't dislike her, but I never 'took' to her. All that changed on Wednesday evening, when Michelle appeared on an episode of 'Larry King Live'on CNN. As I watched Michelle being interviewed, my eyes started tearing up. I had no idea why until I realized how priviledged we as a country would be if we had the honor of Michelle Obama serving as the First Lady of the United States.

First, a quick Bio:

Michelle Obama was raised in a blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago's South Side. Her father worked for the City and her mother was a secretary. Michelle attended Princeton and Harvard, earning her law degree in 1988. She was an associate in a law firm when she met Barack, in fact, she was his summer advisor. According to, Michelle worked for the Chicago city government as an assistant to the Mayor and assistant Commissioner of Planning and Developement, later becoming the Executive Director of a non-profit encouraging young people to work on social issues in nonprofit groups and government agencies.

In 1996, Michelle served as the Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago and since 2002, at the University of Chicago Hospitals in various executive roles.

Now the good stuff:

So, why did Michelle Obama affect me so much last Wednesday? Listening to her answer Larry Kings questions with grace and dignity uplifted my heart. Her intelligence shown through, as did her heart. Larry King asked Michelle how she felt about Sarah Palin. Here is Michelle's answer:

"What do you make of her running for a vice president and having many kids and being a good parent and bouncing all the balls?" King asked.

"I think she provides an excellent of example of all the different roles that women can and should play," Michelle Obama responded. "I'm a mother with kids and I've had a career and I've had to juggle. She's doing publicly what so many women are doing on their own privately. What we're fighting for is to make sure that all women have the choices that Sarah Palin and I have."

When the common ploy is to tear down an opponent, did Michelle go for the jugular? Absolutely not. Her graceful answer, in the face of what Palin hs been saying about Obama, was thoughtful and nuanced. I admire that.

When McCain referred to Obama as 'that one', did Michelle take umbrage? She said Americans "right now are scared" and "nervous about the economy."

"They don't care about the back and forth between the candidates. ... They want real answers about how we're going to fix this economy and get the health care benefits on track so, you know, this is part of politics," she added.

Watch the video

I look at the Obama family and I see love. I see a shining example of what a family should be. I see two caring parents who are raising their children as best they can to be proud, upstanding citizens and I see two adorable little girls who are a reflection on their parents values.

To borrow a phrase from Jack Nicholson, Michelle Obama makes me want to be a better person. She makes me want to live up to the example she sets, to appreciate the promise that I see in both her and Barack and I can't think of a better person to occupy the White House as our First lady.

Here's the full interview:

Saturday, October 04, 2008

An Open Letter to Clay Aiken

Clay blogged sometime in the early hours of the morning today. He has laid his soul bare to not only the general public, but to his fans, that huge entity of 'friends' that he's gathered together for the past 5 years. I've written an open letter to Clay and since he said that his blog could 'travel', I'm putting his blog below my letter to him

Dear Clay,

I wake up after a restless night's sleep and after reading your blog, the tears are streaming down my face.

I don't imagine anyone can know what the past five years were like in regards to the intrusiveness of the media into an area of your life that should have been private.

I think as far as the fans are concerned, it's the way we got to know you that makes it seem that we know you, if I'm explaining that right. As with most TV actors, we get to know them through the characters they play and if we're lucky, we learn a little about their real lives, but with you, you didn't have a character, you were Clay Aiken from the get-go. Because of that, I think the fandom, or some of us, felt that we knew you more than we think we did (and I'm not talking about sexuality). We felt we were part of your life all through American Idol, even though we weren't.

To this day, I look at you more as a 'friend' than I do an 'entertainer', right or wrong. I know you're not my friend, but I think I use that word 'friend' to convey that no matter where your career takes you, no matter how high you fly, you're still Clay Aiken, dorky kid from Raleigh with the great voice and a pee-in-your-pants humor that seems more real than fantasy. A lot of celebrities seem so far removed from every day life, but not you, Clay. You are a real person who just happens to be famous. Maybe that's not a good thing, in your eyes, in how it affects how we think of you, but I don't know if that will ever change.

I'm glad you didn't apologize for something that never should have been in the news to begin with. Shades of Bill Clinton and having to answer a question that was actually illegal to be asked of him in the first place. I can't imagine what it must have been like for you to have to tap-dance around intrusive questions while staying true to yourself and your family and still thinking of the fans.

I feel badly for the people who are having trouble assimilating this facet of you. You are correct, none of us are defined by our sexuality, we are defined by who we are and what we do. We are defined by how big our hearts are, how we treat our family and friends, how we interact with others, not by who we sleep with.

May you walk in peace for who you are, Clay, for all parts of who you are. There will be a small portion of the fandom who will leave, who may leave with bad feelings but you can't control that, you can only live your life to be true to who you are. As we all must do.

Hold your head high and know that you are loved.

This is Clay's blog from the early hours of 10/04/2008, with his permission (I've added some white space for easier reading (Clay, you really need to learn the joys of white space *g*):

10/03/08 Killing the elephants in the room.

What a week or so this has been. In fact, it's just been two weeks since I started back to the Spam. Jerome and I were just talking the other day, though, about how the past two weeks have felt like a month. So much routine to get back into and yet so much routine and consistency to break. No doubt, many of you have been going through quite a bit over the past week or so yourselves. What a bunch of headline news we have had in the past 10 days! Wall Street falling to it's knees. Congress propping it back up. Two debates. Hijackers in Somalia. New leaders in South Africa and Japan.

You'd think with all of the important events going on in the world, there would be plenty to fill up the pages of America's newspapers, websites and blogs without the need for information on the private lives of the country's singers and entertainers. But, alas, thats never the case. In fact for the last five years, I've found what seems to have been an inordinate amount of interest (not from the public, but from the media) in my own personal life. The questions never seemed to stop. Oh sure, they die down for a period, but they resurface. The wind blows another direction, and I do yet another interview worried that my personal life will become a topic of discussion.

No doubt the birth of Parker would bring the same scrutiny, just heightened. It's an interesting time we live in. Gone are the days when entertainers could go about their lives without the invasion of privacy that we now see everyday in the form of paparazzi and internet tabloid bloggers. So, in the hopes of being able to sing and act (and dance poorly) and do what I love to do for a living while raising my son in a hopefully more private and accepting environment, I chose to go ahead and confront things head on. Yes, I would have preferred to separate my personal life from my professional life. I would have been just as happy to go on without discussing my orientation. But, it seems like that was not an option.

Make no mistake, its not because I am ashamed. No, not for a minute. I haven't always been as comfortable as I am now, but I am without a doubt, proud of who I am and make no apologies for it. Instead, I would have been happy to have kept my personal life private for that very reason. Because it's personal life and I have always considered myself a private person. But, living as myself without discussing my sexuality publicly would have been as impossible. One chance to expose the truth would have been a payday for any greedy opportunist.

I went to American Idol, much like many of us did "back in the day". Naive. Unlike the contestants who join up today, we had no idea of the power and pull of Idol when we signed on. (I'm sure many of us season two folks like to think we are the reason the show got so big!!! ;-) ) There I was two months off of the biggest show in the country, sitting at a table with a reporter from Rolling Stone who was asking me every single question I would never think of. Twenty-four years old in the rest of America is a LOT younger and more naive than twenty four years old in the media business. So when this guy started asking me about things that I didn't really know how to answer for myself... things that I was not yet ready to admit to folks like my mother and my family.... things that I found intimidating and invasive, I responded in what I assumed was a benign way at the time. I attempted to "out spin" a professional. I wasn't as good as I thought I was. But, I have no regrets.

The truth is, I don't apologize for the responses I gave to that reporter or any reporter over the past five years. I did make every attempt I could after that one interview to never say "I am not gay" or "I am straight". And I never said either. (some interpreted my vague answers to mean that... but I never said either) Some will say thats misleading. In truth, it might be defined that way. But, a better definition and a more accurate way to describe it for me, is a redirection and an attempt to change the topic to something that matters more. For some of you it won't be enough, but I can't apologize for keeping my personal business to myself. If someone feels that they were mislead, I can totally understand that viewpoint and apologize for that feeling, but I can't apologize for how I handled questions that affected me and my right to privacy.

In my opinion, sexual orientation is ALWAYS a private thing. I think the OVERWHELMING majority of people agree with that. Why in the world should someone's sexual orientation be a news item? Why should anyone care? Yet, for all we espouse as a society about tolerance and open mindedness we forget to allow folks the opportunity to be who they are without judgement. Making a decision to come out to family is a difficult and heavy decision. But, for every young man or woman who is struggling with it, it should be a decision that is made on his or her own schedule ONLY. It's never acceptable for anyone to make such a decision for anyone else nor to coerce someone to take such a significant step before they are ready. Not a friend, not a stranger, not the media. So, I waited until the time was right for me. For that I can't apologize either.

There are plenty of you who have anticipated this blog in hopes that I would "set the record straight" or "admit to lying for five years and apologize for it". For that small group of people, I am afraid I will have to disappoint you. My decisions over the past five years have been made with lots of deliberation and at times even heartache. Always with concern for folks who might feel mislead. Don't doubt that. But they have also been made as an attempt, not to hide my true self, but instead to allow myself the same liberties and rights that every single gay man and woman in the world should have... the right to determine for myself when I was ready to discuss my personal life. In as much as that, at times, was interpreted as misrepresentation, I feel badly. But I reserved that right for myself and I can't say I regret it.

I have endeavored over the past several days to allow folks to vent and express themselves as freely as possible without restriction on these message boards. There is no way to change a person's mind when you tell them they are wrong. We all, when backed into a corner, have a human instinct to swing. Having different feelings and opinions and viewpoints are only natural. The only way to deal with that is to accept everyone's right to disagree, and allow them to discuss their feelings. I always have, and I always will.

That said, it hasn't been, nor do I imagine it will be, my intent to make the message boards or the OFC a clearinghouse or discussion zone for sexuality or such topics. I hope we can always continue to discuss the same things we have always found important. The need for inclusion for children with disabilities. The desire to make sure every child in the world has access to their basic needs for survival. And any other topics that will make our neighborhoods, our regions, our country and our world a better more acceptable place (where that relates to issues involving sexuality, I hope we are able to advocate, at those times for the acceptance of others)... and I hope we will all still use the message boards for the lively discussion of the need for better entertainment and music in the world!!!! ;-)

That said, as of this posting, I have asked the moderators to archive the thread regarding the People magazine article and close it from discussion. For those of you who are still struggling, I encourage you to continue to talk to your friends and neighbors and fellow OFC members in the thread devoted to such support. It is not going to be as easy as accepting something over night, but I believe that we are on the right track. The moderators will resume their regular duties of moderating the boards in the fashion that they did prior to last week, and I (and hopefully all of us) will resume our routines in the same fashion as well. Talking about music, talking about potential tours and other performances and appearances, talking about me forgetting my lines of tripping on stage in Spamalot, and discussing with our friends how many times we have seen the show and will see it! (And... looking forward to the announcement of out Playbill contest winner!!!)

Finally, I will say that, also representative of most every other gay man and woman in the world, that I am not defined by my sexuality. No more so than each of you are defined by your sexual orientation. No more than a man or woman is defined by race or ethnicity. It is, simply, a small facet of the same person I have always been. Most of you realize that nothing has changed. I hope to continue being able to entertain you in the same way I have for the past five years. And I hope you will allow me to continue to inform you of the causes that I find important and entertain you with the music and performances I love. For I love and cherish you all. Yesterday, now and forever.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

What I learned from Clay Aiken

There's quite a discussion going on on Clay's fan club about the revalations of the past few days. I just spent about 10 hellish hours at work, came home and another ofc member e-mailed me a brief synopsis of what's been said. I will never be able to catch up on 500 plus pages so I'm just going to say this:

Clay Aiken has given me more joy in this life than I ever thought possible. Because of Clay, I have met some of the most amazing people I've ever known. Because of Clay and the boards, I have learned that I had many undiscovered talents, one of which is how to write. Because of Clay, I threw a week-end party in my house a few years ago for 15 women I had never met before, board friends who flew in from California, Seattle, Ohio, Maryland, Rhode Island, Key West, and other points USA. We had never met, but we 'knew' each other because of the message boards. We ranged in age from 18 to 65. It was one of the most magical weekends ever.

Because of Clay, I learned how to really use a computer. Because of Clay, I learned how to download, upload, create a blog, create a MySpace, use e-bay, spend on e-bay (thanks, Clay), use PayPal, do things I never even knew about BC (before Clay). I still haven't learned how to photoshop or make a montage, but that will come.

Because of Clay, I learned that 50 is just a number, that he can make me feel 25 again, and sometimes, 12. Because of Clay (well, ok, and Star Trek), I learned that diversity makes life more interesting and good friends more valuable. That giving to charity benefits the giver as much as the receiver. Because of Clay and the boards, I learned that every poster's opinion is valid for them and even though I may differ tremendously from their point of view, we can still be friends.

Because of Clay, I learned that language matters when referring to children with different abilities, I learned that his heart is bigger than his voice and that the love he has for children is immense. I remember one early interview he gave about Michael Bubel and an incident in a store where Michael acted out. Clay said to the onlookers 'you need to move on, there's nothing to see here', or words to that affect. I thought of that incident when I took my father to the store when his Alzheimer's was very bad. My father pee'd on the floor at the checkout counter, he couldn't help himself. I used words similar to Clay's when people started to stare. Thank you, Clay, for helping me through that. I buried my dad two weeks ago. He loved your voice. BTW, so do the other patients in the nursing home, they have all your CDs *g*

Because of Clay, I am a happier person than I was 5 years ago. There is a spring in my step and a lightness in my heart that defies explanation (and sometimes gravity). When I see Clay on stage, I am free of worries, free of pain, and my heart can't contain the joy and happiness he gives me.

Do I care that Clay is gay? Read above and tell me how who he sleeps with changes anything. For me, it simply doesn't. He was never going to sleep with me, anyway.

I'm sad that some posters are upset for whatever reason, but posters have a right to their feelings. They don't have a right to be rude, nasty, or condescending towards Clay and his family at all, but human nature is a strange thing. I think 98% of fans are supportive. There will always be some who can't wrap their mind around the situation. So be it.

And Mr. Aiken, I'll see you on Saturday. Look for me in the audience, 'mk?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Great moments in Clay history

The fandom is rather quiet this summer. Clay's taking a well-deserved break from working non-stop since about October of 2007. Clay toured with his Christmas show, he went to Mexico with UNICEF, he starred on Broadway in Monty Python's Spamalot, and he recorded and released his third pop album, 'On My Way Here'. BTW, the album is fabulous. Check it out.

So....what's a fan to do in this vast wasteland of no Clay? Well, I'm going to take a look back in time and celebrate some great Clay moments.

The first moment I'm celebrating is the impromptu performance of the song 'Listen' from Dreamgirls. Usually sung by Clay's back-up vocalist, Angela Fisher, Clay and Quiana Parler, his other back-up vocalist, jammed with this when Angela was not feeling well. This is from Sterling Heights, MI and videotaped by dlh7777.


Saturday, May 31, 2008

Clay Aiken: Maybe baby? Or tabloid invention?

Once again, Clay Aiken is in the tabloid news. This time, rumor has it, that Clay is going to be the father of a baby with his executive record producer, Jaymes Foster, sister of David Foster.

TMZ, that bastion of journalistic integrity *cough*, broke the story on Wednesday, which left the Clay Nation reeling because, honestly, of all the things that the fans might expect of Aiken, this was not one of them. As usual, the message boards were humming and buzzing for the past 48 hours. Is it true? It is a lie? Consider the source. Did the Foster camp confirm? Did the Foster camp deny? What’s going on? It’s not our business. I wanna know. What’s going on? Huh? Wha..? It’s all over the entertainment news. What? What? What? We wanna know!

Going on the assumption that it’s true, Clay’s fans, as usual, have a vast assortment of opinions on the situation. For some fans, this is a WTF? moment, for other fans, they are deliriously happy for him, yet other fans just want to know the truth, and for a very small part of the fandom, they are disappointed that Clay chose this path instead of the traditional path to fatherhood. It is my opinion that the vast majority of fans are very happy for Clay. True, the circumstances, if true, are a bit….different, but the fans remain, as always, supportive of Clay and his choices.

Let me state here that, unequivocally, ‘we’ do not have the right to any personal information from either Clay or Jaymes. What they do in their personal life is their business. Hell, we don’t even know if the rumor is true, but if it is, I feel badly that some scummy tabloid broke the news the way they did, especially if the parties involved wanted to keep their personal life private. Having something like this splashed across the entertainment news and rancid tabloids is probably not the way that most people would want to announce a happy event.

So, what now? What do Clay’s hard core fans do? Well, we don’t have a choice, really, we just have to wait. Wait to see if either the Foster or the Aiken camps confirm or deny, wait to see if Clay or Jaymes will make a public statement, wait to see what happens, wait for a Tour announcement…..oh, wait *g* that’s not part of the baby story, it’s just my wish to see Clay again in concert, where he shines.

So, this is MY grown-up Christmas wish. I wish Jaymes an easy pregnancy (if she’s pregnant) and a healthy baby. I wish Clay, if he’s the father of the maybe baby, a life filled with joy in the sharing of parenting his child. And dang it, I wish for a concert Tour announcement. Oops! There I go again!

Monday, April 07, 2008

That's Clay Aiken!

AOL First Listen has Clay Aiken's new single, the title track, from his soon to be released, new album, 'On My Way Here' which drops on May 6, 2008.

It's Aiken's first CD of all original material since his debut CD, 'Measure of a Man', which sold 613,000 copies its first week, with total sold of 2.7 million. Aiken's second CD, 'Merry Christmas, with Love', was, at the time, the fastest selling Christmas CD in Soundscan history, selling 1.3 million out of the gate in just 6 weeks.

'A Thousand Different Ways, Aiken's third studio effort, was an album of love song covers 'suggested' by RCA's Clive Davis. Everyone knows when Davis 'suggests', the product usually happens. 'A Thousand Different Ways' sold over 500,000 copies. Aiken is only one of four artists whose first 3 CD's opened at number 4 or higher on the BillBoard charts. 'A Thousand Different Ways' also had Aiken's first penned tune, the exquisite 'Lover All Alone', co-written with David Foster, as a special itunes download.

Aiken then released an EP, 'All is Well', a four-track disc of Christmas music, featuring Foster's slowed-down 'My Grown-up Christmas List', and the title track, the spectacular 'All is Well'.

You can access Clay's first song from the CD

The song, 'On My Way Here', written by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic fame and produced by Kipper (Chris Botti, Sting), showcases a more mature Aiken, a man who has taken a hard look at how his life has unfolded in the glare of the spotlight since his stint on American Idol. It has a definite earworm and makes me anticipate the release of the album.

Currently, Aiken is starring in Monty Python's 'Spamalot' on Broadway until May 4th. On Monday, April 28th, Aiken will appear on QVC from 7:00 to 7:30 pm Eastern Time.

Check out the new song and let me know what you think.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Clay Aiken: Spamalot, a review

By Michael Kuchwara for the Associated Press

Clay Aiken Deftly Acts Supremely Silly

Let's clear things up right away: Clay Aiken can handle supremely silly.

That's not an inconsiderable talent when you are appearing in something as daffy as "Monty Python's Spamalot," the madcap medieval musical that has just added the "American Idol" alum to its cast.

We knew Aiken could sing. "Idol," television's favorite trial-by-fire, proved that. So it was only natural that Broadway, eager for new faces that might sell tickets, would call — just as it did for Fantasia, Frenchie Davis, Constantine Maroulis and others from "Idol."

But don't go expecting a star turn. Aiken is a team player — and that's meant as a compliment. The ingratiating performer fits seamlessly into the extended high jinks of "Spamalot," which has been running at the Shubert Theatre since March 2005.

The guy gets the goofy humor that is the Python trademark and goes with the flow, most prominently when he is portraying the perpetually petrified Sir Robin. It's one of three roles he plays in the musical.

Aiken also exudes the physical buffoonery that underlines the cartoonlike nature of the characters and their quest to find the Holy Grail. He radiates a delightful benign bewilderment. What's more, for someone born and raised in North Carolina, Aiken does a credible British accent.

And the rest of the production, directed by Mike Nichols, holds up quite nicely, too. The tale, concocted by "Python" legend Eric Idle, is loosely based on the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and film buffs will recognize some of their favorite bits from the film. Idle also wrote the lyrics and shares credit with John Du Prez for the music.

If there is anything approaching show-stopper status in this "Spamalot," it's the performance by Hannah Waddingham as the Lady of the Lake. The statuesque Waddingham, who originated the role in the London production, is sensational. She's funny, sexy and blessed with one of those powerhouse voices that really shakes up the score.

But then Nichols and choreographer Casey Nicholaw have kept the musical in tiptop shape. From Jonathan Hadary's robust King Arthur to the preening Galahad of Christopher Sieber (an original New York cast member who recently returned to the show) to Rick Holmes' sexually fluid Lancelot, the cast gets a high amount of laughs from low comedy.

And then there's Tom Deckman as the hilariously fey Prince Herbert and David Hibbard as the aptly named Patsy, singing and tapping his way through the show's best known moment of musical cheer, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." This is ensemble comic lunacy at its most inspired.

But attention Aiken fans. He appears in "Monty Python's Spamalot" only through May 4.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

MICHAEL KUCHWARA has been the drama critic and drama writer for the Associated Press since 1984. Before being named to that position, he worked for the AP in Chicago as a general assignment editor and reporter and in New York on its General (now the National) Desk, the main editing desk for national news. Born in Scranton, Pa., he is a graduate of Syracuse University. Kuchwara also has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. Kuchwara is a past president of the New York Drama Critics' Circle.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Clay Aiken gets a little pissy

Clay Aiken gave an on-line interview to Ramin Setoodeh from Newsweek on Friday, January 11th. Here was an opportunity for a respected news magazine to do a good interview with one of the most fascinating and controversial celebrities around. Why fascinating? Because he's not a one dimensional, a one-size-fits-all, so to speak, celebrity. Why controversial? Because everything he does gets noticed and commented on. Fall asleep on a plane and get in a bro-ha-ha with an attacking passenger? Covered in over 500 newspapers, news sites, tabloid rags, and TV shows, including CNN Headline News.

So anyway, this Newsweek reporter had a chance to interview Clay and the beginning of the interview was pretty informative. We learned that Clay is very sore from his Spamalot rehearsals and why Clay decided on Broadway and Monty Python. From there, it went downhill, well, not Clay, but the questions this Newsweek 'reporter' asked.

I don't know if the 'reporter' was trying to be funny or maybe trying to get a scoop or what but Lord help me, if this is the kind of interview a Newsweek 'reporter' asks, Newsweek, I'm available for a freaking job because even a neophyte could have done better than this bozo. I'm surprised Setoodeh didn't ask Aiken if he saw the card!

The first inkling I had of a fluff interview was the question, 'Did you know your socks don't match?' O-kay, Mr. Reporter. Maybe your questions will get better, at least, more intelligent. Then he asked Aiken about why he decided to do Broadway and some Spamalot-related questions. Good job, so far, only one little fart.

Maybe I shouldn't have been so optimistic because Setoodeh then asked about the 'Claymates' *yawn* and if women throw their panties on the stage when Aiken sings *BIG yawn* Really Mr. so-called Reporter, look at some interviews from the past five years to get your answers about these tired, old questions. In fact, why don't you use your Stanford and Oxford educated brain to try to think of something, oh, I don't know, maybe original? There's an idea! Try to ask original questions or at least, questions that haven't been asked multiple times.

Wait, it gets worse.

The reporter then asked about the airplane incident, yes, that same incident that got over 500 mentions in the media. Then he asked about the Kelly Ripa 'thing, if Aiken thought it was a homophobic remark. Each time, Aiken's answer was "I'm not going to discuss it" yet the reporter went on and on. What part of 'I'm not going to discuss it' don't you understand, Mr. Reporter? What part of 'intelligent interview' don't you understand? I'll quote a bit of the article here:

How did you get into a fight with that lady on a plane?
I'm not going to talk about it.

I was just curious because you've never talked about it.
I did talk about it.

What about the Kelly Ripa thing?
I'm not going to discuss it.

Did you think it was homophobic?
I'm not going to discuss it.

What do you want to talk about?
I think we're done.

Can we talk about something fun?
No, we're done. I thought NEWSWEEK would be more reputable. I'm surprised

But I think people are curious about it.
It was a year ago. This is NEWSWEEK. It's not the National Enquirer. I'd hate to have a job where I had to be rude to people.

We're just having a conversation.
Change the subject! I'd never take a job where I had to do something that I didn't want to do.

I'll change the subject. What do you do for fun?
I watch the news. I read news magazines, but I'm reconsidering that now.

Perhaps I should cut this reporter a bit of slack, after all, he's only 25, he's a baby and he's probably spent the past 10 years or so reading newspapers and magazines and looking at TV news broadcasts' that use gossip sites as 'sources'. Yes, even Newsweek used and referenced Perez Hilton as a 'source' for articles a time or two. This subject was written about at The ConCLAYve a few months ago. Check it out.

I'll shut up now. I just wish that respected news magazines would write with a little more respect for their readers. We're not stupid and we'd like the style and method of writing to reflect the intelligence of the readers. I just wish that reporters would do their job with integrity and to the best of their ability instead of pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Clay Aiken: 2007 - The Year in Review

Hey Clay,

Here we are once again, your internet fans, taking a look back at 2007 and seeing what you, and we, were up to. We did a lot this year!

You ended 2006 with a wonderful Christmas Tour that featured your marvelous voice and some off-the-cuff banter that had us rolling in the aisles. You showed us that you were a funny, bawdy man with a devilish sense of humor and we ate it up. But, as you know, after the tour was over, we wondered….when will we see you again? Actually we always wonder when we’ll see you again, but that’s pretty usual for us.

Anyhoo….January 28th was the 4th anniversary of your first appearance on American Idol. You remember that little show, don’t you? Heh. We sure do. We remember when a tall, skinny, red-headed kid walked out, all arms and elbows and blew us away with that voice. Four years, Clay.…and here we still are, still blown away by the voice, but by so much more. Your voice, your sense of humor, your kindness, your sarcasm (not everyone likes the sarcasm but a lot do), your foibles, yeah, you have them, and your philanthropic work. Which leads us into your work with UNICEF. At the end of January, you teamed up with Yahoo to promote UNICEF’s life-saving work throughout the world. You did a few Public Service Announcements for UNICEF and a wonderful PSA for the Jacksonville Children’s Chorus. You were still in the news from the end of 2006, featured in the ‘Inside Edition’ segment on ‘Celebrity Feuds’, recounting your ‘feud’ with Kelly Ripa. Geesh.

Your UNICEF work continued in February with an appearance on Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer, to speak about the Yahoo Awareness program, asking the public how we think we can get involved and participate in what UNICEF is doing. But before you got to talk about UNICEF, Diane played your Idol audition and with the help of a split screen, we got to see your reaction to your audition. You looked like you enjoyed it as much as we did. Well, maybe not quite as much. Too bad the judges didn’t say anything mean to you in that audition because we would have loved to see you be all feisty in their faces. Oh, well. And Clay, even though Jennifer Hudson got a Golden Globe (and eventually the Oscar), don’t worry, your time will come, we’re positive of that. What was really neat at the GMA appearance was the fan videos. We got to see the interview not only from the perspective of the GMA cameras, but also from the perspective of the audience through the lenses of some of our premiere Clackgatherers. And no, you’re not fat, Clay.

On Valentine’s Day, you made your annual date with Jimmy Kimmel, singing a Valentine song to us using candy hearts for your lyrics. The intro to that was priceless. You played the ‘not knowing what Kimmel was talking about’ bit to perfection. We loved it and we loved you for doing it. Oh, and we love Kimmel as well, but we think that February 2007 shall forevermore be known as the ‘blindingly white’ month. Clay, what in the world did you do to your teeth? *dons shades* Yes, They were so white, we nearly went blind just looking at you! We do have to say that even though your teeth look great, a lot of us miss the chicklets. Yeah, we have a word for your old teeth and some of us mourn the chicklets but as long as you’re happy with the new teeth, so are we. For the most part.

You also did an interview with ‘Be seen, Be Heard’ for ABC about UNICEF, talking about what we can do for UNICEF and about the plight of the children in Uganda, all kinds of things. That’s the kind of interview we like, the ones that are meaty and have really good questions asked of you and you have really good answers for them. And that they last for thirteen minutes. Yeah, we want more of those kinds of interviews.

You appeared as a co-host of the Mike and Juliet Show, the new morning show in New York City, where you judged Juliet’s karaoke singing, then danced with her. The funniest part? When you glued a picture to Juliet’s Diane Von Furstenberg dress and your reaction: "Oh my goodness, I've ruined another talk show!" Don’t know how good the Claymobile and the trivia segment went but any time we see you on TV, it’s a good day. But you gotta learn how to drive stick, Clay! It’s fun!

February wasn’t that busy for you, Clay, at least, not that we knew. Clear Channel premiered your video for ‘A Thousand Days’ and you made a guest appearance with Steven Curtis Chapman at the Winter Jam, singing ‘The Great Adventure’. Of course we have video. Did you ever doubt that? We loved it!

March was a very quiet month for you. Little did we know that you were preparing for a trip overseas for UNICEF. On March 31st, you hosted the ‘Champions for Change’ Gala in Raleigh to raise money for the Bubel/Aiken Foundation. And raise money you did! Well over $300,000 that evening. Good job, Clay. That evening you were funny, charming, hilarious, and, when the bid for the autographed lyrics of ‘Lover All Alone’ fetched $55,000, a bit pensive for just a moment. And what was that ring thing? You know, the rings that you put in your mouth? Used your tongue to play with them? With that devilish look in your eye? You so know. By the way, a lot of us really, really, really loved the beard. You wear it well, Clay, but beard, stubble, or clean-shaven, we like you just the way you are.

April came ‘in like a lion’ with your trip to Afghanistan. Once again, for safety and security reasons, we didn’t know where you were going until after the fact. Some of us guessed but mostly we were hoping for safe travels. And once in Afghanistan, you ran into Diane Sawyer! What a coincidence! GMA ran some footage of you in the schools with the children, and in your native dress with the beard, you kind of looked like Jesu….never mind *g* One of the things we’ll remember most is your enthusiasm for the hope and promise that is Afghanistan and their thirst for education.

At the end of the month you received the Children’s Advocacy Award from The National Center for Learning Disabilities. Congratulations, Clay, keep using that voice of yours. The month ended with a wonderful interview on the Leonard Lopate show and a short segment on The Today Show, discussing your trip to Afghanistan. Um, Clay, your hair was pretty darn perfect on The Today Show. Yes, we can be shallow at times. We ended the month watching your Mother win a dance competition. What a ‘perfect’ song choice.

May brought us yet another Jimmy Kimmel appearance. You made your entrance and did most of the interview……on a horse. A HORSE! What a wild and crazy guy! We saw you in a skit with Kimmel on Dancing With the Stars. Heh. You could have grown your own moustache, Clay *wink* Then you went to Vancouver to appear at a private function with David Foster, Gov Ah-nold, and the Canadian Prime Minister.

June brought us the Pineapple Salad on The Martha Stewart Show repeat. Aww, that was just as cute the second time around. Clay Aiken, cooking his Grandmother’s recipe on National TV. A lot of us made that pineapple salad and most of us liked it. So did our friends and coworkers.

July and August had the Clay Aiken Soft Rock and a Hard Place Tour, or SRAHP Tour. We got us some ballads, we got us some orchestras, we got us some schmoop, and we got us some banter, but we also got us some George Jefferson looking like this tall, skinny pasty white boy, dancing furiously around the stage. We got us some ‘Back and ‘sprung, we got a Keith version of a virgin, we got a sexy tractor and a little country stomp, we got to party all night, Yeah, Yeah, we got an achey breakey heart, and we got whips and chains, we got……..WAIT A MINUTE! Whoa! Hold on there a minute, partner. Whips? Handcuffs? At a Clay Aiken concert. Praise the Lor….I mean, wow! Whips and handcuffs and Clay Aiken in the same breath? Yes, there is a God! *clears throat* Shall we continue? After we got Clay in handcuffs, we got to Beat It. Being a Clay Aiken fan these days is a good thing, yes it is *g*

The other thing the summer tour gave us was some of the most wonderful Meet and Greet experiences ever. Clay, they were perfect. Most of the fans have been saying for years that they’d just like a chance to sit down and talk to you for a few minutes. You eliminated the ‘stand in line like a robot, hi, shake hands, sign, pose, you need to leave’ feeling and really made the M&G’s feel warm and inviting. We hope you liked them as much as we do and we hope that they continue in the same vein in the future.

Um, what’s going on in the friendly skies, Clay? Where has that foot of yours been? We can’t imagine what it was like to wake up to a woman hitting you, but that little incident made all the major news sources for the next several days. It must have pissed you off but all we could do was shake our heads at the sloppy reporting which mentioned only half the truth.

In August, after the tour was over, we didn’t have to wonder when we’d see you again because we knew that you’d be taping ‘Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader’ (AYSTAFG) and the ‘Holiday on Ice’ TV Special (HOI). Of course, the fans attended both. AYSTAFG was especially fun as we read the re-caps, got the low-down, discussed hair and clothes and shoes, and when we realized how many questions you answered and how much money you won for TBAF, we were ecstatic! Another good job, Clay. We all made our pledges.

September was sort of a vast wasteland in the fandom. Since we didn’t have much of you, we had to content ourselves with discussing you and speculating over whether or not you were going to appear in Spamalot. I don’t know where that rumor first appeared but we had fun discussing what part you’d play. In fact, we had so much fun that you posted your second post on the ofc telling us that we crack you up and you don’t know where we get our crazy speculations. You laughed at us. Pfft, Clay, you know that we know that you know that we know where you are and what you do before you know it. Well, mostly we do, although you’ve been getting pret.ty darn good at hiding things lately. Another thing we speculated about was the press release from Kim Locke’s camp about the ‘Reunited Tour’ with you, Ruben, and Kim. Some fans hated the idea and were very vocal about it, some fans liked the idea and were very vocal about it but in the end, you had to blog that it wasn’t going to happen. You’re a very diplomatic man, Mr. Aiken.

October was a Clay-filled month! You appeared at the UNICEF launch of Jenna Bush’s book, ‘Ana’s Story: A Story of Hope’, and your appearance there spawned mentions on both ‘Inside Edition’ and The Insider’. A week later, you appeared, at least vocally, as the narrator of ‘American Idol Rewind, Season 2’. Let me tell you how happy we were just to hear that sweet, southern accent every week in our homes, and the short interviews were a lot of fun. But the biggest news?? We’d get to see AI in high-definition! Five years ago, HD was just a twinkle in someone’s eye and our capping and downloading equipment wasn’t the most sophisticated so most of our AI-Season 2 downloads are pretty crappy. Now we’ll get a chance to replace them with the HD version. Squeee! Although most of us don’t like the bad auditions and we’re waiting for the Top 12 to start, we do like seeing all the finalists like Ruben and Trenyce and KLO and Carmen and Rickey, Julia and Charles, Josh and Vanessa.

Also in October you asked us to submit stories and to be a part of your Christmas Tour. So we did. You can ask us to do just about anything and we’ll do it, well, mostly. So you asked. We answered. And answered. And we wrote and wrote and wrote and you blogged about it. And blogged. And blogged. Teacher!Clay! was out in full force. Be careful what you wish for, Clay, because we’ll give it to you. In spades. In the form of stories and stories and more stories. 1,500, 1,600, 2,000, 4,000, you kept changing the amount of stories that were submitted. Your eyes must have crossed several times during your readings of our memories. At first, I think we were a bit apprehensive about how the stories would work, if they would take away from our ClayTime on stage, but you managed to fit them in beautifully. Not everyone agreed with that assessment but most of us do. Some of us would still prefer that you gave us more of you on stage instead of the fans but as usual, you’ll do it your way. Although the individual notices came a bit late, and some of the reader substitutions didn’t work out, everything seemed to work on stage in the context of the concert. We just hope that, through our stories, you got to know us a bit; that you got to know some of your fans as individuals instead of the nameless faces populating the concerts.

The end of October brought us all to Avery Fisher Hall for ‘Neil Sedaka’s 50th Anniversary at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center’ and your powerhouse performance. According to all who attended, you brought the house down! As usual. Another job well done, Clay! Oh, and you snuck in a press release about one Mr. Clay Aiken joining the cast of Spamalot. Hmmm, remember, you laughed at our speculation, we cracked you up. He who laughs last, laughs best, mister *g*

On the 1st of November, FOX aired your AYSTAFG episode and America saw that you won $300,000! Way to go, Clay! Way to go! You could have won even more but as a prudent man, you chose to keep the money in hand rather than bet on a chimera. We think, in the end, you made the right decision. It was a really fun appearance for all of us. That day, while we were in front of our TV sets, you were at Yale University, speaking on the importance of geography in children’s education along with the keynote speaker, the Ambassador of Indonesia. You keep good company, Clay. You are a ‘quality human being and a man of character’. And yes, we have video. Not fan video because that time you kept it quiet, but we do have the downloads of the local TV news who covered it. On the 6th, you taped “Capital One’s Holiday Celebration on Ice” featuring Olympic Silver Medalist Sasha Cohen, to be aired on Christmas day. We were in attendance. Lots of us were in attendance and we got, yep, you guessed it, video. It was so good to see you again and you did a really good job. We think some of the skaters had a teeny crush on you, Clay. We know ‘smitten’ when we see it.

For the next 20 days, we didn’t see you. You were probably putting in hours upon hours of rehearsal time for the upcoming tour, well, four days worth, per your blog. At least you were putting in thousands of hours blogging about how we don’t follow directions, how our stories were too long, or too short, or how we may be asked for audio submissions. But you were also blogging about how we’re helping you make new lasting Christmas memories. That’s a really nice thing to say. One thing, Clay. When you asked us to wear all black, five days before the first concert, there was a slight panic because women, you know, those wonderful creatures that are foreign to most men, women plan their outfits w-a-y in advance. Just a little reminder for the next time. What? It’ll be a cold day in hell before you ask us for stories again? Heh. Bite your tongue.

Happy birthday Clay! There were many different ideas thrown out on the ofc as to what to get you for your birthday, some a bit far-fetched, but one idea took hold and the fandom went with it. One of your fans proposed a book drive in your name to benefit the Kalamazoo Public School System. The Kalamazoo Communities in School helped to coordinate the book drive. In the end, there were 1,216 books and $685 worth of gift cards collected for your birthday. You have some of the most amazing fans on this earth.

On November 26th into December, the ‘Christmas in the Heartland’ tour rolled across, if not America, then certainly ClayLand, to the delight of those of us on the east coast and in the Midwest, but to the despair to those of us on the west coast. Some of us were disappointed that you didn’t banter, that the concerts this year were a bit more reverent than last year, but you were in great voice, Clay. Angela and Quiana sounded wonderful, and Jesse’s scores were really brilliant. This had to be the Tour of the Hair because it seems that in each city, it was a different style and a different color. Please tell Jamie that she did a really good job, especially towards the end of the tour. Also this tour was the Tour of the Glasses. Speculation on the boards is that you’re going to get Lasik so you don’t have to worry about glasses or contacts on Broadway. Come on, Clay, you can tell us. We won’t tell a soul.

Back to the tour. The readings went well, the body count wasn’t that high, and the M&G’s were the same as the summer tour. The fans that were chosen to read their stories all did a wonderful job and the stories flowed into the songs, just as you predicted. You really gave us a lot of information in the M&G’s this year, too. They were open, informal, informative, and in the case of Morristown, eye-opening. Yes, most of the fandom is talking about that M&G. We have the re-caps from the fans in attendance so we know what happened. I guess we’re just sorry that you had to deal with something so unpleasant.

We’re going to end this re-cap as we began it, with UNICEF. Once the Tour ended, you left for Mexico with your mom, Faye, and your brother, Brett, doing one of the things that you do best, inspiring people to help those in need and to donate their time and/or money for those causes that affect children the world over. Your visit received very good media coverage this trip, Clay. At the same time that you were in Mexico, UNICEF ran their ‘Help Clay raise $100,000 by December 31st’ fund-raising campaign. It was such a short time period and at an especially rough time for a lot of families, but you know what? You did it! We did it! The $100,000 mark was reached around 4:30 pm eastern time, December 31st, just in time for those of us on the boards to celebrate before leaving for our New Years festivities. The total amount is around $109,665 as we write this. We bet UNICEF just loves you to pieces. We do, too.

Usually we wonder, after the Christmas tour is over, when we will see you again. This year, we don’t have to wonder. A lot of us will be at The Shubert Theater on January 18, 2008, for your Broadway debut. We know that you’ll be wonderful in your role as Sir Robin and that the cast will love you as we do, but allow us to be just a tad nervous for you. It’s a big step you’re taking, career-wise, and we wish you all the luck in the world and we hope that you ‘break a leg’ in stage parlance. We also hope that you’ll do the stage door thingy because we’ll be out there, freezing our buns off, right there waiting.

For 2008, Clay, we wish you health and happiness, love and fulfillment, family and good friends, continued personal and career success. We wish you all that you desire for yourself, your family and friends, and the children throughout the world who need it. We wish you contentment and happiness. And we’re going to be a bit selfish and wish you a Pop CD in the first half of 2008, radio play, and a kick-ass summer tour. But most of all, we wish you love.

~Your internet friends