Saturday, December 30, 2006

Aiken Fans Greet New Year

HAPPY NEW YEAR -- Ambassador of Love helps the Clay Nation celebrate the birth of a new year with this beautiful graphic.

With Look Back at 2006

Aiken Fans Greet New Year

This weekend we not only celebrate the coming of a new calendar year; but, traditionally, the departing season receives countless retrospective looks back in many arenas of communication -- media outlets, blogs, even conversations among family, friends, and associates.

This blog's recollection features the 2006 edition of My Favorite Things by Suz4, a.k.a SmartyPantsSuz, an overview of the special moments fans shared with Clay Aiken this past year. Below this wonderful montage are clickable versions of the video's 12 photo grids.

Many thnx to SmartyPantsSuz for providing an amazing reminiscence for CA fans everywhere. You are welcome to leave comments for Suz here and at You Tube where members can also rate the video.

My Favorite Things 2006

These are the 12 clickable photo grids from My Favorite Things 2006:

Shock 'n Awe at AI5 Finale

David Foster Gala

Clay and Jay Leno

The Clay-Jimmy Kimmel Show

ATDW Talk Show Circuit

The King of Controversy

Hot Clay-Tyra Chemistry

Aiken Home Tour

Joyful Not a Tour

Clay Sings on 'Days'

From Head to Toe

Humanitarian Clay

More Special Moments

For those who haven't seen the first My Favorite Things or would like a review, here is SmartyPantsSuz's original montage commemorating many special moments since Clay's initial appearance on American Idol 2:

My Favorite Things

Wishing the Clay Nation a Happy New Year ... and lots of fun bidding 2006 a fond farewell!


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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Blogs Chronicle Holiday Tour

HOME CROWD -- Clay dazzles the North Carolina audience in this handsome photo taken by xxx4clay at the final Christmas Symphony Tour concert in Greensboro Saturday night.

Visual Memories in Photos, Graphics

Blogs Chronicle Holiday Tour

From countless new fan conversions, the special Bubel/Aiken-sponsored "Our Friend Mikayla" student authors' assembly in (Nazareth) Pennsylvania, and the many positive media reviews to the homecoming atmosphere of the concluding duo of Carolina concerts, bloggers have logged hundreds of words chronicling Clay Aiken's 18-city Christmas Symphony Tour during December.

For this edition, I am turning the journal over to an old adage and the wonderful photographers and graphic artists who not only keep this corner of Cyberspace decorated throughout the year, but who also have provided a visual memoir of the Joyful Not a Tour 2006. When possible, a link to the photographer's album or web site is included in the screen name so readers can peruse even more of these pictures that are "worth a thousand words."

Hopefully, you will welcome this stroll back through the JNaT as I honor the gifted artists who share their talent -- and friendship -- with the CA fan base all year long. New to this blog, this collection of photos and graphics is also clickable.

Snow storms arrived in the Midwest for the opening curtain; but Clay, musical director Jesse Vargas, and the touring crew were soon treated to more pleasant seasonal weather as the entourage made its way up and down the eastern seaboard Dec. 1 - 23.

Graphic by ABeautifulMind

Southern Concerts Escort Clay Home

The seven clickable photos in this section represent the final leg of the JNaT concerts. Photographers include xxx4clay (1), All4Clay (2), Simonncharge (3), and ClaysCharlotteGirl (4), Greensboro, NC; PinkCocoa/Ztilb (5, 6), Charlotte, NC; and Tasapio (7), Jacksonville, FL.

Graphics, Photos Replay Tour

Three graphics and four photos are spotlighted in this section, including Amazing_CA's colorful blend (photo by Scrpkym), 1; Invisible926, Red Bank, 2; dc4clay, Waukegan, 3; Katt45 graphic (photo by PermaSwooned), 4; Clayzthe1, when Clay danced with his mother in Norfolk, 5; KarenEh, Waukegan, 6; and Ambassador of Love's graphic (photo by Scrpkym), 7.

Concert Expressions Run the Gamut

This third segment begins with Clayquebec1's classic, "A Man of Heart," sporting a new photo by Invisible926 and encompassing several of Clay's humanitarian endeavors with UNICEF. An unending repertoire of facial expressions can be found in the collections of CA fan visual artists. Also featured below are Scrpkym, 2 and 5, West Point, and 6, Baltimore; Fairfield2002, 3, West Point; DeniseBernadette, 4, West Point; and Claystruck's "All Is Well" graphic with photos by LauraQ, Clayzthe1, and Butterflyshine.

I hope you enjoyed this mini walk down the JNaT memory lane. Let's celebrate the final week of 2006 with Claysmelody's beautiful blend of caps from the [11/22] Tyra Banks Show and one of Jojoct's amazing concert videos.

Whew, I believe writing a thousand words might have been simpler! Happy Holidays, and have an awesome close to 2006, Clay Nation!


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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Carolina Welcomes Clay Home

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS -- Clay Aiken celebrates the end of the Symphony Christmas Tour with Saturday evening's performance in Greensboro. Photo by Shine in NC

Final JNaT Concerts

Carolina Welcomes Clay Home

North Carolina welcomed Clay Aiken home with two very special performances of the Symphony Christmas Tour in Charlotte and Greensboro Friday and Saturday nights. Many fans made the weekend a two-fer, and I joined the celebration for the grand finale of the Joyful Not a Tour.

Exquisite nuances and tenderly caressed notes in soft phrases, playfulness and surprising change-ups in others, as well as the skillful surge of resounding power in forte passages -- Clay effortlessly took concertgoers on a tour of his vast repertoire of vocal techniques and interpretations.

The singer's quick wit is priceless, following a loose outline for the tour but easily flowing with the dynamics of diverse audiences each night. In the popular between-song JNaT banter, Clay cheekily snarked with his home state on many subjects, some planned and some a surprise even to the performer.

Sound Problems Enter the Act

From the beginning, there were sound difficulties; and during an orchestral interlude in Christmas Waltz, Clay stepped off stage and obviously asked that the volume be raised. Later, when the faulty mic/speakers interjected loud snapping noises into his songs, the humorous facial expressions he showed the audience would fill an art gallery. The seething ones he kept inside probably would, too.

As with the wobbly stool, he suggested to the offstage tech crew that he just might need a replacement mic. The stool situation was solved early on, but the crackling mic continued for a while and gave Clay new comedic material. Following a loud pop when he sang "Farmer Brown" in Winter Wonderland, Clay deadpanned to the audience, "And then they shot him."

One of the funniest moments came while the singer was perched on his stool, legs crossed, singing to the audience on his left. A loud cracking noise struck swiftly; and, mid-song, Clay fanned the air behind the stool and joked that he might have to take some Gas-X before returning. He was very concerned that the sound system be fixed before the upcoming religious songs, and somehow it was.

Choir Teacher Elaborates on Test

During the Merry Christmas With Love banter, Clay introduced Alison Lawrence, his high school choir teacher who toured with the Joyful Noise 05 cast. Ms. Lawrence still has the theory test Clay has talked about up and down the east coast this month, and he knelt at the front of the stage while she expounded on her student's infamous answers -- "a key was something that unlocks the door, a note something you pass in class, a measure an inch, a bar a place where you go for a drink," etc. -- that resulted in an "F" and punishment of cleaning the school bathroom with a toothbrush.

The Greensboro concert was definitely "home" as family members -- his mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, and cousin Jamie -- were in attendance. Later, the singer recognized Raleigh's Gregory Ellis [Joyful Noise 05] and his family. He also introduced his tour staff -- Mary and the "J" Crew (musical director Jesse, Jamie, Jennifer, and Jerome).

During the expected banter about first-time CA concertgoers and the veteran fans surrounding them, Clay warned the newcomers: "Take a real good look around at those who are raising their hand. They may work with you, they may teach your children, they may attend the your church. They will get your home phone number and your home address, and they will stalk you like they stalk me! They embrace their craziness; after all, this is the South!"

His fan shtick, enjoyed throughout the 18-city tour, further warns that longtime followers will incorporate first-timers into their ranks and drive them to multiple concerts. Saturday night he also spoke at length about how much he appreciates the support of his enthusiastic fans.

Clay Dedicates MGUCL to Brother

Any discussion of the tour's 14-song playlist would have to include the very moving My Grown Up Christmas List, as Clay dedicated this selection to his brother, Brett, who recently celebrated his 21st birthday and is currently serving in Iraq. The words, he said, would probably be very close to his brother's grown-up Christmas list. The interpretation was rich, pensive, and beautiful.

Playful performer became Preacher Clay during his intro to Steven Curtis Chapman's uplifting arrangement of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, now the singer's favorite carol of the season. Employing an exaggerated southern drawl, "Rev. Lovejoy" asked everyone to "turn to Page 342 as we all sing 'Joy to the World,'" a phrase of which Clay sang terribly out of tune and with the same heavy accent. "You know there was someone in your church who sang like that, someone just that much off key. If you don't think there was somebody like that in your church, it was probably you," he quipped.

After all this, OCOCE was an elegant, prayerful communication with God.

As he has done through much of the tour, Clay dropped his mic near the end of Don't Save It All for Christmas Day, this night firmly putting it back on the stand and walking to the front of the stage to tenderly sing the final phrase of the song. The capacity audience erupted with an instantaneous ovation.

The encore, All Is Well, was gorgeous, incredible, and breath-taking, as Clay soared from his lovely, reverent low register to the glorious, powerful sonorities of his upper tenor range.

PHOTO INTERMISSION: This clickable Greensboro concert collection features work by photographers All4Clay, 1, 2; xxx4clay, 3; Kbastide, 4; and Shine in NC, 5.

Backstage Chat With Violinist

Since Greensboro is home base for me, I know and have played gigs with several of the symphony members, among them Anita, the flugelhorn soloist, and violinists Kay and Jean. Sunday morning I talked with Jean about the orchestra's interaction with Clay.

It was great to hear that Greensboro musicians really enjoyed working with our favorite singer. Jean said he was very nice, personable, professional, and lots of fun during the rehearsal and dinner. He came into the rehearsal with a half hour remaining and started singing where they were, checking sound and warming up. "He was very involved with the orchestra and sang to us during the rehearsal," she said.

I think she was a little surprised to hear that the concert was beamed throughout the US and Canada via cellcert. Saturday night's audience was definitely out of the norm for most orchestras. I told her I enjoyed watching the orchestra during Clay's shtick since some members caught the "Ripa" remarks and some obviously did not. She agreed, adding they were duly educated.

Orchestra Helps Select Musical Term

During dinner, Clay explained about the "musical term of the night" and asked their assistance in choosing an unusual one. Every word they suggested had been used. Jean even knew that one concert Clay made up a term because concertgoers were bringing their music dictionaries. Talking amongst themselves, the Greensboro string section finally came up with flagioleto or flagioletto.

In case you missed it, flagioleto means "playing overtones with a slide touch of the string in the points where it is divided in two, three, and four equal parts." In the music, this is indicated with an "o" over the note.

A more recognizable description might be "playing harmonics." Basically, this happens by barely pressing the string while bowing versus firmly pressing the string on the fingerboard and bowing. The violin section demonstrated both sounds very effectively.

I am sure the symphony appreciated Clay's plug for their next performance on Dec. 31. "What are you doing New Year's Eve?" he asked the locals. "I'm not singing, just asking," he quipped, referencing a favorite from his popular 2004 Christmas CD, Merry Christmas With Love.

Restaurant Manager Spins MCWL

Carrabbas, the Italian restaurant where several Internet fans met for a pre-concert dinner, has a very smart manager. With approximately 25 Claymates in the house, the CD of the night was Clay's MCWL. However, if one stopped by the ladies room -- men's, too, I presume -- an "Eye-talian" pronunciation lesson was playing continuously through the intercom.

As always, a Clay Aiken concert is a celebration of an extraordinary man -- his magnificent voice, and beautiful heart -- as well as the many close relationships, new and old, originating through activities surrounding the CA fandom. At dinner, I finally met face to face many fans who have long been special online friends. It was a phenomenal moment to match personas with screen names.

Like many, I am already looking forward to the next convergence of Clay Aiken music and very special friends. A Dr. Seuss quote, posted by Shine in NC at Clayversity Sunday, sums up what many of us felt as the weekend came to a close: Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.

Happy Holidays graphic by ABeautifulMind, photo by dc4clay

Wishing you and yours a joyous holiday. Thank you for your loyal readership and many kind comments throughout the year.

Merry Christmas, Clay Nation!


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Friday, December 22, 2006

Fans To Celebrate Clay Home

COMING HOME --Clay Aiken performs his final two concerts of the Christmas Symphony Tour in North Carolina. He is pictured here in the Grand Rapids (MI) Concert. Photo by KarenEh.

At Greensboro JNaT Concert

Fans To Celebrate Clay Home

The last time Clay Aiken came to the Gate City was the eve of my July 04 birthday for the Not a Tour -- and what a mighty fine present that was! In a few short hours, our favorite singer will be in Greensboro again for the final concert of the Christmas Symphony Tour.

Until a couple of days ago I was planning to miss this event at War Memorial Auditorium, a whopping five minutes from my house, due to a rehearsal right in the middle of the concert. But the stars suddenly aligned, my rehearsal was moved to an earlier hour, and a good friend from West Virginia just happened to have a spare ticket for sale.

So -- EEEEEEEEEE!!!!! -- I am now among the fortunate folks who will help celebrate Clay home to North Carolina in a hall full of southern accents at Saturday's "Joyful Not a Tour" Concert. What an awesome turn of events! Those stars are still lining up because the expected cold, wet weekend in Greensboro is now forecast to begin clearing around noon with high-low temps of 66-41.

CLACK from the JNaT has been phenomenal, but I will gladly trade my cellstream seat for a live concert this season. My enabler -- xxx4clay -- upgraded her ticket to the front row, and I look forward to enjoying Clay's beautiful voice and hilarious banter from Row B, Seat 10 or 11. Another West Virginia fan purchased the second spare ticket and will be by seat mate.

Tongue-In-Cheek Tactics Exchanged

Excitement ran rampant at Clayversity Thursday, as members made plans to meet for a pre-concert dinner, winding their way through many tactics for recognizing one other. Clay fans know each other by screen name online and even share many "real life" joys and sorrows; however, most of us have never met in person. The following exchange, totally in jest, only hints at the level of frivolity following a Wednesday night tease that wearing "blinkies" -- heaven forbid! -- might be a perfect means for locating our group.

This is just a taste of the day's linear conversations:

CTLover: Oh, don't put them away! I'm wearing a Christmas wreath around my neck that lights up and spells C L A Y one letter at a time. It will go well with my blinking tiara and my earrings that flash on and off and on and off and ...well, you get the picture. I just hope they don't clash with the rings I'm wearing on two fingers of each hand -- each one is a different blinking color and they're so classy. Do you think Clay will notice me and maybe talk to me and maybe jump down off the stage and take both my binoculars and my cell phone and pose while someone takes pictures of us? I promise not to turn on the flash! Oh, I'm just so excited!

After much discussion, xxx4clay, as usual, had the final word: Pffft! No guts, no glory. I can take charge of this little CV roundup. I'll stand out front wearing my very special Clay Christmas concert outfit. Here's how you'll know me: I'll wear my Clay tiara, specially decorated for Christmas with red and green blinkies that spell out C-L-A-Y.

My top is a crimson red sweatshirt with mistletoe appliqued to the neckline and a large picture of Clay across my chest. Below the picture, I have hot-glued gold glittery letters that say "Merry Christmas, Baby!" If you approach me from the rear, I will be wearing tight black stretch pants with "I LOVE CLAY AIKEN" in matching gold glittery letters across my butt. And, yes, my butt is wide enough to accommodate all that. If you still can't find me, I'll just talk loudly -- I'll be the only person there without an accent.

LOL, even in the midst of planning for my afternoon student recital, I had to stop and call my MIL in Texas to read -- make that "try to read" -- the "blinkie" posts over the phone.

Dinner and Concert Sans Glitter

Seriously, no blinkies, gold glitter, or special Clay appliques are on tap for our row. Not even the "blue hair" the media seems to think all members of Clay's multi-generational fandom sports! Looking forward to dinner and concert sans the glitter ... though my dress does have a gold design in it. Hmmmm!!!

Brightstar, a fellow North Carolinian, recently summed up how most CA fans feel about this very special man with golden voice and heart:

So many, many good things have sprung from this down-to-earth, wonderful, talented, funny, beautiful man. And, like it or not, "American Idol" gave him the platform from which he reached out and grabbed our hearts. I have to be grateful for that, and I chuckle at the irony that an artificial, programmed "reality" show, which has come to highlight much that is negative in society, was the launching place for something -- and someone -- good and true; someone who highlights, and strives for, and inspires so much that is positive in humanity. A blessing for which I am very thankful.

See y'all in Greensboro. I'll be one of the 99.9% WITHOUT an accent!

PHOTO INTERMISSION: This clickable West Point JNaT interlude features the photographic talents of Fairfield2002 (1, 5) and Scrpkym (2,3,4). Links to more of their photos are provided with their screen names. Many thnx to all the photographers and graphic artists whose work has decorated this blog throughout 2006.

Music Students Impress Teacher

My music students ended the semester with an outstanding holiday recital Thursday. Just as impressive as their performance was the caliber of their 45-minute rehearsal prior to the concert. Several times I smiled at this grownup achievement and thought of Clay's nightly complimentary shtick for the various orchestras backing him during the current JNaT.

Included in each student's holiday gift bag was a pencil; and I have to say the teacher's smartest move of the day was to hit the sharpener a few minutes before they arrived. We spent a tight 45 minutes setting arrangements for a fiddle tune medley, solos, and 10 Christmas carols. These young musicians, aged 9 - 14, were in a "professional" zone of their own, a situation the addition of once-a-month group lessons has helped mold.

Violin and viola solos -- "Devil's Dream," St. Patrick's Day in the Morning," and "Paddy Whack" -- alternated with group renditions of "Arkansas Traveler" during our Irish segment. This was a definite crowd pleaser, even if the audience was comprised of friendly parents and siblings. My fledgling fiddle players are not quite ready to make a CD, but we could hit the retirement home circuit next spring.

Christened Pencils Point the Way

Besides the more advanced Bach, Handel, and Brahms solos, folk tunes and piano duets were played by the younger violin and piano performers. Our seasonal renditions began with easier carols for all to play and progressed through more difficult arrangements, ending with "Masters of the Hall" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Each student was featured in a solo or duo, and all shared harmony assignments in our three-part Christmas carols. Those pencils, royally christened during the rehearsal, repeatedly proved their worth.

I don't know about the students, but their teacher, who accompanied all on piano, was definitely spent by afternoon's end. Later while preparing dinner, I poured some wine over a favorite meat-vegetable combo and decided there was no time like the present. Anyone driving by my kitchen window would have seen the prim, proper music teacher turn the carafe bottom side up and take what she thought was a somewhat-deserved -- and much-needed -- swig.

Perhaps that's the reason I slept through some of the Jacksonville cellcert. I can't wait to hear the Charlotte stream tonight and be there in person for the Greensboro finale to welcome Clay Aiken home!

Have a wonderful Christmas Weekend, Clay Nation!