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October through December 2007

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Clay Aiken joins Monty Python's SPAMALOT, The Funniest Show on Earth

January 18 - May 4, 2008 on Broadway

NEW YORK, Oct. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- Clay Aiken, who became a music

superstar following his success on the American Idol television series,

will join the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Monty Python's SPAMALOT,

making his Broadway debut in the role of Sir Robin, at the Shubert Theatre,

New York, from January 18 to May 4, 2008.

Tickets are available online now at telecharge.com or by calling (212)

239-6200/(800) 432-7250.

Directed by Mike Nichols, who won his eighth Tony Award for his

direction of the new musical, Monty Python's SPAMALOT has a book by Eric

Idle, "lovingly ripped-off" from the screenplay of the Pythons' best- loved

film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry

Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. The music is by Eric

Idle and John DuPrez.

Clay Aiken, who has sold more than 6 million albums; co-authored a

best-selling book; and, played six sold-out concert tours, said "I really

couldn't have asked for a more wonderful group of people to work with.

Let's not lie, the chance to work with legendary creative minds like Mike

Nichols and Eric Idle is, on its own, a reason to jump at this opportunity.

But, that's not all. The producers and creative folks I have had the chance

to meet and work with so far have been unbelievably welcoming and

wonderful. They've really made me feel at home already, and I haven't even

started yet!"

Director Mike Nichols said: "Clay Aiken is amazing beyond that glorious

voice. Turns out he is an excellent comic actor and a master of character.

People will be surprised by his wide ranging talent, since the first

impression is of great country charm and a singer to remember. This guy is

not only a star, he is a lot more. We are lucky to get him for SPAMALOT."

SPAMALOT author and original Python Eric Idle commented: "This is great

news. I have been a Clay Aiken fan ever since I took my daughter to see him

live on the second season of American Idol and she held up a big sign of

his name. Maybe now it should read 'American Idle.'"

Other members of the SPAMALOT creative team include Casey Nicholaw

(choreography), multiple Olivier Award-winners Tim Hatley (sets and

costumes) and Hugh Vanstone (lighting) and Acme Sound Partners.

Winning more awards than any other show in the 2005 Broadway Season,

including the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Grammy Award for Best

Cast Recording, SPAMALOT has set box office records since opening on

Broadway to critical acclaim in March, 2005 at the flagship Shubert

Theatre.

Monty Python's SPAMALOT celebrates one year in London's West End at the

Palace Theatre this week. SPAMALOT is also on National Tour around the US

and is playing at Wynn Las Vegas. An Australian production will open in

November in Melbourne.

Monty Python's SPAMALOT is produced by Boyett Ostar Productions, The

Shubert Organization, Arielle Tepper, Stephanie McClelland/Lawrence

Horowitz, Elan V. McAllister/Allan S. Gordon, Independent Presenters

Network, Roy Furman, GRS Associates, Jam Theatricals, TGA Entertainment and

Live Nation.

For more information on SPAMALOT, please visit

http://www.montypythonsspamalot.com.

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Variety

Clay Aiken Heads to Broadway

Clay Aiken heads to Broadway

'Idol' alum steps into 'Spamalot'

By GORDON COX

Claymates, rejoice: "American Idol" alum Clay Aiken heads for Broadway this spring, stepping into a role in the Rialto production of "Monty Python's Spamalot."

Aiken, who placed second in the second season of "Idol," will play Sir Robin, the part originated by David Hyde Pierce.

"Idol" vets have shown up on Broadway with increasing regularity. Fantasia Barrino, currently starring in "The Color Purple," gave that tuner a major box office boost and won critical praise when she took over the lead role in April. Tamyra Gray appears through Nov. 25 in "Rent" (in which Frenchie Davis also has appeared), and Diana DeGarmo has done stints in "Hairspray."

Aiken, whose fan base has been the subject of a short-lived Off Broadway musical, has a loyal following similar to Barrino's -- although whether Aiken acolytes and Monty Python enthusiasts overlap to the extent that fans of Barrino and "The Color Purple" do remains to be seen.

Aiken's limited engagement in "Spamalot" runs Jan. 18-May 4.

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ABC News

Paris to Rwanda: Socialite Becomes Latest Star Hitched to Charity

Paris to Rwanda: Socialite Becomes Latest Star Hitched to Charity

How Involved Are Celebrity Charity Activists, and Do They Have Ulterior Motives?

By BLAIR SODEN

Oct. 19, 2007 —

The pictures are everywhere -- celebrities dressed down in earth-tone T-shirts and jeans, covered in dirt and looking incredibly out of place among a group of villagers in some Third-World country; it's a far cry from the red carpet.

Now Paris Hilton says she, too, is jumping on the humanitarian aid bandwagon as she plans her upcoming trip to Rwanda. Some are questioning Hilton's motives for linking up with a humanitarian aid organization, wondering if she's only doing it in effort to revive her tarnished reputation, or if she is truly involved in the charity Playing for Good's cause.

Hilton's recent entrance into the world of charitable giving raises the question: Are celebrities lending more than just their names to a cause, or is it all about the photo-op?

Celebs and Causes Go Way Back

Celebrities' association with humanitarian aid organizations is nothing new. Danny Kaye was one of the first actors to join a charitable organization when he was named a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in 1954. The comedian paved the way for other entertainers, among them Audrey Hepburn, Sarah Jessica Parker, David Beckham and Clay Aiken.

While Unicef was one of the first international aid programs, as need spread throughout the world other organizations started popping up, adding to the list of charitable celebrities.

Now organizations are even being established by celebrities. In 2006, actor Don Cheadle founded the Enough project with human rights activist John Prendergast.

Prendergast said the celebrity attachment is an integral part of his organization.

"Celebrities are like major recruiters to the humanitarian cause," said Prendergast. "They certainly increase the number of people and donors interested in the cause."

Lisa Szarkowski, who heads the ambassador program for Unicef agreed.

"Celebrities have the ear and attention of the public," said Szarkowski. "They tend to command more attention than talking heads from our organization."

Attention that leads to big bucks. Aiken asked fans to donate money to Unicef to help the children in Lebanon and raised more than $75,000 in 24 hours.

So getting involved in causes may help celebrities draw attention to a specific need in some other part of the world as well as get their names in the spotlight -- but just how involved are they?

How Do Celebrities Get Involved?

It's not easy to be selected as a Unicef ambassador. The group sets high standards for celebrities to live up to.

"In terms of becoming an ambassador, it's definitely a process," said Szarkowski. "We like to work with people who are committed to the cause and the mission and to align themselves with us for the long term."

Aiken made the cut when he was named a Unicef ambassador in 2004. The organization approached Aiken after hearing of his involvement with his own charity, the Bubel/Aiken foundation that helps young people with special needs.

Aiken said he felt obligated to help those in need.

"One of the most important responsibilities that you have if you're answering to the public is that you try to use that position in a way that serves the people you're trying to entertain," said Aiken. "I think you have a responsibility when you realize you have kids watching you. ... You can set an example to have kids doing drugs, or you can set an example to have kids helping their communities or their world."

Preparing for a Trip

Despite some common misconceptions, celebrity representatives don't just jet set off for a photo-op; they prepare for months before taking a trip.

"We prepare them pretty well," said Szarkowski. "People don't become ambassadors or supporters of ours unless they go through a process of learning about us and engaging with us."

Celebrities sit through classes to learn about Unicef and all the various issues that threaten children's survival around the world.

"We study as much as we possibly can before we go," said Aiken. "And I study after I go, because I want to be an expert on it. I think it's a disservice to the country you're going to and the children you're trying to help if you don't know what's going on and can't speak knowledgably about your experience.'

Aiken said the preparation is necessary in order to meet with health ministers and other officials on these trips.

"It wouldn't behoove anyone if we just went in to take pictures and came back," said Aiken. "The goal of all these visits and the reason we sit through extremely long sessions sometimes is so when we come back we know what we're talking about."

What Really Happens on Field Visits

Aiken didn't know what to expect during his first visit to Uganda. He walked into the minimalist community center, where he expected nobody to know his name. Suddenly, he was greeted with bows from the crowd.

"When we walked in, they kept calling me your excellency," laughed Aiken. "I think both visits we've been on there have been misconceptions about how important I am."

All joking aside, no matter how famous -- or infamous -- a celebrity is, celebrity support is essential.

But with so many problem areas across the globe, how do celebrities decide which country they want to visit? For most, the decision is made based on where the greatest need is at that time.

"The celebrities we work with want to go where they can be most helpful," said Szarkowski. "We're fortunate to have that caliber of people who basically say to us, 'Tell me where you want me to go.'"

In her eight years at Unicef, she said she's never had a celebrity refuse to go where they were asked to go. And the places they're asked to go certainly don't come with luxe accommodations.

"It's usually a tent somewhere.That's our standard accommodation," said Szarkowski.

Aiken and others pay their own way when they travel on behalf of Unicef. However, once they reach their destination, they don't have the need for many expenses. Most nights they're sleeping in tents on the ground.

In addition to the bare bones travel accommodations, celebrities must cope with extremely dangerous situations. In order to avoid conflict, Prendergast said every minute detail of the trip must be mapped out.

"These trips have to be planned very well to ensure maximum impact and security," said Prendergast.

Security is something Hilton has expressed concern about regarding her upcoming trip, which has some people questioning her motivations.

"I'm scared, yeah. I've heard it's really dangerous," she said. "I've never been on a trip like this before."

All Attention Is Good Attention

Hilton will be filming scenes for her new reality TV show while she's in Rwanda, which has left some questioning the genuineness of her visit. But not everyone is upset about celebrities like Hilton lending their name to causes without much further involvement, if that is so in her case.

"I wouldn't judge people for what their motivations are," said Szarkowski. "We need everyone with a voice to help us get behind that and change that reality."

But, Aiken cautions, a focus on one organization or charity is important to the public.

"I get requests from every organization to come and do this or that," said Aiken. "It's not that I don't have a passion for kids with cancer, because I do. I feel like you can dilute your message if you talk about too many things."

While it remains to be seen how involved Hilton will be with her organization of choice, one celebrity who no doubt has stolen the humanitarian aid spotlight is in it for all the right reasons, according to Aiken.

"I look to Angelina Jolie as a prime example of someone who is doing an amazing job," said Aiken. "She really has a passion and she goes in and makes a point to educate herself about what's going on and that's the only way to do it."

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

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STLtoday

Famous "Idol" Runner-Up Gets in the Christmas Spirit

Famous 'Idol' runner-up gets in the Christmas spirit

By Kevin Johnson

POST-DISPATCH POP MUSIC CRITIC

11/22/2007

Claymates are on alert.

Big-voiced Clay Aiken, the object of their affection and the most famous runner-up in "American Idol" history, is on his way to St. Louis to celebrate "Christmas in the Heartland."

"Doing a Christmas tour is kind of my Christmas tradition at this point,'' Aiken says. "I don't even know if I can do a December without doing a Christmas tour.

"But we don't go to the same area every year, and it's been a few years since I've done the Midwest," adds Aiken, who released "Merry Christmas With Love" in 2004.

"I like doing Christmas tours because people have memories that go along with Christmas songs, more than regular secular songs. I'm not sure you remember where you were the first time you heard 'Bootylicious,' but you remember when you first heard 'Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,'""'' aka "The Christmas Song."

During his new tour, Aiken will incorporate original Christmas stories that fans submitted for the show.

"We wanted to make this as personal as possible," he says.

Aiken will perform with the Fox Theatre Orchestra. On previous tours, he has used high school choirs, community theater musicians and local symphonies. Initially, the orchestra idea scared him, but now he relishes the opportunity.

"I get a whole new orchestra every night, re-rehearsing each time with different people," he says. "Doing a regular show five nights can be stale. This freshens it up a bit. It's always interesting with these different personalities and people on stage."

In an interview last week, Aiken talked about the status of his new CD (which follows last year's "A Thousand Different Ways"); his debut next year in "Monty Python's Spamalot"; why he hasn't watched "American Idol" in a while; and that rumored tour with Ruben Studdard and Kimberly Locke.

Q. How are things going with the new album?

A. That's another reason why the New York opportunity ("Spamalot") worked out. I was in the process of putting something together for next year, that I hope to release sometime in the first half of the year. One of the benefits to doing the play is I would be in New York City anyway recording an album.

Q. What direction do you see yourself going on the next CD?

A. When they talk about direction, I don't ever know what that means. I hope anything I do will just be Clay Aiken. I won't do an album where I'm doing stuff people won't recognize as me. The album I did the last time was an album of love songs from the '70s, '80s and '90s. This will be new music, new songs that will become signature songs. They'll stand up against some of the mess in the market nowadays.

Q. What's the story behind your Broadway debut?

A. I thought doing five shows a week was something. Now I'm going to be doing eight shows a week. I never thought I would end up doing a Broadway play. I lived in North Carolina all my life and didn't see much of that circuit. But then I'd been going to New York more often and catching shows, and I was amazed at how hard-working and talented these people are. I hope I can hold my own.

Q. What's the appeal of doing Broadway for you?

A. I don't know if it's Broadway that's the appeal. It's not that I wanted to do Broadway. The appeal is the show. The show is atypical of Broadway. It's not an Andrew Lloyd Webber show with big ballads. It's silly and irreverent, an absolutely outside-of-the-norm type show. I was hoping to do something people wouldn't expect from me, and the character I play doesn't sing that big ballad I've sung all these years.

Q. There was talk of you, Ruben Studdard and Kimberly Locke touring together. What's the status of that?

A. I'm not sure where that came from. It wasn't even something that was discussed as, 'Oh, wouldn't that be a fun idea.'"

Q. Have you been keeping up with "American Idol" at all?

A. I haven't watched an episode in two years, by choice. It's not fun for me anymore. Everyone has to graduate at some point.

kjohnson@post-dispatch.com | 314-340-8191

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mlive.com Kalamazoo Gazette

Aiken and Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra Present Holiday Concert

Aiken and Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra present holiday concert

Sunday, November 25, 2007

BY CHRISTOPHER HORB

Special to the Gazette

KALAMAZOO -- When one thinks of Christmas music, names such as Andy Williams or Bing Crosby may spring to mind.

These days, there's one pop performer trimming the proverbial tree with his own holiday song stylings: 2003 ``American Idol'' runner-up Clay Aiken.

Aiken, accompanied by the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, will wrap his voice around seasonal tunes new and old when ``Christmas With Clay Aiken'' hits Miller Auditorium on Friday.

According to North Carolina native Aiken, there is a conscious attempt to deliver a fresh experience each tour.

``It differs a little bit every year,'' said Aiken, who called from his cell phone on his way to a doctor's appointment. ``For example, the first tour we used children from local orchestras, elementary schools, high schools,'' he said. ``We have a tradition of involving people from the communities we visit in the show. This year, we're allowing fans who've submitted their own Christmas memories through our Web site to tell those holiday stories along with the music. It's going to be kind of like a big Christmas card.''

This is the fourth year for Aiken's holiday tour. The Miller show falls on the 28-year-old performer's birthday.

``You know, I don't even celebrate them (birthdays) anymore, I just let them happen,'' he said with a laugh. ``It's starting to feel like my birthday is more important to other people than to me.''

Aiken's ``Merry Christmas With Love,'' a mix of classics and originals, debuted atop Billboard Magazine's Holiday Album Chart when it was released three years ago. In fact, the album enjoyed the biggest debut week sales for a Christmas album since SoundScan began tabulating sales in 1991. In addition, it debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 -- one of the highest-ever debuts for a holiday album on the pop music charts.

On the CD, numbers such as ``Mary, Did You Know'' and ``Silent Night'' showcase Aiken's versatile voice at its subtle best. Meanwhile, more upbeat tunes such as ``Sleigh Ride'' and ``What Are You Doing For New Year's Eve?'' stand out as testaments to his range and playfulness.

In an era in which performers from any number of genres have continued to throw their Santa hats into the seasonal music ring, Aiken claimed Billboard's Best-Selling Christmas Album awards in 2004 and 2005. In 2005, Aiken also won Outstanding Yule CD from the American Christian Music Awards.

``I hadn't planned to do one (a Christmas album) so early to start with. I wanted to get out two pop albums first,'' he said. ``After doing it, the Christmas touring has easily become one of my favorite times of the year.

``Touring around the holidays is far more powerful. With Christmas songs, everyone has a memory that goes along with `Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire' or any number of other ones. The Christmas tour is more emotional for me than the pop tours. There's a real sense of family about them. It's about getting in the spirit, and it's always exciting to see people getting in the Christmas spirit.''

Not bad for a former schoolteacher turned reality television star turned pop-music superstar.

And though he may have only come in second place on ``Idol,'' the legions of fans that have become affectionately known as ``Claymates'' have shown that he's No. 1 by their continued devotion to his music.

It's not just his Christmas music that has endeared him to fans.

His 2003 debut, ``Measure of a Man,'' went double platinum, outselling ``Idol'' winner Ruben Studdard's ``Soulful'' CD. Aiken's latest release, a collection of covers titled ``A Thousand Different Ways,'' has enjoyed robust sales as well.

Along the way, Aiken has found the time to write a book, ``Learning To Sing,'' as well as taking on the role of a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

So what can the audience expect from ``Christmas With Clay Aiken?''

``It's only going to be Christmas stuff,'' Aiken said. ``I like to keep them separate (the pop hits and Christmas tunes). I like the show to feel like a holiday event, and I think it would be confusing to throw in a pop tune.''

Concert

Clay Aiken with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra -- Holiday concert, 8 p.m. Friday, Miller Auditorium. $35-$60. 387-2300 or www.millerauditorium.com.

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Wilkes-Barre (PA) Times Leader

Clay Aiken Speaks

Clay Aiken spea

By Lisa Sokolowskilsokolowski@timesleader.com

Features Writer

November 25, 2007

Clay Aiken speaks quickly, a southern drawl attached to every word. Sometimes the North Carolina resident will slow down and compose himself, but his sentences are mostly one long word said in one long breath without pauses.

It seems like a metaphor for the way his life has been since he was the runner-up on Season 2 of “American Idol.”

In the past five years, he has released four albums and is embarking on his eighth tour, which makes a stop at the F. M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre at 7 p.m. Dec. 4. Last year, his appearance at the venue was sold out.

His day job is to sell as many albums as possible – and he has sold millions – but he doesn’t stop there. He is a philanthropist who has raised millions of dollars for various causes, begun the Bubel/Aiken Foundation and traveled with UNICEF.

“I could go out and just sing,” he said, adding, volunteering “is what I do with my downtime. … When you go out there (on stage), there’s only so much of that you can take with you.”

But what he gives to his fans, affectionately called “Claymates,” is so much more. Aiken went through life as an underdog, a nerdy guy with a charisma hidden behind his glasses. He swapped those for contacts and let the “American Idol” producers change his hair.

Under the hair products, though, he’s still the everyman, a celebrity the common folk can relate to, and that’s probably why he appeals to practically everyone.

“They get as young as, say, 15 or 12 or so on to right on up there,” Aiken said as he took a break from a recent rehearsal for his fourth annual Christmas concert, this year called “Christmas in the Heartland.”

To change his Christmas shows this year, Aiken invited fans to write about a holiday memory in 20 sentences or less. He said he personally read 13,000 stories, and the best ones will be read aloud by their writers at the concerts.

“I had a hand in it,” Aiken said.

After his tour, which begins Monday, finishes on Dec. 22, Aiken is supposed to make his Broadway debut as Sir Robin in “Spamalot,” that is if the Broadway stagehands’ strike is over by then.

Although Aiken admitted he hasn’t been paying attention to the strike, he’s optimistic it will be taken care of before his Jan. 18 debut.

And though it’s the first time Aiken will be on the Broadway stage, it isn’t the first time his likeness has been there. “Idol: The Musical,” an off-Broadway production, was about eight teenagers who were huge fans of Aiken. That show, however, opened and closed on the same day after only one show.

He’ll be on Broadway for about four months, and then it’s safe to guess he’ll be back to raising awareness for causes he’s passionate about.

“I think whenever you see people who are in need and who have less than you, you do appreciate what you have,” he said.

IF YOU GO

What: Clay Aiken’s “Christmas in the Heartland” tour

Where: F. M. Kirby Center, Wilkes-Barre

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 4

Tickets: $65, $55, $40 at the Kirby Center box office or any Ticketmaster location

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South Bend Tribune

Christmas Comes Early for Aiken Fans

Christmas comes early for Aiken fans

JEREMY D. BONFIGLIO

Tribune Staff Writer

November 25, 2007

Clay Aiken is driving to his doctor's office when he pauses to talk about his upcoming 20-city "Christmas in the Heartland" tour.

"All is well," he says by telephone from somewhere in Los Angeles. "Before I start a tour, I like to make sure everything is working."

It's not a bad idea, considering how busy the 2003 "American Idol" runner-up has been lately.

Aiken recently appeared on the Fox game show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" He taped the "Capitol One Holiday Celebration on Ice" with Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen (which will air Christmas Day on NBC). And he will make his Broadway debut Jan. 18 in Monty Python's "Spamalot."

On Monday, Aiken sets off on his fourth-straight holiday tour, kicking off consecutive dates in Wichita, Kan., and St. Louis, Mo., before making his South Bend debut Wednesday at the Morris Performing Arts Center. The tour also will conclude in Indiana, Dec. 22 at the Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville.

"There's always a different feel with the holidays," he says. "Just the season itself is so full of emotion that people in the audience are always moved in some way."

As with past holiday tours, the bulk of Aiken's show will feature songs off his 2004 CD, "Merry Christmas With Love," which features such holiday classics as "O, Holy Night," "Silent Night" and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)."

"The set list doesn't change much," Aiken says, "but we've tried to do something different with it each year. We used elementary school choirs and community orchestras. So what's left? People always have memories of Christmas. This year, we'll be using fans' and different audience members' Christmas' stories and work them into the show itself."

Aiken -- who finished second behind Ruben Studdard on the second season of "American Idol" -- emerged from the Fox television experience with a recording contract and a legion of rabid fans.

His first single, "This is the Night/Bridge Over Troubled Water," won the Billboard Music Award for the best-selling single of 2003. He followed that up with his debut CD, "Measure of a Man," in 2003; "Merry Christmas With Love"; and the book "Learning to Sing: Hearing The Music In Your Life" in 2004. Last year's compilation CD, "A Thousand Different Ways," debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's top 200.

Before Aiken records his next album, however, he will make his Broadway debut at the Shubert Theatre in New York City as Sir Robin in Monty Python's "Spamalot."

Inspired by the 1975 comedy film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," the musical tells the tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table who, on a quest from God, make a short stop in the Spam-filled land of Camelot.

Aiken will portray Sir Robin -- a role originated on stage by David Hyde Pierce -- from Jan. 18 to May 4.

"It was never really a goal (to be on Broadway)," Aiken says. "(But) this was so completely different than anything else that I've ever been offered."

Aiken says that part of the reason he took on the role was because he was already planning to be in New York working on his new, yet-to-be-titled CD.

"There's really not much to tell," he says of the project. "We just started working on it. We're finding songs for the new album right now and we just hired a producer."

In the meantime, Aiken has plenty of projects to keep his obsessive fans -- known as Claymates -- buzzing.

One of the reasons Aiken says he continues to do an annual holiday tour is to celebrate those who support him -- even if their loyalty is, at times, baffling even to him.

"If I knew (what it was), I'd be making a serum," Aiken says, laughing. "They are a really close-knit group. I think they came together because they were fans of the show or the music or whatever, but they stayed together, not because of me, but because of themselves. ... (The tour) has become our own Christmas tradition."

Staff Writer Jeremy D. Bonfiglio:

jbonfiglio@sbtinfo.com

(574) 235-6244

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Kalamazoo Gazette

Clay Nation Includes Kalamazoo

Clay nation includes Kalamazoo

Posted by Julie Mack | Gazette November 26, 2007 08:14AM

Categories: Breaking News, Top Stories

To most of us, Clay Aiken is that nice young man who placed second in the 2003 season of "American Idol."

But it seems Aiken has a cult following among middle-aged women, creating an unexpected boon for Miller Auditorium and Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Aiken will be in town Friday for a holiday concert with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra at Miller Auditorium -- an event occurring on Aiken's 29th birthday.

To the delighted astonishment of Miller officials, they've sold tickets in 26 states for the concert, drawing hundreds of women from fan clubs with names such as Claynation and Claymates. About 50 Aiken fans were so determined to get front-and-center seats that they bought season subscriptions to Miller, costing those patrons an extra $100 each. (The fans donated tickets for the other events back to MIller, which is distributing them to area service clubs.)

"We've never had anything like this before," said Tracy Lawie, Miller's director of marketing. "We had no idea (Aiken) had this type of following. No clue whatsoever."

Kent Buchanan, who handles group sales for Miller, said the concert isn't sold out, but it's expected to be an unusually large crowd for this type of event.

He added that it's by happenstance that Miller even booked Aiken.

"His name was on a list and we had a date available and it worked out," Buchanan said. "We figured he was a household name enough to sell some tickets, but we put it together not knowing the kind of response we would get."

One of the ticketholders is Karen Bellows, who lives in Davison near Flint.

Bellows goes on the Internet every day to chat with other Aiken fans. She's made close friendships with other Aiken devotees. For the Kalamazoo concert, she's meeting up with women coming from Minnesota, Indiana and Detroit.

Bellows also is spearheading a campaign for fans to mark the birthday by donating children's books to Kalamazoo Public Schools -- an appropriate tribute, she said, considering Aiken's charity work with children and his degree in special education.

After bouncing the idea off Kalamazoo Communities in Schools, which coordinates donations for KPS, Bellows posted an appeal for the book drive on an Aiken fan Web site that has 10,000 subscribers. Although she directed her message to Kalamazoo concert-goers, others quickly jumped on board.

Concert-goers offered to take books for other people. Others from around the country offered to send books directly to Bellows or KCIS. Fans from as far away as Tennessee are planning to bring their SUVs and vans to the concert to haul the books collected at Miller.

"We've had 100 books mailed in so far -- from Maine, Arizona, North California," Bellows said. "I've got people in California mailing books, people in Texas mailing books. It's just snowballed."

Coco Cook, a KCIS project director, said she received books Wednesday from three states. "And two weeks ago, I didn't know who Clay Aiken was," Cook said.

Bellows, a wife and mother of three grown children who works as a cashier at a JCPenney store, said it's likely that Aiken is aware of the book campaign. But, she added, "If he knows about it, fine. If he doesn't, that's fine, too. It's in honor of his birthday, not about trying to get his attention."

She's just trying to honor Aiken's ideals, adding that she was first drawn to the pop star because of his voice.

"But it turns out he's a person with a heart and he loves kids," she said. "It's the heart and the voice."

As he's been working with fans who are coming to Kalamazoo, Buchanan said that he asked about the phenomenon.

She told him, Buchanan said, " 'Remember when you were a kid and the girl next door had a crush on Bobby Sherman or Shaun Cassidy? It's like that, only now we have credit cards.'"

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Kansas.com/Wichita Eagle

Fans Swarm to Aiken's Holiday Show

Posted on Mon, Nov. 26, 2007

Fans swarm to Aiken's holiday show

BY ICESS FERNANDEZ

Wichita Eagle

What could make 42-year-old Jacki Koah fly from Portland, Ore., to Wichita with no family or friends around for miles?

Clay Aiken, of course.

"I wanted to do the first two shows but in the summer I did nine shows," she said with a twinkle in her eye. "I've done four meet-and-greets and he knows me by name. I'm Jacki from Oregon."

The proof of her acquaintance with Aiken is on her left shoulder.

"He signed my shoulder and I had it tattooed," she said. "The man can sing the telephone book to me and I would be happy."

Koah and her daughter attended the packed Aiken concert Monday night at Central Christian Church on Rock Road.

The holiday concert included songs from the singer's Christmas CD.

Fans lined up in anticipation of the show, most of them women -- Aiken's traditional fan base.

Nancy Roseen flew from Rhode Island to Wichita to see the first of seven shows she's purchased tickets for. She also won a chance, through a fan site, to meet Aiken personally. Monday she held a teddy bear with his signature.

"Oh my God, he's just as nice as he can be," she said. "We really adore him. Just can't get enough."

Aiken's fans are known as Claymates but Roseen doesn't like the name.

"I'm an avid Clay fan, not a Claymate," she said. "I just don't care for it."

Monday night members of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra played lightly in the background as people found their seats. Suddenly the lights dimmed and the entire auditorium was black, except for lights from the musicians onstage. The orchestra stopped playing and the crowd fell silent. A door could be heard closing as footsteps came closer to the stage. Aiken, dressed in a black suit with a long jacket and sporting his mop-top hair, stepped onstage.

The crowd cheered as he started to sing. His first song was a melody that included the songs "Rejoice", "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night."

"It's good to be here," Aiken said to the crowd.

"We like to include the community as much as we can because the holidays are about being together," he said of the orchestra,. He only rehearsed with them on Monday afternoon. "We are so appreciative to them for coming this afternoon to look at the sheet music for the first time."

Four holiday stories written by Wichitans were chosen to be read at the concert. The stories were accompanied by the orchestra. They were meant to be inspirational and to get the audience into the Christmas spirit.

"I think you'll be moved by the stories you'll hear tonight," Aiken said. "This entire concert is a Christmas card from you to you."

Paige Mousley, 18, was excited about what surprises were in store. She and her mother have seen Aiken perform in other cities and they were anxious to see how he would do in Wichita.

"He puts on a really good show," she said.

Joyce Thomas, 60, agreed.

"Anytime he's singing anywhere within reason, I'm there," she said.

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South Bend Tribune

Aiken's Holiday Fare Doesn't Disappoint Faithful Fans

Article published Nov 28, 2007

Aiken's holiday fare doesn’t disappoint faithful fans

By JEREMY D. BONFIGLIO

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND — Julia Maish stood on the right side of the Morris Performing Arts Center stage recounting one of her most vivid Christmas memories.It involved a borrowed black dress, a handsome, but intoxicated young stranger, an unfortunate fire to said dress, and a bowl of eggnog that doused the flames.

"That was the first time I ever really sizzled," she said as Clay Aiken smiled broadly at the center of the Morris stage.

Maish was one of four South Bend audience members invited to share their holiday tales Wednesday night during Aiken’s "Christmas in the Heartland" tour stop.

The stories, solicited for the tour as part of a fan club contest, were interspersed throughout the 90-minute set, bringing a dose of hometown charm to a concert that, at times, felt almost too formal.

Best known for his stint on the second season of the Fox reality juggernaut "American Idol," Aiken bypassed his hits but wooed the crowd with a selection of holiday staples and several tracks off his 2004 CD, "Merry Christmas With Love."

A relaxed and polished Aiken, dressed in all black, eased into a soft rendition of "O Come, O Come Emanuel," then, with the Bill Porter Orchestra, a Chicago jazz band, in tow, he launched into the first of the show’s three holiday medleys. Joined by talented supporting vocalists Angela Fisher and Quiana Parlor, the trio zipped through an arrangement that somehow morphed "Away in a Manger," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Silent Night" into a single, pleasant entity.

Maish, who lives in Chicago, was the first of the four storytellers to step onstage. Up until Tuesday, she didn’t expect she would be sharing any of the four stories she submitted to the contest.

"I found out last night at 9:30 p.m.," Maish said. "I guess he liked this one."

While Maish’s story was played to comedic perfection, the others included more traditional tales — a Christmas tradition between mother and son, a woman’s connection to her goddaughter, and an immigrant’s recollection of her family’s first American Christmas.

"It’s nice to be in this part of the country," Aiken said. "It’s nice to be back in Indiana."

The audience seemed to agree.

"There were two people from Tampa, Fla. Then there were two gals from California who flew in for the concert," Morris volunteer usher Eve Pierce said. "I met a man or a woman from Texas, and of course the people from Michigan. It’s just amazing. They’re real groupies."

Although a good chunk of the audience may not share a common zip code, it was clear Wednesday that these were proud citizens of Claynation.

They clapped loudly when Aiken belted out perhaps his most popular Christmas tune, "Mary, Did You Know?"

They seemed undaunted by a few harmless, but noticeable vocal cracks at the end of "Winter Wonderland."

They even panicked for a brief moment when the curtain fell just 45 minutes into the show. Seconds later a voice came on to inform them that it was simply intermission.

Perhaps it was the orchestra setting, or the backup singers in formal gowns, but the first act came off as a bit stiff, despite Aiken’s obvious vocal acuity.

It’s clear he has grown as a singer and performer since his "American Idol" stint, and after the break, he proved by just how much.

Aiken’s tender version of "O, Holy Night" set the tone for the rest of the night.

He was inspired throughout "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "O Come All Ye Faithful," before yielding to Parlor for her soulful rendition of "Where Are You Christmas?"

It all led to the undeniable concert highlight, "Don't Save It All For Christmas Day," a tune once sung by Parlor.

"I like it so much," Aiken admitted, "I stole it from her."

Whether they knew it or not, this was the moment the audience was waiting for. Reminiscent of his "American Idol" performances, Aiken pushed his vocals to hit the big notes, which he did to perfection.

The song’s crescendo was such a stirring moment that audience members actually leaped to their feet like they were at a church revival.

They were still standing when Aiken left the stage and remained that way until he came out for the one-song encore, "All is Well." It paled in comparison to "Don't Save It All For Christmas Day," but the song’s tender moments turned out to be a fitting ending for a holiday show that left Aiken’s faithful following delightfully giddy as they exited the theater.

Staff Writer Jeremy D. Bonfiglio:

jbonfiglio@sbtinfo.com

(574) 235-6244

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Baltimore Sun

Aiken Molds His Own Way

Aiken molds his own way

'Idol' singer, set to perform his holiday show in D.C., embraces his lack of cool in an effort to just be himself

By Brad Schleicher

Sun reporter

November 29, 2007

Clay Aiken knows he isn't cool. He doesn't seem to mind.

He's been fighting to stay that way after being launched into the ranks of superstardom as the runner-up on 2003's American Idol.

The show's quintessential nice guy never wanted to sound like he's in his 60s or like he's trying too hard to be cutting-edge.

"If I tried to be cool," Aiken says, "it would be like your parents using slang and sounding weird."

He's fought with managers over his image and argued over song choices, saying that many of the songs that were proposed to him were great, but they were better suited for Justin Timberlake or Maroon 5.

Aside from an occasional change in hairstyle and wardrobe, Aiken says he hasn't tried to reinvent himself or his music to compete with pop music's edgier leading men.

And he admits that it would be odd for people to bump and grind to one of his songs.

"I'll put it this way," he says, "if I was in a club and Clay Aiken started playing, I would get off the dance floor."

But Aiken, who will perform a holiday concert Sunday at D.C.'s Warner Theatre with the Concert Artists of Baltimore, has stuck to what he knows he's good at - showcasing his vocal prowess rather than his dance moves or beats.

It has worked out well for him. Based on album sales, the Raleigh, N.C., native is the most successful male contestant and second-place finisher in American Idol history.

His first album, 2003's Measure of a Man, went double platinum; his 2004 album, Merry Christmas With Love, set a record for fastest-selling holiday album since 1991; and his 2006 release of A Thousand Different Ways received gold certification.

Regardless of his success, Aiken is still trying to get where he wants to be musically.

His first album, he says, was sort of a "scrapbook" of different producers, which made every song sound different. But now, he says, his albums have some sort of continuity.

"There's a similar arch with anyone that comes out of [American] Idol. On the first album, the record label has control over everything," he says. "Before, the song choice was based on what the label believed people wanted."

Aiken says he has gained more control in the studio. For his fourth full-length album, in pre-production, he has more of an influence when choosing songs and producers, which affects the direction of the album as a whole.

But Aiken is broadening more than his musical horizons by appearing on a different type of stage in January.

Aiken was recently cast in the role of the less-than-heroic Sir Robin in the Broadway production of Monty Python's Spamalot, a critically acclaimed, Tony Award-winning musical directed by Mike Nichols.

This isn't the first musical that Aiken has been a part of. Growing up, he was in a few plays and did some community theater after being cut from the high school musical in his senior year.

But Aiken wasn't in the musicals and plays to hone his acting chops.

"In Raleigh, there aren't too many opportunities to sing," he says. "You just have to do what is available."

Aiken accepted his role in Spamalot after being offered a hefty number of roles over the year. He says that although his recording and touring schedule usually prevented him from taking any of the other offers, Spamalot was something special.

"It happens to be one of the stupidest shows on Broadway," he says. "Not in a bad way, though. It's just silly."

Aiken was really intrigued with the idea of doing something a little left of center, and Spamalot certainly fit the bill.

Surprisingly, it took Aiken awhile to warm up to the musical. He needed to see it twice to realize that there isn't much of a plot.

"It has a bunch of skits put together that are all hilarious and different," he says, "but if people are expecting Phantom of the Opera, Hairspray or Les Miserables, they should probably go for something else."

Before Aiken hits Broadway, he will finish the rest of his Christmas tour.

Since releasing a Christmas album in 2004, Aiken has routinely toured in November and December, performing holiday-themed shows with community musicians, orchestras and choruses.

While some may think these shows require more preparation than usual, Aiken says that a lot of times, he'll only rehearse with a few musicians he takes on the road with him.

"Sometimes we'll run through one time and sometimes, depending on whether or not I have interviews, I will go into it blind and hope for the best and leave the rest up to God."

brad.schleicher@baltsun.com

Clay Aiken will perform with the Concert Artists of Baltimore at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. N.W., Washington. Tickets are $57-$127. Go to ticketmaster.com or call the box office at 410-547-7328.

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Lake County News-Sun

Aiken Pleases Smaller Genesee Crowd

Aiken pleases smaller Genesee crowd

November 30, 2007

By DAN MORAN DMORAN@SCN1.COM

WAUKEGAN -- Clay Aiken was more honest than he needed to be Thursday night, admitting to his faithful that he messed up the opening of his Christmas ballad "Mary, Did You Know."

"I try so hard to be classy for these here shows -- which is not in my nature," the North Carolina native said in an unaffected, homespun accent that stands completely at odds with his Adult Contemporary singing voice. "But I came in a little early on that last song."

If the audience didn't notice the mistake, his conductor and pianist, Jesse Vargas, apparently did. "But he somehow made it work," Aiken said, mimicking the grimace Vargas apparently made when the gaffe unfolded.

And then, when the ensemble launched into "Merry Christmas With Love," Aiken joked that "now I'm going to start this one late."

The moments of self-deprecation came at the start of his "Clay Aiken Christmas," stopping by the Genesee nearly a year to the day after he last visited with his 2006 holiday tour. Last year, Waukegan served as the opener, while Thursday's show was the third of 20 shows on a tour that continues through Dec. 22.

Aiken told the audience that he and his traveling squad -- including Vargas and backup singers/soloists Quiana Parlor and Angela Fisher -- "like going out on the road for Christmas ... It's great to be here for the second year in a row in the Chicago area."

Thursday's crowd was smaller than last year's, which was only 400 under capacity on a night when the Chicago area was hit with a foot of snow. The Claymates who filled about half of the main floor and part of a balcony Thursday were primarily female and from the early years of the Baby Boom.

Working with the Skokie-based Bill Porter Orchestra -- Aiken performs with local musicians at each stop -- the former "American Idol" contender mixed Christmas standards with material off his 2004 album "Merry Christmas With Love." He opened by emerging amid the orchestra in an all-black suit, singing a medley that included "Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel" and "Silent Night."

He also introduced a new element for his fourth holiday tour, inviting pre-selected local fans -- Georgene Winkler, Donna Deets, Julia Marsh and Marilyn Lang -- to read accounts of their favorite Christmas memories to introduce songs.

After Winkler told a comic tale of being doused with egg nog after her holiday dress caught on fire, Aiken again improvised, launching into "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and changed the lyrics to "there'll be parties for hosting and dresses for roasting."

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The Citizen Voice

Aiken Delivers Holiday Greetings

Aiken delivers holiday greetings

BY KAYLEE ZIOLKOWSKI

STAFF WRITER

12/05/2007

WILKES-BARRE ­— Clay Aiken packed a punch with a score of passionate holiday favorites during his “Christmas in the Heartland” before a packed crowd at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday night.

Sporting his modern long-coat suit and thin-rimmed frames, Aiken opened his first set with “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” hitting his signature high notes and falsettos.

Aiken sang several medleys containing a somber mix of traditional seasonal favorites, including “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “O Holy Night.” He also livened the mood with a jazz ensemble of Christmas hits including “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Jingle Bells.”

Aiken’s back-up singers, Kiana Parlor and Angela Fisher, sported black, flamenco-inspired gowns and provided solo hits including “Where Are You Christmas” and “Who Would Imagine A King.”

Between songs, Aiken chose to bring a different vibe to his holiday concert by inviting audience members on stage to share their favorite holiday memories. In the months prior to the show, fans submitted their stories to his Web site, with the top four being selected. Stories included a parent’s war romance, a childhood Christmas tree, a Christmas infant miracle and a Christmas morning film tradition.

Aiken told the audience he wanted his fans to share their favorite holiday memories to help everyone remember the meaning of this time of year.

“My favorite holiday memory is being able to share this concert with everyone,” Aiken said.

Aiken was accompanied by the Lee Vincent Holiday Orchestra, comprised of musicians from the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, as well as symphonies from Allentown and Binghamton, N.Y.

Before concluding his final number, he urged audience members to support the local arts community, and challenged them to appreciate each other all year round, not just during the holidays.

“Encourage children in your area to become involved,” Aiken said. “The arts community is important, and so is your family, don’t let them forget it.”

kziolkowski@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2062

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masslive.com/The Republican

Clay Aiken Prepares 4th Yule Show

Clay Aiken prepares 4th Yule show

Thursday, December 06, 2007

By KEITH J. O'CONNOR

When Clay Aiken's record company proposed the idea of recording a Christmas album, he was hesitant at first.

"My first response was that I would love to do one, but not just yet," said Aiken, who is bringing his Christmas in the Heartland tour to the Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday.

"I had just released my first album and thought we should give it a year, with another album in between," said the popular "American Idol" finalist.

But as powerful record companies often do, they prevailed.

"They were very adamant in feeling that this was the time to do it, and it did work out well," said the singer, whose voice thrilled millions of Americans who watched the performer rise to the top on year two of "American Idol."

And, so, on Nov. 16, 2004, RCA Records released Aiken's "Merry Christmas With Love," which set a record for fastest-selling holiday album in the Soundscan era. The album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and tied Celine Dion's record for the highest debut by a holiday album in the history of Billboard magazine. The album went on to sell more than 1 million copies in six weeks and was the best-selling holiday album of 2004.

In support of his Christmas album, Aiken launched a tour in November 2004 that revolved around a Christmas theme. He also starred in and executive produced his first television special in December, "A Clay Aiken Christmas," to coincide with the album and tour. The TV

show's featured guests Barry Manilow, Yolanda Adams and Megan Mullally. It was released on DVD later that month.

Aiken said with the fourth Christmas tour this year, "it's always tougher to create something a little different for the fans," but noted they have.

"We sent out a call to anybody able to write who wanted to share their own Christmas memories with us, and we've selected several of them to come up on stage at each concert to share their stories with the audience," Aiken said.

"It's almost like creating a Christmas card and we do it in such a way that the stories fold right into the next song," he added.

Born in 1978, Aiken began singing at an early age and by the time he reached his teen years was a member of the Raleigh Boys Choir in his native North Carolina. However, when it came time to go to college, music wasn't his major. He studied special education instead and had dreams of attending William and Mary for a master's degree in administration.

Before he could further his education, he ended up wooing 21 million television viewers on "American Idol" each week from February to May 2003. His rendition of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" earned him a spot in viewers' hearts. Although he finished second to Ruben Studdard, Aiken's loss was not taken lightly. He landed a deal with RCA within weeks of the show's finale.

Aiken's debut single, "This is the Night," made history by going to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. It sold more than 392,000 copies during its first week, beating Elton John's record for "Candle in the Wind 1997."

Later that year, he issued his first studio album, "The Measure of a Man," which went on to No. 1 on Billboard's Top 200 during its first week of release. After the Christmas album, Aiken waited two years, until September 2006, to release his third album "A Thousand Different Ways," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard chart - making him the fourth artist to have his first three albums debut in the Top 5.

After his current Christmas tour, Aiken said he expects to go into the recording studio in January or February to begin recording his fourth album, which he hopes to have out by the middle of next year.

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Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader

Aiken Spreads Some Holiday Cheer

Aiken spreads some holiday cheer REVIEW

‘American Idol’ runner-up fills Kirby Center with the Christmas spirit.

By Lisa Sokolowski lsokolowski@timesleader.com

Features Writer

Thursday, December 6, 2007

WILKES-BARRE – Chatter filled the F.M. Kirby Center while the Lee Vincent Orchestra was onstage, quietly playing Christmas songs. The orchestra went virtually unnoticed until the concert master came onstage and took his place at the piano.

That’s when the fans silenced.

They knew Clay Aiken would be coming on stage soon.

And out he came, from a curtain draped under part of the orchestra, dressed completely in black. He took his place at a standing microphone in the center of the stage and belted out a medley of Christmas tunes in a rather unassuming manner.

Aiken, the runner-up on Season 2 of “American Idol,” didn’t move on stage. He didn’t let flashy costumes or neon lights take the focus away from his vocals. And, on songs like “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” his voice soared, causing the audience to wonder why he didn’t win “American Idol.”

Could Ruben Studdard, the Velvet Teddy Bear, hit the high notes in “Oh Holy Night”?

Aiken sang familiar Christmas songs – “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Jingle Bells” and “Winter Wonderland” with a big band ending – sandwiched together as medleys. The lesser-known songs (like “Mary Did You Know” and “Welcome to Our World”) were full-lengths, which perhaps was purposely done to eliminate turning the concert into a group singalong.

Aiken played the Kirby Center last year (this is actually his fourth annual Christmas tour), and he changed the show up this year by inviting four audience members to read aloud holiday stories.

The first story was a humorous tale of opening presents under a father’s video camera. The second was a tear-jerker about a sick grandson who was able to come home for Christmas; another was of a woman who made “moments” for her playhouse Christmas tree (because she was too young to say “ornaments”); the last was about the woman’s parents, who were separated at Christmas when her father was in the Korean War but were reunited thanks to Operation Santa.

The stories of holiday joy, each person’s own holiday miracle, choked up some audience members at times and caused laughter at others. But, what it did more than anything was stir up some holiday spirit.

And that’s what Aiken hoped for.

He closed the second set (he sang two and an encore) by asking people “not to save it all for Christmas” and to give love and affection to those close to your heart now.

He then appropriately sang, “Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day.”

People left chattering as the orchestra packed up onstage, this time talking about how great Aiken’s voice was, how great the orchestra was and perhaps just how great the holiday season is going to be.

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theday.com

Christmas Clay

Christmas Clay

By Kristina Dorsey , Day Arts Writer

Published on 12/7/2007 in Home »Features »Features Main Photo

Here's what we learned in a recent interview with Clay Aiken: • He likes celebrating Christmas so much that he does a holiday concert tour each year, but he doesn't like celebrating his birthday and so did nothing special for his 29th.

• He won't be doing any Justin Timberlake-ish songs on his new CD, as past producers have suggested. He says that having him sing that kind of song would be like a parent using a teenager's slang.

• He thought “Spamalot” was “one of the stupidest things I had ever seen in my life” — and yet he's agreed to star in the Broadway musical beginning next month.

• He isn't shy about expressing his opinions (see above), and he is an engaging conversationalist, with just the right amount of that ol' Southern charm.

The North Carolina native has come a long way since he was runner-up on “American Idol” four years ago. He's had a string of big-selling CDs, starting with “Measure of a Man,” which went double platinum in 2003. He followed up with “Merry Christmas With Love,” in 2004 and “A Thousand Different Ways,” combining covers and new tunes, last year.

He brings his Christmas tour to Mohegan Sun Arena Sunday.

“It's really something I look forward to every year,” he says of the tour. “There's always a moment in the year where we consider, well, maybe we won't do it this year. Maybe we'll do something different. Maybe, God forbid, I actually spend the holidays at home this year.

“It never lasts, that thought. Because it's something I look forward to. I love the music. The music is more powerful and means more to people than secular songs they hear throughout the year.”

The concert, in fact, is all Christmas music.

“It's kind of tough to put 'Invisible' in the middle of (Christmas songs). It would totally take away the mood,” he says.

What adds to the mood is his inclusion of local communities in the show. The first year of the tour, he brought onstage high school and elementary school choirs from each city. The second year, it was community theaters. Last year, local orchestras got the call. Orchestras are included again this year, but so are Aiken fans who wrote in with their own holiday memories. He selected the winners.

“I was actually the one who read every single one of the stories when they got submitted. There were some moments I

regretted coming up with the idea,” he says with a laugh. “If we ever do that again, I'll be farming that out, that's for sure.

“But it is neat to listen to people's holiday experiences. Last night, we had a lady who talked about when she was a child, she moved (to America) from England, and she remembers being so afraid that Father Christmas would not make it to her house and would not be able to find her all this way away. Of course, she woke up and found that he might have come, but he had a different name. He was Santa Claus.

“We had a lady who read a story about how she was performing in a jazz trio one Christmas, and her dress caught on fire. Threw eggnog on her skirt.”

The tales are worked into the show so that they lead naturally into songs. Aiken describes it as one big Christmas card.

Aiken is due to release a CD next year — his first of entirely new music since “Measure of a Man.” He and his team are looking for material now and expect to record next year. As for what folks can expect, Aiken says, “It's kind of hard to say. We're going to do all original material, but it's going to be me. I can promise it's not going to be trying to stretch into a new arena, something that's so out of the box that it's unrecognizable. We're going to try to do stuff that's just one millimeter left of center. The producer says, 'Stay in your own lane.' That's what we're going to do.”

In the beginning, producers suggested material more appropriate for pop performers who are in vogue on the singles charts, like Timberlake or Maroon 5.

“It's always the issue, I think because there's such a push for really commercial stuff, and Justin Timberlake and Maroon 5 are very cool. I can't do that type of stuff,” Aiken says. “It's a struggle, because a song, a demo, will come in, and it'll be such a great song, and I'll love it. But the more I sit with it (I realize), let's be honest, I'd love to listen to it — from someone else.”

That said, Aiken says his new CD is “going to be very current in sound, but we're looking for songs that are great for me and will produce them in a current way.”

As if making a new CD weren't enough, Aiken has signed on for “Spamalot” as well.

He never saw “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the movie that inspired the Broadway musical “Spamalot.” There was talk of him being cast in it, so he decided to see the show.

“Earlier that weekend, I had seen a typical Broadway musical, which gives you the highs and the lows and you leave with your heart soaring, blah, blah, blah. You go to 'Spamalot,' and your heart's not soaring, necessarily. It's confused.”

He went a second time, now understanding that the show doesn't have a real storyline, that it's just fun and silly.

“I laughed so hard. It's the funniest show that's possibly ever been on Broadway. It's just that off,” he says.

The day that Aiken did this interview was Nov. 29, the day before his 29th birthday. Asked what he was going to do to celebrate, he replied, “Nothin'.”

He added,” I don't do anything for my birthday anymore. I'm getting too old. It's just another day.”

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The Express Times

Clay Molds Nicely to Life's Offerings

Clay molds nicely to life's offerings

"Idol" Clay Aiken takes all in stride with Christmas show tonight at State Theatre

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

By JOHN A. ZUKOWSKI

The Express-Times

"I enjoy everything I do," says Clay Aiken with a laugh. And he sounds like he means it.

He was asked a question about a recent appearance on the TV game show "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?"

But it could have been anything he's done recently -- from his appearances on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to preparing to star in "Spamalot" on Broadway to his current tour "Christmas in the Heartland," which brings him to Easton's State Theatre tonight.

The "American Idol" runner-up may be enjoying things so much because he's carved out a niche for himself.

The revenge of the wholesome might be the best way to put it. He's like the kid who was in high school plays but never hip enough to become the star. Aiken has become Opie in an era of Britney.

And over the phone he seems, well, Opie-style nice. He has good Southern manners. There's no pretense at trying to be cool. Maybe at this point being anti-cool is the new cool?

And maybe that's the ultimate subversion of the pop star system. Aiken is someone who never should be cool enough to be a star somehow becoming one. And what could be more subversive than being nice?

Just how nice is he?

Well, for his current tour he pulls people from the audience to read some of their favorite Christmas memories. That must have been because of some handler who picked them out for him from a batch of letters, a reporter thinks.

But no. When he's asked a question about whether he enjoys hearing them, it turns out he knew them already.

"I read them all and picked them out myself so I knew the stories," he says, calling from a tour stop in Albany, N.Y.

Aiken also seems to have some fun poking at his squeaky clean image. His appearances on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" have done that (where Kimmel often introduces him as "my best friend in the whole world" and where he once interviewed Aiken on a horse).

"You have to have fun with yourself and be willing to joke around and not take yourself so seriously," Aiken says. "And I think Jimmy is great and he's easily the funniest guy on late night TV."

Another way Aiken is playing with his wholesome image is to appear in the Broadway production of "Spamalot" from Jan. 18 through May 4, 2008. He'll play Sir Robin in the farce based on "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

He must have been a Monty Python fan who wanted to appear, one would think.

But no. He wasn't originally a Monty Python fan. But after seeing the show a second time, he warmed up to the idea.

"This is something completely contrary to what people expected me to do," he says. "There was this expectation that if I was going to do Broadway, I would have done something like (he breaks into a parody of a melodramatic Broadway song). But this isn't that at all."

He says he's also looking forward to seeing another ex-Idol on Broadway.

"Fantasia is a friend of mine and she's appearing in 'The Color Purple,'" he says.

And it turns out he doesn't have a background in acting. Not even in the high school plays you think he would have been in. He says he was rejected for parts.

"I didn't get the singing bush, I didn't get anything," he says with a laugh.

Last year on Aiken's Christmas tour, he took a break to visit Lower Nazareth Elementary School. Aiken is co-founder of the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, which published the students' book "Our Friend Mikayla" written and illustrated by Mikayla Rush's third-grade classmates two years before.

Aiken's foundation works to have children with special needs included in the world around them.

The stop in Nazareth must have been one of many appearances he's made over the years. So one would think it's iffy whether he would remember it. But he does.

"Of course I remember it," Aiken says before going into great detail about the book and the events of the day.

And that includes the limousines he ordered for the students to be taken back to school after an assembly.

"I wanted the kids who wrote it to stay so I could talk to them," he says.

Assistant Features Editor John A. Zukowski can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at jzukowski@express-times.com.

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GoErie.com

Letters From the Heart

Letters from the Heart

Who'd have thought reading fan letters during his Christmas concerts would be a 4,000-letter success? Clay Aiken has only himself to blame.

BY DAVE RICHARDS

dave.richards@timesnews.com

December 13, 2007

For his fourth holiday tour, somebody in Clay Aiken's camp had the bright idea of asking fans to write about their memorable Christmases. Aiken would personally read every submission, then choose four fans in each city to read their letters on stage during his concert.

After more than four thousand letters poured in, Aiken's eyes are aching. Better believe the person who dreamed this up is feeling his wrath.

"I've kicked myself a few times for having this idea," said Aiken, with a laugh, during a phone interview. "But trust me, I'm a control freak. I wouldn't have let someone else do it."

Actually, he said, the letters thrust plenty of heart into his "Christmas in the Heartland" tour, which arrives Sunday at Tullio Arena.

"I definitely think when people share, it's always powerful and has a profound effect on the audience," Aiken said.

"I really have gravitated when choosing stories to people who've gone through a trial. Not necessarily trauma but something upsetting, whether it's a death in the family or a loss of this or that, and the spirit of Christmas brought them back to life."

So far, Aiken said, the onstage readings have moved him as much as fans.

"We've had some amazing, classic love stories," he said. "We had two from people who were away for Christmas because of the war.

"In one story, a family kept the Christmas lights up through May, waiting for their child to return. In another, a serviceman showed up at home for Christmas as a surprise. Those are the types of stories that get a hush from the audience, the ones where they hold their breath."

Aiken spoke in a breathless rush during a brief but candid interview. He was disarmingly self-effacing when he revealed his favorite holiday songs have changed since he was a kid. Then, he liked peppy ones like "Up on the Housetop." Now, he prefers more meaningful ones.

"I hope my tastes have matured, even though I haven't!" Aiken said with a giggle.

For Sunday's show, in addition to the Erie Philharmonic, he'll be joined by vocalists Quiana Parlor and Angela Fisher. Aiken will draw heavily from his 2004 smash, "Merry Christmas with Love," performing "Mary, Did You Know," "Winter Wonderland, "O Holy Night," and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."

The Christmas show, he said, is more comfortable than any other tour.

"It's like slipping on an old shoe, so I do it quite a bit," Aiken said. "I'm able to relax."

Not for long, though. Early next year, he joins Broadway's "Spamalot" as Sir Robin. Producers had to ask him twice.

"You know, the first time I saw that show, I thought it was the stupidest thing I ever saw in my life," Aiken said.

He came around after seeing it again.

"When you realize it's the silliest show on Broadway, it's just fun. I had so much fun we decided to give it a shot. It's something different, something we thought would make sense and people wouldn't expect us to do."

Aiken, who shot to fame via "American Idol" in 2003, will record his follow-up to 2006's "A Thousand Different Ways" in New York during down time from "Spamalot."

The skinny

'Christmas in the Heartland' with Clay Aiken and the Erie Philharmonic will be presented Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Tullio Arena, 808 French St. Tickets are $57.75, $47.50, $37.25, and are available at the Tullio Arena box office, Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 452-4857 or 456-7070, and online at www.ticketmaster.com.

For more on Aiken, visit www.clayaiken.com.

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Bad Review Warning! Scroll at Will!

The Republican (MassLive.com)

Aiken Offers Ho-Ho-Hum Holiday Show

Aiken offers ho-ho-hum holiday show

Thursday, December 13, 2007

By DONNIE MOORHOUSE

Music writer

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - It is the rarest of announcements displayed on a Mohegan Sun Arena marquee: "Tickets Still Available."

Clay Aiken is out on his annual "Joyful Noise" Christmas tour and he brought the show to the Connecticut casino on Sunday night. Aiken, employing a small band to back a full orchestra, performed for just over 60 minutes.

Because of the venue (one of the best concert spots in New England), and the attached entertainment playground (the casino), shows at the arena are almost always sold out. There were plenty of good seats available all around the hall for Aiken's show.

Given Kelly Clarkson's recent touring troubles (her tour had to be scrapped and re-configured for smaller venues due to poor ticket sales), one might conclude that the bloom has come off the rose for past "American Idol" stars.

Aiken placed second in the television series/contest and enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame with his top-selling "Measure of a Man" debut in 2003.

The lack of interest in Aiken's show, however, could arguably be more attributed to the performance than any "Idol" backlash. He has been putting on these Christmas shows since 2004 and it is likely that those who have seen it once are less inclined to come see it again.

While Aiken has a passable voice, there is nothing distinctive about his sound that might entice fans to wonder how he wraps it around Christmas songs.

He opened the show with "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," standing rigidly on a riser in the midst of the orchestra. Aiken turned to backup singer Angela Fisher to sing "Away in a Manger" and then to her counterpart, Quiana Parler, for help on "Silent Night."

The vocal performances were sterile and uninspired, but Aiken was able to tug on the holiday heartstrings by bringing up four pre-selected fans who read prepared scripts of their own holiday memories. The stories ran the gamut from humorous to romantic, all eloquently touting the magic of Christmas.

Aiken fit a 20-minute break into the schedule and returned with styleless renditions of "O Holy Night" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas."

Most of the secular material was delivered medley style as Aiken shoved holiday staples like "Jingle Bells," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland" into a single song.

He closed the show with the maudlin "My Grown Up Christmas List," and returned for a one-off encore of "All is Well."

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The Daily Item (Sunbury, PA)

Clay Aiken to Bring Sounds of Christmas to the Area

Clay Aiken to bring sounds of Christmas to the area

December 13, 2007

By Jeffrey Allen Federowicz

For The Daily Item

WILLIAMSPORT -- One of the most joyous and beautiful parts of the holiday season is the music that celebrates this special time of year. From "White Christmas" to "Hark the Herald angels Sing," each note has the ability to evoke a cherished memory from a Christmas of long ago.

On Saturday, the sounds of the holiday season will fill the Community Arts Center when Clay Aiken, along with the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, deck the halls with holiday sounds with "Christmas in the Heartland."

"Each one of us has a special memory of the holiday season. That is one of the aspects that make this time of year so great. For me it was going to my grandparent's house on Christmas and be-ing with all my family," said the popular recording artist and "American Idol" runner-up in a recent phone interview.

"This is why we wanted to incorporate this into the holiday show this year. There was a spot on my Web site where people could send in their most cherished holiday memory. In each city we stop in, we selected four people that will come up on stage and share their memory with the audience. I always thought my memories of the holidays were something special, but after hearing from people of all ages across the country, it just amazed me what some people have experienced and the wonderful memories they have."

A native of Raleigh, N.C., the 29-year-old crooner began his rise to fame with his appearance on the second season of "American Idol" in 2003 where he landed a second place finish and won the hearts of fans from coast to coast. In addition to becoming one of the most successful "American Idol" contestants by releasing four top-selling albums, Mr. Aiken has also launched eight tours, produced the 2004 TV special, "A Clay Aiken Christmas" and worked on the New York Times best-selling book "Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life."

Mr. Aiken has also been a frequent guest on such shows as "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Saturday Night Live."

"This is what I love to do, I love to sing and to be able to perform in front of an audience," he said. "It does not happen often where someone can do what they truly love for a living, so I feel fortunate to be able to have my dream of singing come true. Music is such an important part of my life. The best thing of course are the fans. Being on stage and seeing their smiles and knowing they are enjoying the music is a great feeling." Fans of Mr. Aiken, or "Claymates" as they are often called, will get that holiday feeling when he performs a collection of holiday favorites sure to get everyone in the spirit of things.

"There are so many terrific Christmas songs that have been written over the years. We'll be performing some of my favorites," he said.

"This is the fourth year we have been doing a holiday show and each year it just gets better and better. Being on the road this time of year allows us to see and experience so many aspects of the holidays. A lot of us on the tour come from places like Los Angeles or down south, so seeing snow is always a great experience. We drove up from Philadelphia to Wilkes-Barre the other day and there was snow on the ground and covering the trees, it makes everything look so beautiful."

The "Christmas in the Heartland" stop in Williamsport marks Mr. Aiken's second visit to the area since last years performance at the Community Arts Center, which was a sellout, drawing fans from across the state as well as New York and Ohio.

"Williamsport is very fortunate to have such an outstanding theater," he said." I feel honored to be able to come back to Williamsport and the theater and to be a part of the holidays for people in Williamsport."

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Minneapolis Star-Tribune

A Christmas Clay Ride

A Christmas Clay ride

Clay Aiken is performing two holiday shows with the Minnesota Orchestra -- and taking his mom to the Mall of America.

By JON BREAM, Star Tribune

Last update: December 14, 2007 - 12:59 PM

Clay Aiken, the most famous "American Idol" runner-up, returns to the Twin Cities this week on his annual Christmas tour. We talked to him about his holiday plans, his Broadway debut in "Spamalot" in January and his "Idol" buddy, Ruben Studdard.

Q Minneapolis is the only city where you are doing two shows. Why are we so lucky?

A We couldn't stuff enough love into one day for Minneapolis. Hee-hee-hee. I really don't know. I don't make the tour; I go where they tell me to go. I like it up there. We're lucky enough to have a day off in Minneapolis on the 18th, and I think my mother's coming up from Raleigh [N.C.] and she's going to be at the Mall of America for the very first time.

Q You brought your holiday show to Minneapolis in 2005. How is this one different?

A In 2005, we did kind of a dramatic take on the holiday. This year, we've had the music be a soundtrack to people's holiday stories. We put out a call two or three months ago for people to submit their favorite Christmas story to our website. We've gotten in 1,600, 1,700 stories, which I personally read every one of them. I'm not making that up. I choose four every night, and four individuals come onstage and share their stories with the audience. We have some poignant stories, some funny ones, some sad ones, some nostalgic ones. They all get woven into a musical symphony.

Q This is your fourth Christmas tour. What appeals to you about doing Christmas tours?

A It's become our holiday tradition. There's something different about the music and the season. When you think of "Bootylicious" or "I'm N Luv With a Stripper," they don't necessarily invoke warm and fuzzy feelings. But songs like these do.

Q What are your plans for Christmas?

A My mother and I are going to do a UNICEF trip to Mexico in the aftermath of the flood. I've done UNICEF trips to Uganda, Indonesia and Afghanistan. Possibly my brother, too. We may all spend our family holiday on a UNICEF field visit in Mexico this year. It'll be the first time that we've not done the same old thing for the holidays.

Q What's the best Christmas present you've ever received?

A I don't know. I can tell you the funniest one. I must have been 11 or 12, my mother gave me a do-it-yourself model of the space shuttle or something like that. I said "Thank you" and put it in the closet. The next year for Christmas, I opened up this model of the spaceship and I said, "Mom you gave me the same thing last year." And she said, "No, no, no. I gave you that last year; you never touched it, you never opened it." So she'd gone in my closet and wrapped it again.

Q How did your role as Sir Robin in "Spamalot" on Broadway come about?

A They started asking me last year if I'd consider "Spamalot," and I didn't know anything about it. So I got tickets to see it in November of last year, and I thought this is the stupidest thing I've ever seen in my entire life. We were busy at the time so I didn't have the ability to do anything with them. So they asked again this summer, and I went and saw it again and I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen in my life. It's not traditional Broadway at all, which is why I think people enjoy it. That's why we decided to give it a shot; it's something completely different than anything that I've done or people would expect us to do. We're excited about it.

Q What's with your new look with the long bangs and darker hair? You look more emo than elfin.

A Oh, my goodness. I've actually had that since 2006. It was just an idea that it was a time to change. We were putting an album out in 2006, and I don't know why people want to change stuff. The idea was to make me look older and more mature, I think, with darker, non-spikey hair. And now I'm almost 30 years old and I really don't want to be older and more mature. I think I need to go back somehow.

Q When was the last time you talked with Ruben Studdard?

A Last week. We keep in touch quite a bit. He's one of my best friends. Just last night, he did me a favor and performed at the UNICEF Snowflake Ball fundraiser in Los Angeles. I was on tour this year and couldn't perform so I called him up and asked him if he would.

Q There was a rumor that you are going to tour together.

A He and I were both surprised by that rumor. He's quite busy with his things, and I'm busy with mine. We're keeping our friendship alive and our business relationships don't cross paths very often.

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719

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Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Clay Aiken Returning to Community Arts Center

Clay Aiken returning to Community Arts Center

By RYAN D. BEARDSLEY - rbeardsley@sungazette.com

POSTED: December 14, 2007

Fact Box

If you go

WHO: Clay Aiken.

WHAT: “Christmas in the Heartland” concert.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Community Arts Center.

Former “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken will return to Williamsport at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.

This year’s holiday show, “Christmas in the Heartland,” will feature the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra.

In a recent interview with the Sun-Gazette, Aiken discussed “Christmas in the Heartland,” as well as how he’s grown since “American Idol.” Since being a contestant on “Idol,” Aiken said he believes he’s matured and learned the tricks of the trade when it comes to show business. When a performer is a novice in the industry, Aiken said it’s easy to be pushed around.

“Probably more than anything, I’m definitely more savvy when it comes to understanding how not be a pushover,” Aiken said. “When I was on ‘Idol,’ I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to anybody for anything. I think I’ve learned not to be taken advantage of.”

The idea for his holiday tours spawned after Aiken released a Christmas album in 2004, “Merry Christmas with Love.” Soon it became his favorite tour to do, he said.

“I think there’s a different energy around the holidays,” Aiken said. “I don’t think the term ‘Christmas Spirit’ is incorrect — it’s absolutely something that exists.”

Aiken added that many members of the touring crew have returned to do the show all four years, so it’s become a tradition around the holidays and a family type of atmosphere. Having that bond is important when it comes to touring, and it becomes stronger each year.

Personally, Aiken said touring is something that he’s really gotten into, and he enjoys the consistency of being on the road and knowing exactly what lies ahead for the following day.

“When you’re not touring, you never know where you’re going to be the next day,” he said. “Somebody could call me and say, ‘I need you in L.A. tomorrow,’ and so I’m off to L.A. I like knowing where I am tomorrow — because nobody can change that.”

Aiken said that each year the Christmas show does its best to include the communities they visit into the performance. In past years, they’ve included elementary- and high-school choirs, along with local orchestras — which they are continuing this year, as well.

In another effort to make the audience a part of the show this year, Aiken said fans were asked to submit favorite holiday memories to his Web site. More than 2,000 entries were submitted, and Aiken goes through local ones before each show to choose a few that he believes stand out.

“Those individuals get to come up on stage and share their Christmas or holiday memories,” Aiken said. “Then the story leads into another song or the next song will lead into a story — that type of situation.”

Aiken said including the audience this way is one of his favorite things that they’ve done while doing the tours. In addition to the memories being different every night, he said it allows audience members time to reflect and remember what their traditions are for.

Although the holiday tour has a similar theme each year, Aiken said they try and alternate between a more relaxed and informal atmosphere and a classy one.

“This year it’s more of a classy version with the orchestras and that,” Aiken said. “You can expect to see me attempting to be classy.”

Aiken also looks forward to bringing the tour back to Williamsport. He said that Pennsylvania is always a great area for them to visit, and he refers to the state as a “microcosm of the country” — having big-city, urban areas, along with more quaint, rural areas.

“I’ve always enjoyed those smaller-town, Americana-type shows,” Aiken said. “The audiences are a lot more in line with what I grew up doing. I just really enjoy small-town audiences because I think they represent the country a little more.”

Tickets are $75, $55 and $45 and are available at the CAC Box Office or online at www.caclive.com.

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themorningcall.com

The Week in Review: December 15, 2007; Clay Aiken

themorningcall.com

The Week In Review: December 15, 2007

December 15, 2007

CLAY AIKEN

Clay Aiken's heart, if not his voice, was in the right place for his ''Christmas in the Heartland'' concert at the State Theatre Wednesday night. Backed by the Chelsea Symphony from New York and two female vocalists, the ''American Idol'' runner-up gave a performance filled with warmth and sentimentality.

It was not that his voice lacked strength -- the louder he sang, the more the loyal audience cheered -- but unlike the tight muscularity heard in his recordings, his midrange was harsh when pushed and his pitch often went flat. Some songs had awkward phrasing. There were some notable exceptions. ''Hark the Herald Angels Sing'' was delivered with heartfelt conviction, and he gave a medley of Christmas favorites, ending with ''Winter Wonderland,'' a neat Elvis-like touch.

The Christmas-themed program -- Aiken's second at the State -- was a mix of popular medleys, songs from his 2004 platinum ''Merry Christmas with Love'' CD and readings by four members of the audience, who related their personal Christmas memories -- some happy, some bittersweet -- as the orchestra softly played background music behind them. Most of the Christmas medleys were pleasing enough, but have been performed better by others with far less superstar status.

The two backup vocalists belted out their lines with wonderful gospel-like flair; their rendition of ''O Holy Night'' was especially spiritually moving. That piece was also the most interesting instrumentally, with an arrangement of ''Sheep May Safely Graze'' from Bach's Cantata BWV 208 nicely blended into its finale.

Steve Siegel

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St. Paul Pioneer Press

Clay Aiken Works Hard at Keeping Things Simple

There was no grand plan behind the concept for Clay Aiken's fourth annual Christmas tour, which stops in Minneapolis for two shows Wednesday and Thursday.

"It came out of me being lazy," the "American Idol" veteran said with a giggle.

It was a simple idea, really. Aiken decided to build this year's tour around cherished holiday memories.

"But my own are kind of boring," he explained. "I don't have any really good ones, so I put out the call (to fans) to submit their own."

So far, so good. Except that Aiken, who maintains a seriously committed following, received an average of 200 Christmas tales for each of the 21 shows on his tour, giving him more than 4,000 entries from which to choose the five or six that are highlighted each night. And Aiken is the one making the decisions.

"I haven't got to the end of them yet," he said from a tour stop in New York last week. "But I'm the one reading every one. Well, I read the first four lines and the last four lines. And if they grab me, we use that story."

Not only does Aiken use the story but he also invites the fan onstage to read it during the concert. "We get it printed out and put into a nice leather-bound book," he said. "And they come to the rehearsal so we can get the timing and cues right. We use it like narration, and the songs and the stories tie together. You never can tell if these things will work, but with this idea, halfway through the first show, we knew it would be a hit."

All of which, of course, is a brilliant way for Aiken to keep those faithful fans interested. Aiken hasn't been able to maintain the record sales of fellow "AI" vets Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry and Carrie Underwood. His second album, "A Thousand Different Ways," flopped at retail.

Yet Aiken hasn't disappeared. His lucrative Christmas tours help pay the bills, and he has continued to be a familiar face on television, from frequent appearances on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to, most recently, the celebrity edition of "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"

In a continued move toward diversification, Aiken's next venture will take him to Broadway. He'll take over the role of Sir Robin in "Monty Python's Spamalot" for a four-month run starting in mid-January.

Aiken said he'd never seen the show when producers approached him last year. "I thought it was the stupidest thing I've ever seen in my life," he said with another giggle. "And I was busy making an album and didn't have the time to do it, anyway."

The show's staff came back with another offer this summer. "So, I gave it another chance," he said. "And I looked at it for what it is. It's not a classic Broadway show with soaring, stirring melodies. It's supposed to be silly, and it's supposed to have no plot. And when I went back with that attitude, I never laughed so hard in my life. And this is completely the opposite of what anyone would expect me to do. I wanted to do something that surprises people."

One thing that won't surprise people, though, is Aiken's next album, which he hopes to release in 2008.

"We're trying to find songs that are musically me," he said. "I love Justin Timberlake and Maroon 5 and a lot of the stuff on the radio. But I'm not Justin Timberlake or Maroon 5, and I'm never going to be as cool as them. If I try to sing something too cool, it doesn't work. It's like your mom trying to use slang words - it just sounds wrong."

Ross Raihala can be reached at rraihala@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5553. Read more about the local music scene on his blog, "The Ross Who Knew Too Much," at blogs.twincities.com/ross.

What: "American Idol" star Clay Aiken's "Christmas in the Heartland" with the Minnesota Orchestra

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday

Where: Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.

Tickets: $77-$35

Call: 612-371-5656

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GoErie.com

Crowd Braves Winds to Hear Aiken

Article published Dec 17, 2007

Crowd braves winds to hear Aiken

By SARAH WEBER

sarah.weber@timesnews.com

It would have taken more than a winter storm to keep Sharon Seigworth from surprising her daughters with seats at "American Idol" star Clay Aiken's Tullio Arena concert Sunday night.

Though wind and snow whipped though the city, Seigworth and about 1,700 stubborn concertgoers huddled into the arena by the time the pop star bounced up to the microphone at 7:45 p.m.

"The roads were a little slick," said Seigworth, who drove to the arena from her home on the east side of Erie. "It wasn't too bad."

Seigworth said this would be the second concert for her and Aiken fans Sara, 14, and Tara, 11. They attended the pop star's Crawford County Fair appearance in 2005.

Aiken opened the show, which was accompanied by the Erie Philharmonic and pianist Jesse Vargas, with a medley of familiar Christmas tunes. He and backup singer Quiana Parlor received warm applause from the subdued crowd.

One member of the audience called out, "I love you, Clay," during a pause in the music.

Aiken greeted the audience saying, "Thank you so much for braving the weather to be here with us this evening."

Later he joked, "Thanks to the weather, we'll be here all week."

In truth, Dawn Betza of the Convention Center Authority said Aiken would be hitting the snowy roads after his set, heading out of town for a concert scheduled for today in Cleveland.

Sharon Diloreto said she traditionally attends the Erie Philharmonic Christmas concert with her family.

"Clay Aiken is just an added bonus," said Diloreto, who watched the pop star rise to national notoriety on "American Idol" in 2003.

Diloreto said she left at 6:30 p.m. to make it from her Millcreek Township home to the arena in time for the concert.

"Traffic was slow," she said. "But better safe than sorry."

Backup singer Angela Fisher, who was supposed to have accompanied Aiken on stage Sunday, was absent due to a death in her family, Aiken announced.

SARAH WEBER can be reached at 870-1854 or by e-mail.

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