Like the Grateful Dead, but Completely Different

One of the adjunct members of the Quality Time team went off to see singer Clay Aiken in concert this week. The concert was excellent, she had a really good time and was intrigued to discover that entire families follow the singer around, seeing him multiple times. They call it going on "Clay vacation." There are lots of musicians who are interesting enough to have followers who see them over and over, the Grateful Dead and Counting Crows come to mind, but attracting entire families is somewhat unusual. Just what is it that they find so alluring about Clay?

Ask a true Clay fan what they like about their fellow and you'll hear an interesting list of facts. He can turn his feet all the way around backwards, (kind of like an owl's neck, except not), he's almost a straight edger sans the punk music, i.e. he doesn't smoke, drink, curse, or do any drugs. He's proud of his faith and makes no apologies to anyone. He's allergic to almost everything and appears to be phobic about just about everything that doesn't trigger an allergic reaction. He's funny and sweet, doing things like cracking jokes to his mother when she's in the audience. He's charming, he's endearing, he has charisma, he's got all those things that are hard to pin down and never sound all that when you dissect them, rather like the definition of fun itself.

In a culture where we hear expressions like "the person who comes in second is the first loser" it's encouraging to see someone making it who isn't a "winner" in the classic sense. Clay was the runner up in American Idol, season two and has parlayed that exposure into a book and two albums in a relatively short time.

Currently on The Jukebox Tour, so named because he's supplementing original material with classic rock songs, Clay is dressing in black leather, leaping up onto pianos, charming audiences and hitting home with families. He recently brought a little boy nicknamed "Alex the Toothfairy Boy" (so called because he asked the tooth fairy to bring him tickets to see Clay instead of cold, hard cash) up on stage with him for a number, presented him with a shirt and sent Alex back to his family with a terrific story to tell. He likes to scan the audience for a man who looks supremely uncomfortable, a man who looks like he'd rather be taking knitting lessons from his mother-in-law rather than be there, and drag him up onto the stage to be one of his "pips" for a bit. His fans adore seeing the playful side of him and some are saddened that they could never pretend to be having a bad time long enough to be the chosen one for that concert.

When asked why he would like to go to more than one show in a single tour one gentleman compared it to season tickets to hockey. He says he would go see 38 hockey games in one year and while they are fundamentally the same, every one will be different. Clay shows are similar in that while the rules of the game remain the same every show is unique.

I think that when it comes right down to it the appeal of this man is that, although he's really a famous performer, in the end he's just a man. He could be the boy next door, he could be your son, or your brother, or your grandson or even your boyfriend, the one who brings you flowers and sings you silly songs when you're blue. He's approachable and he treats his fans right, which means that he's going to be performing for them for a long time to come.

Guest Concert Review

By Sandra Elliott

A zoo might not sound like a promising concert setting, but the amphitheatre at Toledo’s zoo is one of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever been to. There are none of the smells you fear you might be subjected to, the sound quality is fantastic and the stage is ornate enough to compete with the performers for your attention. The floral landscaping alone is worth the trip. Add in perfect weather and Clay Aiken and you might as well be in heaven.

If you’ve only experienced ‘The Aiken’ via American Idol, his cheesy Christmas special, or a Kathy Griffin monologue, his live show is one colossal shock. He’s smart, sly, goofy, poignant, and sexy (yeah, you read that last word right.) And he doesn’t lip-synch once in two and half hours. He does pause for breath a few times, letting each of his three background singers take over lead vocals for one solo each. You won’t mind. The man isn’t afraid to surround himself with talent. The girls, Quiana Parlor and Angela Fisher, put Whitney Houston to shame—and I’m talking pre-Bobby-&-crack Whitney. He doesn’t worry about the competition because he doesn’t have to. As good as they are, he blows them off the stage without even trying. Live, with no studio augmentation of any kind, he actually sounds better than he does on CD. It’s jaw-dropping. Even given that voice, his interaction with the band and audience is the best part of the evening. The stage banter changes with every performance, but it’s always endearing and usually funny as hell.

On the ‘Jukebox Tour’ he does a set, one medley followed by one full song, for each decade in the rock era, plus one set each for Elvis and Motown. The songs are chosen to charm, rather than to represent a time or idea. The format exists solely as something to hang a lot of cover songs on because his new CD is not yet ready for release and he didn’t want to repeat the set list of his last tour. Since there’s no hope of the Claynation growing bored with him any time soon, perhaps he’s changed things up for sake of stoking his own interest.

In any case, Clay & Co. cover everything from Jerry Lee Lewis to the Goo Goo Dolls, accompanied by vintage clothing and dance styles. Yeah, he dances. Sometime between “Grease night” on Idol and the start of this tour, he has learned how to move and groove. Admittedly still a little stiff and goofy, his dancing will never again make anybody cringe for him. Smile, yes—even laugh out loud—but if you do it’ll be intentional on his part. Did I mention he’s funny? Because he is. Also, don’t be surprised if you spot more than a few women drooling. Did I mention he’s turning into quite the sexy beast? Because he is. They really ought to start selling bibs at the souvenir stand.

Ahhh… I had such a good time.