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October through December 2007

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USAWeekend.com

Clay Aiken on Spamalot, Stage Fright, and Sequels

By Lorrie Lynch

with Kathy Rowings

December 17, 2007

Clay Aiken on Spamalot, stage fright and sequels

Can you think of any better revenge on that high school musical director who cut you from the cast than to end up in a hit Broadway show? I can't. And that's just what has happened for Clay Aiken — the Broadway part, not the revenge, necessarily. He got cut from the musical when in high school in Raleigh, N.C. and next month he'll make his Broadway debut.

I just got off the phone with Clay, who was so full of energy and good conversation, he was better than a cup of coffee to jump start my afternoon. He was happy to answer questions from Blog readers, though there was not time to do them all. Thanks for sending them, everyone. You are informed followers indeed.

The American Idol alum, who is in Cleveland today, confessed that he was talking to me while he was still in his pajamas; he was waiting backstage to do the sound check before the show there tonight. He'll go to Minneapolis for three days, then Omaha and Chicago before he leaves with UNICEF to work in Mexico for the holidays.

He says he won't even have time to think about Spamalot until Jan. 2 and he has not ever seen the movie, Sylvie. In fact, he only saw the show a year ago. "The first time I saw it, I thought, 'This is stupid.' It was lost on me." But about six months later, on a second viewing, he saw that it is "irreverant, silly, silly, silly and it's all it's supposed to be. I laughed so hard. It's the funniest show in New York." He IS a little worried about the dancing, or as he put it, "God help us with the dancing part." He'll have just about two weeks to learn it before his debut on Jan. 18. And he's curious about what it will be like to do eight shows a week all in the same place. Spamalot, he says, "is the closest to a 9 to 5 job I've ever had in my life." And, Lissa, it sounds like he'll work on the new album primarily after the show is wrapped up in May.

Clay does not experience stage fright but he did remember for me that the last time he had it was the first week he was on American Idol. As for what other musical or play he might like to do someday, there seems to be no question - Huck Finn in Big River. He recalls seeing that musical in Raleigh when he was very young and realizing "Oh wow. These people are making a living singing. It seemed more attainable." The cool part of that story is, the young actor playing Huck that day that Clay saw it, was Martin Moran. And it is Moran, currently playing Sir Robin in Spamalot, who Clay will replace.

I asked about writing a sequel to his book Learning to Sing, and at first he laughed about it being called Learn to Shut Up. But Clay says he doesn't see a sequel. He says the first book felt right because he had so many experiences to share that might benefit someone else. Though he's grown much and "there would be a lot to get in" he doesn't see how it would benefit anyone else.

I did get to ask how he relaxes, wondering if he had a hobby or sport. But Clay says the best way for him to relax is to be alone. He likes staying on the tour bus when everyone else is gone, or just going to the mall by himself. He says he recharges best by himself. No doubt he is going to love New York.

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Omaha.com

Clay Aiken Sings with Symphony on Friday

Published Thursday | December 20, 2007

Clay Aiken sings with Symphony on Friday

BY JOHN PITCHER

WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

Clay Aiken may well be the most successful also-ran in recent music history.

Aiken lost the 2003 "American Idol" contest, coming in a full sixteenth note (and a good 130,000 votes) behind soulful song stylist Ruben Studdard. Yet in the end, it was Aiken who won a career.

In just over four years, the fresh-faced and improbable pop star from Raleigh, N.C., has sold millions of records (his first album alone went double platinum), co-written a New York Times bestseller and hosted his own primetime Christmas special.

He all but started his career at the top. So you have to wonder: Has the phenomenal success changed him?

"You probably need to ask my friends that question," Aiken says. "Yeah, I may have changed a little. I might be a little more cynical. And I know I'm more business savvy. But, hey, I'm still a nice guy."

Aiken's nice-guy image will be on full display in Omaha on Friday, when he brings his "Christmas in the Heartland" tour to the Orpheum Theater. No doubt, the singer will perform many of the tunes from his best-selling "Merry Christmas With Love" CD. And no less an ensemble than the Omaha Symphony will be his backup band.

Holiday tours have become a regular part of Aiken's itinerary. All the same, he likes to do things a little bit differently every year.

During his last holiday appearance in the area - a Christmas show at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs in 2005 - Aiken gave a performance that was part concert, part Christmas play.

Serving as a kind of Christmas angel, Aiken narrated a story about a boy and an elderly neighbor. Actors from Aiken's hometown performed the roles. Aiken sang Christmas songs as the story unfolded.

This year, Aiken will select four Nebraskans to come onstage and share their favorite Christmas memories, with their stories being interspersed throughout the 90-minute concert. Those stories were solicited for the tour as part of a fan club contest. Aiken says he has received more than 300 stories from area fans.

"I'll read every one of those stories and pick four," Aiken says. "So far, I've come away believing that all of the fans have had more interesting Christmas experiences than me."

The stories have been a mix of humor and sentiment. A woman in South Bend, Ind., where Aiken performed on Nov. 28, wrote about how a bowl of eggnog was used to douse her black dress after it caught fire. "It was the first time I ever really sizzled," she wrote.

Another fan wrote about her refusal to take down her Christmas lights until her soldier son returned from Afghanistan.

"That one really got to me," Aiken says.

Beverly Newsam, a Fremont resident who works as a public relations technician at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, sent a story about her family's playful way of waking up on Christmas morning (they throw Silly Slammers at each other), along with their tradition of making popcorn cakes.

"That's our version of fruitcake," she says.

Becky Raymond of Lincoln wrote about her family's annual trip in a station wagon to grandma's house in Humphrey, Neb., population 900. Every Christmas, the town places a huge community Christmas tree right smack in the middle of its busiest intersection.

"Only in Nebraska would you find a community that removes bricks from a busy street to put up a Christmas tree," Raymond says. "Now you know Clay's got to love that."

If you go! Clay Aiken and the Omaha Symphony, 8 p.m. Friday, Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. Tickets: $25 to $125 at Omaha Symphony box office, 1605 Howard St., omahasymphony.org or 342-3560, and the Ticket Omaha box office at the Holland Center, 1200 Douglas St., ticketomaha.org or 345-0606.

The picture included is from the UNICEF Snowflake lighting last year, with the following caption:

"You don't look like a pop star" was the reaction that Clay Aiken got from judge Simon Cowell at Aiken's audition for the second season of "American Idol" in 2003. More recently, Aiken stunned fans with a scraggly look that was more James Blunt than Clay Aiken.

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nwi.com

Clay It Again

Date posted online: Friday, December 21, 2007

Clay it again

Pop star Aiken bringing his hit Christmas show to Star Plaza stage Saturday for a second year

BY PHILIP POTEMPA ppotempa@nwitimes.com 219.852.4327

CLAY IT AGAIN - - Singer Clay Aiken is returning to the Star Plaza Theatre this weekend to once again perform his popular Christmas show. He will be backed up by a full orchestra when he takes the stage in Merrillville, Ind. on Saturday, Dec. 22.

Singer Clay Aiken isn't worried about any shortage of holiday songs to perform for his Christmas show Saturday at Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville.

He has plenty of his own favorites to pick from to share with fans.

His first Christmas album, "Merry Christmas with Love," came out on Nov. 16, 2004, and immediately was hailed as a new holiday classic.

And that same season in 2004, Aiken hosted his first Christmas television special, "A Clay Aiken Christmas," airing on NBC and featuring him with special celebrity guests Barry Manilow and Meagan Mullally of "Will and Grace" fame.

In fact, when Aiken brought his Christmas concert to the Star Plaza last year, it easily sold out.

Now, for year two, Aiken said he's been trying to think of how he can add some old and new traditions to his stage show.

"My problem is, my family never really had all that many Christmas traditions that stand out in my mind," said Aiken, speaking by telephone in early November from his recording studio near his home in Raleigh, N.C.

"We did most of the usual things, but mostly, it was just a time to get everyone together."

However, one of his favorite family traditions involves food.

In early October, he was in New York appearing on Martha Stewart's daytime show "Martha," helping the kitchen diva whip up his grandma's recipe for "Hot Pineapple Salad."

"I know the recipe sounds weird and even Martha seemed a little worried about making it, but that stuff is so good," Aiken gushed.

"I think even she (Martha) was surprised. I love that recipe. We always have it for the holidays and family get-togethers."

Even though Thanksgiving was still days away at the time of The Times' interview with Aiken, he was already busy rehearsing Christmas songs with his background singers to prepare for his holiday tour.

"I'm embarrassed to say I'm really the only one who needs any rehearsing," said Aiken, punctuating his answers with a nervous giggle.

"The singers already know all of these songs, and I'm the one that needs to get them down."

When Aiken is center stage on Saturday, surrounded by singers, poinsettias and Christmas trees, he says his mind will forget everything, including his favorite foods, and focus on his music.

"We'll do a nice mix of some old-fashioned Christmas favorite songs and also some spiritual Christmas hymns, which are always at the top of the list for requests," he said.

"We want to get everyone into the spirit of the season and get them singing right along."

As for Aiken's own holiday list of things to do, like Christmas shopping and sending out his Christmas cards to all his friends old and new, including those from his "American Idol Days," Aiken said his being on tour during December gives him an excuse to be a little late sending out his cards while "on the road."

And when it comes to holiday shopping, the timing of his tour actually gives him an advantage.

"When I'm traveling from city to city, I get to visit some of the best places all over the country for shopping," Aiken said.

"I'll have all my gifts bought in plenty of time."

Clay Aiken's Grandma's Hot Pineapple Salad

1 (20-ounce) can pineapple tidbits with juice

1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons self-rising flour

2 cups grated medium-sharp cheddar cheese

1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

* In a medium bowl, combine pineapple, sugar, flour and cheese.

* Transfer salad to an 8-by-8-inch, 1-1/2-quart baking dish.

* Top with crushed crackers and drizzle with melted butter.

* Bake for 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8 to 10

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PRNewswire

Clay Aiken and Family Christmas With Survivors of Mexico's Floods

CHIAPAS, Mexico, Dec. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- UNICEF Ambassador and

critically acclaimed recording artist Clay Aiken today wrapped up the first

leg of his trip to the flood affected areas of southeast Mexico by

participating in a gift exchange and "sing along" with over 300 children

and their families at a camp erected for flood victims.

(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20071225/AQTU002)

Aiken, who is traveling in the region with his mother and younger

brother, a Marine on leave from Iraq, will also be part of a UNICEF

delegation scheduled to visit the state of Tabasco over the next two days.

"The situation in Chiapas and Tabasco has really become a forgotten

emergency," said the U.S. pop star who became an ambassador for the

children's agency in 2004. "Telling the story of these brave people,

especially the children, to a U.S. audience is the reason that I am here.

Sharing this experience with my family during this time of year makes it

even more special."

In one weekend last month torrential rains in Tabasco and Chiapas

produced the worst flooding the region has seen in more than 50 years. More

than one million residents of the two states have been affected, one third

of which are children.

While an integrated humanitarian response lead by government and U.N.

agencies has stabilized the emergency in Mexico, thousands remain homeless

and displaced. According to UNICEF officials in the region, children are

the most vulnerable in these situations. Hundreds of them are at risk of

psychological trauma and many more are out of school due to extensive

structural damage to school buildings.

Today's event, also attended by Hon. Isabel Aguilera de Sabines, First

Lady of the state of Chiapas, was held in the city of Ostuacan where 19

deaths were recently reported after a series of mudslides engulfed the

small mountain community of Juan de Grijalva and the search for six missing

residents is ongoing.

Chiapas is bordered on the north by the state of Tabasco, on the south

by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by the Central American nation of

Guatemala and on the west by the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz. Chiapas has

111 municipalities. Its capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez, lies near the center of

the state. Tabasco is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Mexico, to the

south by the state of Chiapas, to the east by Guatemala and Campeche and to

the west by Veracruz. Villahermosa is Tabasco's capital city.

How To Help:

Please visit: http://www.unicefusa.org or call 1-800-4UNICEF

Attention Broadcasters:

Hard copy b-roll footage available.

About UNICEF

For more than 60 years, UNICEF has been the world's leading

international children's organization, working in over 150 countries to

address the ongoing issues that affect why kids are dying. UNICEF provides

lifesaving nutrition, clean water, education, protection and emergency

response saving more young lives than any other humanitarian organization

in the world. While millions of children die every year of preventable

causes like dehydration, upper respiratory infections and measles, UNICEF,

with the support of partnering organizations and donors alike, has the

global experience, resources and reach to give children the best hope of

survival. For more information about UNICEF, please visit

http://www.unicefusa.org.

SOURCE U.S. Fund for UNICEF

This story was picked up by several news organizations.

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