Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Serve, Set and Spike! (but whatever you do, don't catch the bouquet!)

As I am ever the romantic (okay, you can stop laughing now), I would be delighted to hear that Clay had found someone special with whom to share his life. For somebody who's had the lousiest luck imaginable with men, I still remain optimistic (no, really -- you can stop anytime) when it comes to relationships. Well, at least, OTHER people’s relationships...

Somehow, I've managed to bring together at least three couples who are still going strong after 10 years (and thus have been indirectly responsible for a number of births as well), been a maid of honor numerous times (and like many of you, have a variety of hideous atrocities in the back of my closet to prove it!), and have provided Kleenex and sympathetic counsel to any number of my maligned and cheated-on women friends, although I have to admit that for the most part, my "counsel" has been limited to the words DUMP THE BASTARD.

As we approach traditional wedding season, I thought I’d share a few highlights:

Chartreuse Floral Medieval Costume with Garland of Flowers. My first maid of honor experience was for a coworker, Judie, a very low maintenance type. I highly doubt she had ever had even a passing acquaintance with a razor or a mascara wand. Now, for years, I had been a regular at a weekly volleyball game along the lakefront, which was mostly just a lame excuse to have a barbeque. I dragged her there one spring Saturday, and she immediately caught the attention of the local Neanderthal -- an overbearing, unattractive, unshaven, soap-challenged pseudo-intellectual named Larry. Naturally, it was love at first sight. Their outdoor wedding was an artsy-woodsy affair featuring strolling minstrels, maypoles, children lisping Elizabethan poetry, and -- the one masterful touch -- a sing-along recessional of "When I'm Sixty-Four." Larry later decided I disapproved of him (he was right), and doesn't let Judie communicate with me anymore. C'est la vie. I often wish I'd hung on to the cheesy getup I had to wear for this one -- it'd probably be right in style now. On Halloween, anyway.

Black Rayon Pants Suit with Gardenia Corsage. Next up was my best friend Wendy, whose ill-advised union to (shudder) an actor friend of mine was the culmination of one of those stagnating relationships that had dragged on so long that the wedding was the result of an ultimatum on the bride's part -- never a good thing. Everyone, including the bride, wore black, which may have been symbolic. They barely managed to get through the ceremony without hurling heavy objects at each other. Surprisingly, they're still married after 9 years, but there are a lot of recriminations. Most memorable moment: one of the gay groomsmen, surveying my suit, informed me that I looked like a "lipstick lesbian." I'm still not sure if that was a compliment. The suit did subsequently come in handy for job interviews -- I called it my “ball breaker suit.”

Periwinkle Crepe and Pearls. My next maid of honor experience was for my 40-ish friend Becky, a no-makeup-Birkenstocks gal who had grudgingly agreed to a big white wedding only to please her elderly well-heeled parents, who had waited...ahem! “forever for this” (tm Clay’s “This is the Night”). I brought her to the volleyball game one Saturday, where she met her future husband: a dark, heavyset scientist who was visiting for the week from his fellowship in Sweden. (Since Becky had always told me she intended to marry a dark, heavyset scientist type, her interest was understandably peaked.) Contact info was exchanged, and the next thing I knew, I was helping her pack and gamely sampling her attempts at lutefisk. And if you’ve ever tasted lutefisk, you know that THAT’S true friendship.

The following year, they returned from Sweden with her pregnant and in need of a suitable wedding dress. After I physically restrained her from buying something off the rack at TJ Maxx, off we went to the chi-chi bridal gown designer. I doubt this ultra chic lady had ever encountered anyone like Becky, who flatly refused to wear a bra, heels, makeup or jewelry, and hated everything that was put on her (why so many of my friends were attracted to a high maintenance friend like me in the first place is anybody's guess). She finally ended up with a strange drapey chiffon confection that was fine if you were the Bride of Frankenstein, and ever practical, she later dyed it navy blue, so she could wear it again. I’m sure it was a big hit at funerals. The bride and groom trolls on the wedding cake were a nice touch, although at the reception somebody's kid stole them and had to be bribed (with ice cream) to give them back. The best thing about a bride who doesn’t give a damn? I got to wear anything I wanted, as long as it didn’t clash with the flowers. The periwinkle crepe (copied from a little number in Bendel’s window) was my first custom-made dress. And my last, so far.

Turquoise Ruffled Scarlett O' Hara Hoopskirt and Matching Picture Hat. (Yep, that was just as bad as it sounds.) The bride, Linda, always claimed that her goal in life was to be a "matriarch." (Now that's something you don't hear very often!) Her wedding took place on a cold, rainy October day in a miniscule leaky chapel in Wisconsin's Door County. Most of us in the wedding party had never met, and were housed in a small bed-and-breakfast in the woods. Its owners lived, during tourist season, in a trailer in the front yard, only venturing into their house to cook the meals and change the linens. The wife also moonlighted as a waitress in town, and it was not unusual for her to serve you breakfast in her home, and then lunch at the Blue Iris on the main drag.

My roommate for the weekend was Hadley the wedding singer, a huge scary-looking female prison guard, who lumbered in garbed in men's clothing with an enormous key ring jangling from her belt. She spent most of both nights droning on about her gender confusion issues and need for a good depilatory. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep.

On the rainy morning of the wedding, Linda suddenly had reservations about going through with it, as she had somehow managed to cheat on her fiancé several times in the previous month. After we convinced her to go full-steam ahead (we all thought the groom was HAWT), we met her at the chapel, where we were confronted with the groom's unfortunate father -- a quadriplegic whose considerable apparatus refused to fit down the aisle. Nor did our hoopskirts. Finally, as the rain pounded loudly on the metal roof, we hiked up our hoops and helped carry the father (whom I must say had a great sense of humor) over our heads across the pews. Hadley turned out to have a beautiful soprano voice (go figure!) and was a mean guitar player. It was really too bad about that mustache.

The reception back at the groom's parents' house was interesting to say the least -- the quadriplegic dad, having a better time than many of us, was placed in a large sandbox in the corner, reminiscent of a Beckett play, where some sort of electrical current moved his arms and legs for him. And the ghastly turquoise getup? It landed in the Goodwill box the following Monday -- my other clothes rebelled against having THAT anywhere near them.

Believe It or Not, I Don't Remember. That infamous volleyball game was responsible for one more union: my twin brother's. I brought him along one Saturday, and he met his future wife Kyra, a witty, militantly feminist magazine editor. The polar opposite of my gentle, introspective dreamy brother. Correctly assessing him to be commitment-shy (or maybe just shy), Kyra wisely approached him through my sister and me. In fact, I think we were initially worried that she might be hitting on us! But no -- they've been happily married for 11 years -- after the only judge that would marry them on short notice was in bankruptcy court, and where can you go after that but up? And they produced my nephew, the best kid EVAH.

I suppose it's really too bad there was never someone around like me, FOR me. But I think some people are put here on this earth just to facilitate. And to have children named after them. And to cheerfully wave bye-bye to those children and return home to serene singledom.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day & Clay

Since this is going to turn out to be another unfunny blog, let me start out by giving a huge SQUEEEEEEEE!!!! to the new Clay Aiken!! Like many people, when I saw FauxClay as one of the nominees for the Golden Idol, I knew this was it. I was not optimistic that this would be a good thing --- but Holy Shit!!! Brilliant, Genius, Un-frickin-believable!! Can you tell I love the new look and everything about the AI appearance??

So, it's Memorial Day Weekend. Every Memorial Day, we gather at a field named for our family in the city where we live. There is a stone marker there with 3 names on it -- 3 cousins who grew up together and all went off to WWII. None came home. One of them was my father's brother, who I obviously never got to meet.
When I was younger, I never really got the significance of this. I was annoyed that I had to get up early on my day off and stand out there, rain or shine with bugs galore. We'd see people we never see much, they'd kiss you and leave huge red lipstick marks on your cheek (after they pinched them). Then we'd say a prayer, the American Legion would shoot their fake guns and we'd say good-bye and head to the BBQ of the day.

Last year, one of my cousins took over leading the ceremony from my Uncle. It was then that I realized that most of the generation who actually knew these 3 boys are not there anymore. It was then that the significance hit me. I looked around and saw my nieces and all of my cousins' children. It is our responsibility to ensure that they carry on the tradition and honor these brave men. It ws my parents' responsibility to wake my ass out of bed on my day off so that I would have the opportunity to make sure that they are not forgotten. It only took me 40 years to figure it out!

So, on this Memorial Day, I thank all those who serve our country.

Now back to Clay's brilliant AI appearance. He was bigger news than effin Prince!!! He walked out and commanded that stage like the star he is! Then he reminded people of why he is a star -- the VOX! Clay Aiken blew everyone on that finale out of the water. Meatloaf - stunk. Toni Braxton - did she even sing? Al Jarreau -- not horrible. Live -- whatever. Carrie Underwood - ZZZZZZ! Prince - good but forgotten. I am so ready for 2006 Clay -- BRING IT ON!!!!

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Friday, May 26, 2006

Hair & There: A Look At The British Invasion

Well – AI is over for the season and Congratulations to Taylor Hicks for winning. He’s a unique performer with a soulful voice and a great fan base. He’ll do really well and I’m looking forward to hearing his first album.

But, for me, the highlight of the finale, of course, was seeing and hearing Clay Aiken. And what a return to the public’s consciousness! Talk about a dramatic entrance. And how beautiful is that face, that smile!

Yeah, I’m partial to the look. After all – I’ve already expressed my love of The Beatles and George Harrison in a previous blog. Here’s a great picture borrowed from the Friends of Clay – notice how nicely Clay fits in.

Whenever I think about The British Invasion . . . I think about all the great performers I fell in love with. Some of which have gone on to incredible careers spanning decades. Of course, we know the usual players in the British Invasion – The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, The Yardbirds, Dave Clark Five, The Kinks, Gerry & The Pacemakers . . . but here’s a few others that you may have forgotten.

I’ve always wanted Clay to do The Zombies version of You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me. Couldn’t find any video of that . . . but how great is “Tell Her No”? Colin Bluntstone – one of the great voices of the 60’s and Ron Argent – great keyboardist. They’ve since reunited and I’ve got to get to a show of theirs. Enjoy.

I’m including THEM here – because although they weren’t strictly a British group – they were packaged as part of the British Invasion – and it was my first exposure to Van Morrison. I’ve stayed a huge fan of Morrison’s through all these years. The man has brilliantly created music of all genres – from rock, r&b, jazz, country, gospel – everything. Here’s THEM performing Baby Please Don't Go. See, even Van Morrison lipsynchs sometimes *g*.

Van has teamed up with another of my first loves, Georgie Fame and produced two wonderful albums. One is a collection of Mose Allison tunes with Ben Sidran joining them. Another is How Long Has This Been Going On – great collection of reworked standards – definitely worth checking out. How Long Has This Been Going On

Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames were one of the most jazz-influenced bands of the early 60s and had a big hit with Yeh Yeh in 1964. Georgie still puts out great albums – Download something from iTunes – check out the Cool Cat Blues or Funny How Time Slips Away albums. Here’s a clip of Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames doing a version of Walking The Dog – incredible performance (even with the annoying swinging microphone). Actually when I was watching it, I was thinking this would have been a really fun song for Taylor Hicks to have done. Maybe he'll give it a try sometime.

Stevie Winwood – another great voice and someone I followed throughout his career – here he is with The Spencer Davis Group in 1965 doing Keep On Running. Two years later, Stevie would leave to join Traffic.

I could go on and on and on – but I’ll do British Invasion 2 another time. I’ll leave you with Clay Aiken doing some of the “sunnier” songs of the 1960s. This is from the JukeBox Tour – the last night of the concert in Atlantic City. I’m not usually a fan of high jinks on stage – but it’s expected on the last night . . . and this video captures all the fun. Of course, I’d love to see it again with the new “hair”.

Please visit the wonderful blog links we've posted - as well as previous blogs here at The ConCLAYve. And don't forget to comment - we love the feedback.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Three Years Later, Clay Aiken Is Too Popular to Be Idle

Lucky for us . . . berkeley has become a member of The ConCLAYve. Until we can get her able to post on her own -- here's her first contribution to the blog.

Clay Aiken remains the Anomaly.

He is The One Who Didn’t Win, But Enjoys Record-Breaking Success.

The finals of American Idol, Season Two, seem so long ago, and three years is a long time in terms of pop culture. I’ve long since stopped watching the show, but I’m forever a fan of one remarkable singer.

Clay endures, creating music industry-stirring buzz with the mere possibility of an appearance on the AI5 finale.

I was sad, for a little while, when Clay didn’t win, but that ceased to matter to me after the sales numbers for the Number 1 hit “This Is The Night/Bridge Over Troubled Water” proved he had tremendous commercial appeal, beyond the allure of a television show and its toll-free voting numbers. In an era of free file-sharing, his debut single opened to sales of 392,975 --- the highest selling first week ever for a solo male pop artist, excepting Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind 1997”, the tribute to Princess Diana.

It was the first single by anyone from American Idol to be certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America and was the only platinum certified single in 2003 --- by any artist. Clay is the only singer launched on AI to be platinum certified for one million physical copies of a single (which were priced at $3 and above): in the digital format, where RIAA platinum certification is 200,000 downloads and most downloads are ninety-nine cents, Kelly Clarkson is certified 5M (1.2 million downloads) and Carrie Underwood is platinum at 200,000.

Tonight, Taylor Hicks or Katharine McPhee will become the fifth person named the American Idol. The winner’s first single will likely do very well, but with digital downloads now the norm, it doesn’t require the Amazing Kreskin to predict that no one from season five will touch Clay’s singles sales record.

With the chart-topping “Measure of A Man” selling just under 613,000 CDs out of the gate, Clay holds the record for first week sales of a post-AI debut album --- by far. Each year, only the elite among artists have higher first week sales, with a rare few surpassing a million. No one from AI is even close to Clay’s first week sales.

Clay was RCA’s top selling artist for 2003, and one of the most remarkable success stories of the year. On the cover of everything from Rolling Stone to Entertainment Weekly, he has an American Music Award and a Billboard Music Award to mark those astonishing times.

Clay’s “Solitaire/The Way” was the second highest selling single of 2004, and his song “Invisible” has recently been certified gold.

In 2004, Clay released “Merry Christmas with Love”. Niche albums are not expected to break records, but Clay shattered the debut week sales record for holiday albums, formerly held by country superstar Garth Brooks, and tied Celine Dion for highest first week chart placement for a holiday title ever. Certified platinum in its first holiday season, the CD has now sold over 1.2 million copies.

Clay’s name --- and often his first name alone --- is a cultural touchstone, showing up regularly in music and entertainment columns, but also in columns about sports, politics and other fields entirely unrelated to his career.

No one ever asks “Who?”

He is often referred to as a “winner” of American Idol. Clay was not first in his season, but he has proven to be deserving of being called a winner in the music industry.

Clay has toured six times in three years: as part of the AI ensemble in 2003, as a co-headliner with Kelly (Independent Tour 2004), and headlining two pop tours (Solo Tour 2004 and Jukebox Tour 2005) and two holiday tours (Joyful Noise 2004 and 2005), writing and creating the last show. His tour numbers have ranged from excellent to okay overall, with the oversized houses for JNT 05 pushing his per show average down. That doesn’t seem to matter: with concert ticket sales totaling $27,823,748.00 since December 2003 (Pollstar.com), Clay is the most popular concert ticket draw from the show.

There are, of course, all of the things that are tangential to Clay’s singing, but are important indicators of his personality and his commitment to service: author of the inspirational memoir “Learning To Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life”, a New York Times bestseller; small forays into acting on “Scrubs”, “Ed” and “Saturday Night Live”; being selected to sing “Proud of Your Boy” for the reissue of Disney’s “Aladdin” DVD; executive producing his own Christmas special; acting as special correspondent for the Emmy Awards on “The Insider” entertainment show; and extensive humanitarian and philanthropic work as a UNICEF ambassador, co-founder of The Bubel/Aiken Foundation, national spokesperson for Toys for Tots, NEA Read Across America, appearances for Ronald McDonald House, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, America’s Promise, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, keynote speeches at the Fearless Caregivers Conference and the Pac Rim Conference on Disabilities, and work with many other causes to which he has lent his name, his time and his heart. While not directly related to his career in entertainment, this helps to paint a picture for the general public of the kind of person Clay really is.

It took over two years and the cross-over appeal of country - pop for anyone to approach and, just recently, to overtake Clay’s overall sales record for debut CD (more than 2.7 million), but with 2.8 million CDs sold, Carrie now has a slight edge in sales of her well-received debut CD. It’s too early to know what Carrie will sell in the long run, just as it is too soon to guess how many additional copies of MOAM will be sold to people who discover Clay when he releases his “highly anticipated” sophomore effort. MOAM will get that triple platinum certification in time and perhaps sell tens of thousands of copies or more to new fans over the coming year. The title of top selling debut CD by an AI alum could change hands more than once.

What of the others who have come from that show? How does Clay stand in relation to them?

With a debut CD that sold a quarter million fewer copies that Clay’s, but with the tremendous success of her sophomore album, Kelly now has the highest number of CD sales overall (7.7 million combined sales) and a couple of Grammys on her mantle. It took until her second CD, but she has now clearly escaped the AI stigma. She’s had several tours, with box office second only to Clay, but she has completely conquered radio, releasing a string of top ten singles. Her future seems quite promising.

Ruben and Fantasia both had strong debut sales (1.8 and 1.7 million respectively), with Fantasia also enjoying considerable critical acclaim. Ruben had notable success with his second (niche) CD, a gospel album that went gold and spent many weeks at the top of the gospel charts. They both received nominations for Grammys, Billboard Awards (with Fantasia winning two), and BET, Soul Train and NAACP Image Awards, where Ruben won Best New Artist in 2004 and Fantasia was named Outstanding Female Artist in 2005. (Fantasia also had a bestselling autobiography and will star in a Lifetime television movie based on her story.) Neither tours strongly, but that seems to be an inherent weakness of the urban market, where even well-established multi-platinum artists often combine with other big names to tour --- and still often fail to break into the upper echelon of concert draws.

Though some mistakenly believe that one or both have not been particularly successful, the urban market has embraced both artists and their sales are solid. Ruben’s sophomore CD, due sometime this year, promises a return to his signature sound. Though short of superstar status, I list both as “time will tell” --- their next albums will say a lot about how much they have grown in this industry. I wouldn't write off either one.

Carrie has become the darling of country pop and is benefiting from being in a genre that accepts rather than derides singers who were introduced on AI. Her debut CD, now six months old, continues to sell briskly, supported by generally strong critical reviews. She has also won two prestigious CMT Awards and a Gospel Music Association Award. Carrie is set to tour as the opening act for Kenny Chesney (something Clay has never done) as well as headlining a number of dates this summer. Still riding on the strength of her first effort, she has started out very strong indeed.

With the fifth season of AI about to end, I flipped it on for the first time this year for Tuesday’s final performances --- just as I did last year. Having learned the tricks of the trade from working in film and television, it’s not worth my time to continue following a show I find so blatantly manipulative (“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”) It’s a pleasant enough evening of entertainment, though, to check out the two who will compete for the title --- with the mute button at the ready during the all-too-predictable judges’ comments, of course. *g* It helps, when analyzing sales and reviews to come, to have seen a few performances.

Newspapers and blogs have started the annual ritual of “You don’t have to win to be successful” and any number of eliminated contestants have taken up the refrain. That depends on the definition of success, I suppose, but do you have to win to succeed on a grand scale?

Unless you are Clay Aiken, yes, you do.

Yes, it is possible for non-winners to have a solid or a modest career in music.

Other than the Anomaly that is Aiken, of course, Josh Gracin, who has sold 660,000 albums, has the highest sales among non-winners. He is solid gold as a country artist, enjoying the personalized support of a smaller label. He has also gained respect in his genre, with a Number 1 single and with several nominations in top categories for country music awards. He’s off to a very good start.

Bo Bice is next, with just over 600,000 CDs sold to date. His promotion was hampered by his health problems, but the bigger problem with his debut seemed to be the label’s decision to try to turn a country rocker into a pop star, resulting in weak material that didn’t fit the artist. Now, with a current single getting more airplay than the first, the album looks to be headed to decent level of success. He will be just one of two runners-up to get a second shot from RCA --- and the other has outsold him by over two million. With luck, his follow-up will be a better reflection of the artist.

Kimberley Locke was all over the radio with “8th World Wonder”; her sales are modest, at around 210,000, but radio play separates her from the other three with similar sales. Like Josh, she is at a smaller label that is dedicated to taking the time to nurture her career. It will be interesting to see how her sophomore CD fares.

Justin Guarini, Diana DeGarmo and Tamyra Gray all sold short of 200,000 total of their debut CDs. To date, Justin has been unable to gain traction with any of his announced endeavors. Diana has found some success on Broadway with “Hairspray” and Tamyra, in addition to various acting roles, has become part of the 19 stable of songwriters.

Several former contestants --- John Stevens, RJ Helton, George Huff --- have sold a few thousand of their CDs, souvenirs for those who followed them. College classrooms or congregations are ahead for them, with George receiving a Dove Award nomination for his gospel CD, RJ releasing a Christian album and John off to Berklee College of Music.

Others --- Frenchie Davis, Jennifer Hudson, Josh Strickland and Diana DeGarmo, as mentioned above --- have had various levels of success and the chance for further exposure on Broadway or in movie musicals. Stars, staples or gypsies, who knows, but they’re taking advantage of these opportunities . One or more could still hit big: if Jennifer impresses in her “Dreamgirls” movie debut, she could become a major star.

A dozen others have shown up on the cable television circuit, on circus tours, in men’s magazines, low budget movies (erotic and otherwise) or singing in small venues in their communities.

It is a very good thing when people are able to realize their dreams to any degree at all. I don’t denigrate that, but I do like to keep things in perspective. There are very few stars from American Idol.

In real-world terms, on the Billboard charts, on Sound Scan and HDD sales lists, and with PollStar concert ticket sales, in comparison with their industry peers who came up through different means, the people from AI who have had real and considerable success are Kelly, Ruben, Fantasia, Carrie --- and Clay, the five winners of American Idol to date.

Platinum artists all.

And as for Clay’s future: from a long-ago disappointment to the promise of the future, my opinion has never wavered. His is a blue-moon talent, and he has it in him to be an artist for the ages. His gift is as an interpreter of songs --- and he has shown signs of brilliance already in his young career.

Some have wondered if it is better for Clay’s sophomore album to be a commercial success or garner critical acclaim, but I have always believed that, given the material and top-notch production, it could be both. The Vox, of course, will be there, more supple, more varied, more powerful and more nuanced than ever. He has grown so much and developed so remarkably in the last three years, and is far more versatile than many remember him to be. Clay is a charming, engaging and compelling all-around entertainer, with a voice that always wins him the respect of anyone who has the ears to listen.

I was fascinated by all of the small indications of what might make up the “initial album” that Clay spent a year working on with Jaymes Foster, starting with a songwriters’ conference in Nashville in May of 2005, but I have had to let that go. After meeting with Clive Davis in December, Clay now says that his sophomore CD will be a conceptual album of favorite love songs, with some original “gems” as well --- and critical and commercial success will still be determined by what songs are chosen, how Clay sings them and how the material is produced. I’ve thought a lot about it: even if it’s a collection of familiar Top 40 fare, it will be sung to perfection and it could sell very well to people who loved Clay from his television roots. I’ll be eager to add it to my collection, because Clay is just that good.

Critics aren’t likely to rave about the reinterpretation of a collection of mainstream songs, but I think they might be very favorably impressed with more eclectic choices, songs that have some depth of meaning and are finely crafted lyrically, made new when performed by the finest voice of his generation. For a man who has covered Prince, U2 and the Goo Goo Dolls, I can’t wait to see what surprises are among the songs Clay and company choose. If others have had success reinterpreting a song or a songbook, why would I predict less for the man who makes every song his own?

Tonight, an artist is hard at work. He has dreams, but he is a practical man and he knows the task before him. He seeks perfection. He will give his best.

That night three years ago is merely a shadow, a memory, a milepost on a lengthy road. Along the way, there have been incredible successes, worthy challenges, and a few ridiculous frustrations.

Clay may not be ready to give an album his name, but he always gives his best effort to his work --- and his best touches on brilliance.

He may not be where he belongs, but he is where he needs to be for now, learning, growing, trying new things, reaching new heights as he develops his artistry.

Every time he steps before a microphone, in a studio or on the stage, he reaches deep within and finds a way to surprise and to delight.

When Clay Aiken sings, he makes a special kind of magic with his music.

Now that’s a winner to me.
(c) 2006 by berkeley

Here at The ConCLAYve we're all looking forward to the AI finale. Good luck to two very talented finalists, Taylor Hicks and Katherine McPhee. You both will have wonderful careers ahead of you!

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

It's all Clay's fault. Really.

I ask you: what does it say about me that I prefer to spend my time listening to, watching, and gabbing about a guy young enough to be my son whom I will likely never meet and who certainly doesn’t know or care a thing about me? And, I hasten to add, about whom I am not the least bit obsessive? Well, since Clay came along about 20 years too late for me, I’ve had to make do with, well, lesser mortals...

In the course of my adult life -- 100% of it as a single person -- I have dated (and kissed) a lot of frogs. And for the life of me I can’t recall any of them turning into princes. The Brothers Grimm have a lot to answer for, if you ask me. At this point, if someone offered me a choice between an income tax audit or a blind date, I’d have to sit down and think it over.

Here’s where Clay comes in: a couple of years ago, I was suffering through my umpteenth blind date -- a fix-up, as opposed to the personals ad variety. This is my least favorite kind because the friend fixing you up a) doesn’t think enough of this person to date them herself but thinks they'd be just PERFECT for you) and b) as such, is usually unduly anxious for the date to be a success. And I’ve always hated to let people down.

Anyway, I don’t even remember much about this mope, except that as we were awkwardly discussing our music preferences over the salads, I mentioned that I was a Clay fan. He said something derogatory about him that I won’t repeat here -- just think of it as typical Conan material. It’s odd -- one minute I was sitting there demurely sipping a tall glass of ice water, and the next thing I knew, it was running off the guy’s chin. And the glass, having bounced off his chest, was in his lap. It just...somehow...flew out of my hand, in his general direction. And the next thing after that, I was slipping the waiter a five to clean up the mess as I strode indignantly out of there. (Dating Rule #27: Always bring plenty of money, in case you need to cover the bill or beat a hasty retreat.) Did I feel badly about dousing the louse? Nah. Did I hear from the guy again? What do YOU think?

Did you know that I hold the record for the shortest blind date on record? (Really. Look it up in the Guinness Book.) Another fix-up: I arrived and here’s what happened. Take out your watch and time this and you’ll see that I’m right:

Me: Hi...Kathryn’s told me a lot about you.
Him (dismayed): I thought you’d be better-looking.
Me (huffily): And I thought YOU’D have some class. (EXIT!)

See? What did I tell you?

Another "friend" set me up with (shudders) my first and only Republican. No offense to any Republicans out there; I’m sure you’re all very nice. But I knew this particular relationship was probably doomed when he swaggered into my 1920’s vintage hardwood floor walkup, looked around and said, “This is okay, but I don’t see why you don’t live in a high-rise on Lake Shore Drive [the most expensive street in the city]. It’s a lot nicer.” I’m sure he thought homeless folks, with the limitless options open to them, choose to live in cardboard boxes in the subway tunnel, too. After a long ravenous drive to the restaurant, during which he said he wished Reagan could stay in office forever (grrrr) and I contemplated taking a bite out of the dashboard, it turned out that he was one of those guys who insists on ordering for you, which he did, much to my displeasure. A few days later, after our date ended abruptly when an undeclared ingredient in the polenta landed me in the emergency room, he called and, as a consolation, offered to escort me to our mutual "friend's" New Year’s Eve party. Since I didn’t yet have a date (read: ride), I reluctantly agreed. Then...you guessed it...he stood me up. Oh, my...what was a girl to do? I dressed up my Ken doll in his best tux, affixed him to my shoulder with a big safety pin, and introduced him to everyone at the party as “my date.” He was a hit. And better company than the elephant. Understandably, that "friend" never again tried to set me up with anybody. Hmmm...I wonder why.

I also dated my share of actor types -- generally a poverty-stricken, narcisisstic breed -- including a perfectly charming guy whose gums started bleeding spontaneously right there in the restaurant. Ewwwww. Also, memorably, one who had neglected to mention his glass eye and thought it would be fun to float it in my water glass as a joke. Double ewwwww. And last but not least, the male model I caught in my bedroom, trying on my red patent leather slingbacks. Triple--well, you get the picture. (Dating Rule #54: Never date a guy way prettier than YOU are.)

Probably my most lethal blind date disaster was a pudgy guy named Marty, whom I met in the co-ed jacuzzi at the YMCA one January day. One advantage of meeting a man when he is wearing a Speedo is that there are few remaining secrets. Naturally, that works both ways -- and any guy who hits on you having actually seen the expanse of mottled dead-of-winter white flesh protruding from your chlorine-faded tank suit is probably not very discriminating. Just sayin.’ Of course, in all fairness, the fact that in NO universe did he have any business appearing in public in a Speedo also tells you how discriminating I was, I suppose. Might as well admit it: we were equally indiscriminate.

I always tell people this, and they never believe me: He showed up for our first date with...an OVERNIGHT BAG. Confident much? Moreover, he somehow contrived to leave it at my apartment when we left for dinner, giving him the perfect excuse to come back afterwards and...get it (get it? *g*). During a way-too-salty dinner at a bad Mexican restaurant, he rattled on and on about himself, recounting in excruciating detail his recent oral surgery, even going so far to floss at the table. (Damn...and I liked that blouse.) Some cronies of his stopped by our table, and smirking, he introduced me to them as “his lady.” HOLY CRAP.

It’s a damned good thing that restaurants have back doors, isn’t it? I wonder how long it took him to figure out that I hadn’t gone to the ladies room. (Dating Rule #98: Always scope out an escape route.) I wish I could tell you that nobody stole his overnight bag after I left it out on the front steps, but... Now, you would think he’d never have anything to do with me again after that, but you’d be wrong. I got awfully tired of deleting his messages off my voicemail. Some folks are a glutton for punishment, I guess.

Now, I’m not suggesting for an instant that all men are worthless louts, selfish egomaniacs or classless idiots. Just the ones I’ve dated.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Monday, May 22, 2006

Thanks, er, I think.

Have you ever gotten a backhanded compliment? You know. The ones that are apparently supposed to make you feel good but in reality have you scratching your head or saying “What the heck”? Ok, I admit, I usually think something else then “heck”.

I must be really blessed because I have received many of them. Luckily though, not on national tv in front of millions of viewers like Clay Aiken did during his stint on American Idol.

One of those times that comes to mind is after Clay’s performance in the Top 7 - Billy Joel night. Simon Cowell said “Clay, don’t take this the wrong way but I prefer you when I shut my eyes". Just how do you answer that? Clay played it cool though and just laughed as Simon tried to explain that he thought some of Clay’s facial expressions were a bit theatric. It probably helped that Ryan Seacrest jumped in and said that it was funny because he preferred Simon with his eyes shut. Personally, I usually prefer Simon with his MOUTH shut although lately he has been making more sense than Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson combined.

Then there was final 2. Clay had sung This Is The Night for his first song and Simon’s comment started off like this. “What’s astonishing is how handsome this show has made you. You look back at those earlier clips and you really were ugly”. Again, Clay just laughed (making him more handsome than ever). How does Clay do that?

Practice maybe? Maybe he just considers the source. Still he kept his composure with millions of people looking on.

I know I would have the WTH look all over my face.

I should have practice though. These are some of the backhanded compliments I have gotten over the years.

“Everyone cheered when they found out that you would not be in class ”.

“You probably will have good looking kids. You husband is really handsome and you are kind of cute.”

“Even YOU look nice today”.

Gee. Thanks. I love you too. Don’t people ever think before they talk? Or do they not care since they are “complimenting” you?

My all time favorite, though, has to be this one. I was meeting my sister-in-law for the first time:

“Tom lied. You aren’t THAT fat!”

No. I didn’t hit anyone. Really.

So let’s hear it. What kind of “compliments” have you received? Leave a comment.

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Memories.....Light the Corners of My Mind

Since my birthday last week, I've been thinking a lot about Memories. Family Memories. I come from a big Italian family - my mother was one of 7 children and my father one of 6. Both sets of grandparents came from Italy with nothing.

My paternal grandfather (Pappy) was the only grandparent that I actually knew. All the rest had passed before I was born. Until he died and we saw his obituary in the paper, we all thought his name was Charlie. His given name was Michael, but when he came to America he was just a WOP (without papers) and they couldn't understand him so they called him Charlie and passed him through. This past January we had a 90th birthday party for my Uncle. The whole family came from all over. My aunt and uncle from CA, my brother and some cousins from FL, more cousins from NC, more cousins from DE -- you get the picture. The evening was all about memories, most happy, some sad.

I remember when Pappy was alive he lived with my Aunt and Uncle. We'd go over every Monday night for macaroni. Pappy always had butterscotch candy in his bottom dresser drawer. My sister, my cousin and I would go to see Pappy and get candy and he'd call us Miss Mud. We all thought it was a cute nickname, only to find out later that Pappy was 3 sheets to the wind and he called us Miss Mud because he couldn't tell who was who!

My sister lives in my Aunt and Uncle's house now. It amazes us how we used to sit 12 people around the dining room table on Monday nights and feast on macaroni, meetballs, sausage, bracciole and salad (at the end of the meal). I developed my affinity for a cocktail in those days. I'd get a sip of my father's whiskey sour before dinner, had my first sip of wine at that table and then after dinner, my cousin Charlie would slip us a shot a Galiano.

Of course, Pappy is long gone now. My parents are both gone now too. My uncle passed many years ago and Aunt a few years back after a battle with Alzheimers. But the great times we all shared together are very special. Now I make the gravy, meatballs, sausage and braccoile (ok, that I buy already made, but I cook it). We still sit around my Aunt's table, but it belongs to my sister now. And when we do, we tell my nieces the stories of when we were their age at that same table.

My brother lives in Florida now, so we don't get to spend holidays together. This year, my sister and I decided to fly down and spend Thanksgiving with him and my SIL and nieces and nephew. It will be the first holiday we've spent together, all 3 of us, in many years. I can't wait. (now watch, Clay's tour will be hitting NYC Thanksgiving weekend!)

P.S. -- the Yankees are pissing me off. I bet my boss (a Met fan) that they will have a better record than the Mets at the end of the season. Maybe, if someone accidentally breaks Randy Johnson's left pinkie finger, I'll win that bet.

P.P.S. --- 17 pounds lost!!!!

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Art of Mis-Communication

In 1887 a gentleman by the name of L.L. Zamenhof invented a new language called Esperanto. He had hoped that every nation in the world would learn this second language and all would therefore be on a level playing field. Well we know how that turned out!

Have you ever wondered how languages develop and why certain words mean one thing in one language and something totally different in another? Take English spoken in England and America. George Bernard Shaw said “England and America are two countries divided by a common language”…My how true that is.

When I came to this country I used a lot of words that meant something totally different.

Even simple everyday words tripped me up. I mean try asking for a spanner when you mean a wrench, turning on the tap and not the faucet, a car hood is a bonnet and is the loo really called the john here?

There are words here that people say that I sort of cringe at… for instance, I have heard people refer to others as little buggers. Well I would never be able to say that as it really is a swear word to me! Also the word sod here means grass and across the pond it is not a very polite word to call someone!

I think my favourite recollection, when I first came here, is when my newlywed husband asked me for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I looked at him like he was crazy…did he really want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? He assured me he did and being the new little wife I dutifully made him one! Well the word jelly in England means Jello not a form of jam! Yes you guessed it I made him one of the best peanut butter and lime Jello sandwiches you have ever seen….probably the only one ever seen! What did my husband do? He proceeded to eat it and then explain to me that it was not quite what he had in mind! It is 35 years later and we still laugh over that one!

My husband-to-be stayed used to stay at a friend’s house while we were dating (hey it was 1965 and I was 18 and innocent) and I used to wake him up in the morning so we could go out together…It took me the longest time to figure out why he would laugh hysterically when I would ask him what time he wanted knocking up in the morning? I honestly had no idea that it did not mean to wake someone up!

I had an acquaintance one time cause a rather noisy bar to go completely quiet when she told a friend who was feeling down to keep his pe*ker up, which to her meant keep your chin up! The look on her face was priceless when someone explained what she had said…I guess you can turn 10 shades of red!

Now even in the Clay fandom we have are own words and some of them mean something very different in the “real” world. For instance take the words thud, anomaly, shuttle and of course the infamous Waldo! We also have our own acronyms and contractions for all sorts of things. At times it feels we are speaking another language that anyone who is not on the “Claytrain” would never understand. We all know what Clack, JBT, JNT2 and NaT mean but have you ever found yourself using those words and getting blank stares and then you realise that people have no idea what you just said? Non-fans think we are crazy..err…enthusiastic but now we have a language all of our own . Even Clay Aiken has uttered the words “God forbid the Clack skip around” and “Yeah I know your words!” I guess he never thought that, in his wildest dreams, he would have his own republic, nation and now his own language. I think L.L. Zamenhof would be proud. Of course as usual YMMV. Hee

Technorati tags: , , ,

Friday, May 19, 2006

What G.B. Shaw Doesn't Know Won't Hurt Him

Both my husband and I were struggling actors for a good many years. We met in the theater – my husband came in to audition as a replacement for an actor that had suddenly dropped out of The Country Wife a week before we opened. Husband fit the costume . . . and a career was born!

I’ve been thinking about how some people are just so quick thinking – some of Clay Aiken’s ad libs on stage are wonderfully funny. Some people have it – some don’t. Usually, my husband is one of those quick-witted types. One time we were doing Shaw's Arms & The Man he did kind of have a moment . . .

The play takes place during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War. Raina is a young Bulgarian woman and one night, a Swiss voluntary soldier in the Serbian army bursts into her bedroom and begs her to hide him, so that he is not killed. Captain Bluntschli is supposed to say "I am a Swiss, fighting merely as a professional soldier. I joined the Serbs because they came first on the road from Switzerland."

Well, husband starts talking very confidently "I'm a Serb . . ." and my eyes bug out of my head since he's pretty much changing the whole play with that one mistake.

I interrupt and say "You're a what?" Well, he knows by the sweat pouring off my forehead and the twitching of my lip that he said the wrong thing. So, deep breath and he starts again "I'm a . . . I'm a . . ." small voice "serb" . . .with a question-mark at the end.

By now, I'm freaking cause if he's a Serb we have some serious problems with the rest of the play. "You are not" I ad lib "you can't be". Husband takes a deep breath and says - "I'm a . . . Bulgarian?" - Well that's worse because if he's a Bulgarian then he doesn't have to worry about hiding in my Bulgarian bedroom. "I don't believe you." I say.

By now, I'm convinced that the audience is thinking "I thought Shaw was a great playwright -- what the hell is this crappy dialogue?

Well, Husband is not happy with my ad libbing - so he breathes deeply once again and decides maybe if he says it louder he can get away with it. "I'm a Ser. . ." "You're a what?" I interrupt louder still, eyes bugging out of my head. "I'm a . . . I'm a . . . *deep breath* . . . *sigh* . . . I'm sooo confused."

Stifling laughter at this point, I figure what the hell - and I say stupidly - You sound like a Swiss (whatever the hell that means). Relief comes over Husband’s face as he continues "Yes, yes. . . I'm so tired I can't think straight . . . I'm a Swiss fighting for the Serbs . . ." and we're back in business.

Poor George Bernard Shaw rolled over in his grave. But "I'm soooo confused" can still send us into fits of giggling whenever we say it.

Being quick on your feet is definitely a plus in the theater. And on the concert stage. One of the things I adore about Clay Aiken is how entertaining he is, even when he's not singing. Here's Clay - thinking quickly on his (big) feet.

Thinking about acting and Clay Aiken – I’ve definitely noticed a change in his delivery of a song. For shear perfection – I’m reminded of the brilliant Barbara Cook, who, in addition to being a sublime performer, teaches a master class for professional singers. As described in this review of a DVD by George Dansker who took her class in 2005 – “After only a few moments she was able to help each singer find the essence of a song and to communicate its meaning to the audience.” Barbara Cook

I remember the first time I noticed something had changed in Clay Aiken’s delivery of a song from when I simply just fell in love with the voice. I remember commenting on it to a friend of mine. It was as if he was using an acting technique called The Inner Monologue. When done correctly, the inner monologue is what brings you to your lines. The idea is that you are thinking and it is your thinking that forces the words out. – it’s what changes your intonations, lends credibility to what you are saying (singing) and prevents lines (lyrics) from being uttered in a void. By the time I saw Clay’s performance of I Survived You in Charlotte during the Not a Tour – I was convinced he was using the technique, even if he may not have given it that name. The Video jumps a bit at the beginning but settles down so you can really see the intensity. To me, it's all there in his eyes and it translates right into his body and his voice.

During the JukeBox Tour in the summer of 2005 – his rendition of I Can’t Make You Love Me brought me to tears. I already knew he had an exquisite voice but it was the nuance and subtlety and conviction in the song that were outstanding.

Here's this blog's Quote: "I can always be distracted by love, but eventually I get horny for my creativity." Gilda Radner

If you haven't already read Pink Armchair's wonderfully entertaining blog about a very special musical audition - be sure to check it out: Lost By A Nose

Thanks for visiting - and please - don't be shy about posting comments - we love the feedback and it makes it more like a real conversation . . . and that means even you anonymous people . . . Join In!

Technorati tags: , , , , , ,

Thursday, May 18, 2006

CURTAINS UP! How to Make a Grand Entrance

The Wind Blows Hard against this Mountainside.........
purple_stapler: Blows. Hard. Heh. Heh. Heh.

Who will ever forget the electricity in the air when the opening notes to Kyrie filled the concert hall during the IT or when the chaser lights on the mother ship signaled the grand entrance for Where the Streets Have No Name? Making a theatrical impact, creating an exciting first impression is important for setting the charged environment for a concert experience.

Short of having Clay Aiken standing at the edge of my property as guests arrive, I will never get that same kind of reaction from my garden design.

purple_stapler: Wouldn’t FlatClay do? Also, electrical fences are great a creating charged environments. *hides FlatClay adorned with lei of blinky lights*

It sure would save me a lot of work though. I'd bet two front row tickets that no one would even notice the weeds or the dead moles the cat dragged to the door.

purple_stapler: Well, I hear that naked is the new black this season. Did you hear that, Clay?

purple_stapler ‘accidentally’ gets smacked over the head with gardening trowel wielded by beauzz, and makes a grand entrance to where the streets have no name.

As I watched the initial episode from the West Wing first season the other night, I was reminded as to why I got so hooked on this show right from the start. What a stunning introduction to the characters and visual energy of one of my all time favorite shows. What a way to make a grand entrance.

How do we create drama in the garden? The elements and principles of design that are applied to the stage are equally important for creating an impact in the garden. Think overall composition and the way each plant relates to each other in shape, size, texture and color. If we take a look at the elements of design, we can come up with a few examples as to how these principles can be used to advantage in the garden to help create an overall visual impact. These are just a few of my favorite combinations picked up from friends, magazines/books, garden shows, experimentation, gut reaction and pure luck. I'd love to hear about your favorite plant combinations that make a dramatic impact in your garden. I imagine they'll end up being my favorites as well!


When I began gardening years ago, I tended to choose a plant by flower color instead of foliage color. Any shade gardener will tell you the visual impact comes from the contrast in foliage rather than the flower. As the song goes, it ain't easy being green (all the time), so a great way to liven up that overall garden composition is to place high contrast colors to compliment the palette of your garden. I particularly love a well placed burgundy (perennial: barberry bush, coral bell, Japanese Maples, purple sage / annual: Persian shield, coleus) and chartreuse (in various hostas, Japanese iris, ferns, Hakonechloa grass, groundcovers). Even basic green comes in a variety of shades from the gorgeous silvery blue-green of Russian sage to the variegated beauties of euonymus.

When it comes to flowers, my favorite annual combination for sun is tall leilani blue ageratum (18" high) combined with fire and orange profusion zinnias. The large drifts of Van Gogh inspired complimentary colors pop in a sunny garden. These two annuals look great from May to November and never need to be staked or deadheaded. They are also disease resistant.

My favorite shade combination is the iridescent quality of Persian Shield combined with a cool palette of impatiens in roses, pinks, purples and white.

For perennial high key color drama, drifts of periwinkle blue Russian sage looks striking combined with yellow-orange Rudbeckia


Foliage seems to have endless possibilities for contrast in texture, size and shape. You can achieve a dramatic effect by including plants that vary and contrast sharply in height and form. I love mixing and matching textures and shapes with my hosta collection ( there are literally hundreds of varieties in every size and color imaginable) to create a contrasting and dramatic effect in the shade garden. My favorite hosta "companions" are hokenowia grass, spotted Pulmonaria, grasslike Liriope, bright green lacy textured ferns, arching Solomon's Seal, bleeding heart and varigated Jacob's ladder. Chartreuse (sedum), silver (lamium) and burgundy (ajuga) ground covers create a snap, crackle and pop and tie the whole shebang together with rhythm and unity.

No one will ever be standing on a lawn chair or craning their necks to get a better view of my "grand entrance", but a few well chosen plant combinations can create a visual impact for the garden that all will enjoy. There is one thing that a well designed garden and a certain red headed singer with a smoothly textured Voice by the name of Clay Aiken have in common...

.... they leave you wanting more.

Please share your garden "vignettes". ;)

*beauzz collects thoughts, hostas, and prone body of purple_stapler*

Can't get enough gardening blogs? Check out Thistle-Hut

Technorati tags: ,, , , ,

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Celebrity Insurance - How Much Is It Worth To You?

I remember my mother talking about Betty Grable insuring her legs for $1 million dollars. That got me thinking about the business of insuring body parts, which further got me thinking about who would do something like that.

Thinking it was very rare, imagine my surprise to find that not only isn't it rare, it is, in fact, pretty common for celebrities to insure that which is considered a benefit to their career.

I did some research on the subject and what I found was pretty interesting. Not only did Betty Grable
insure her legs for $1 million, so did Mary Hart, co-host of Entertainment Tonight. Not to be out-done, super-model Heidi Klum, insured her legs for $1.96 million, according to the Washingtonpost.com, who wrote, "Phillips, de Pury and Co. made the assessment based on length, shape, rarity and commercial value". Hum. My legs certainly don't rate a $1 million dollar insurance policy. Sometimes life is not fair.

So I looked at other celebrities to see what they insured and I found some pretty interesting body parts. According to Bankrate.com, these celebrities have all insured body parts:

Jimmy Durante's nose? $50,000
Marlene Dietrich's voice? $1 million
Dolly Parton's breasts? $600,000
Michael Flatley's (Lord of the Dance) legs? $25 million

Bruce Springsteen's voice? $6 million

Again, according to Bankrate.com: "Surprisingly, one category where you would expect lots of insured parts -- the world of sports -- yields none. While one would expect that superstars like Kobe Bryant, Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens would have more insured arms that the United States military, it turns out that the sports world finds little time to quibble with details"

It seems that if the athletes want to insure parts, they have to do it themselves. Well, except Tiger Woods, whose insurance premium would be more per year than he makes from the game of golf. Most of his income is from endorsements. Ballplayer Juan Gonzalez insured himself as a free agent with a $50 million disability policy.

People have insured their taste buds, their teeth, their hands (Keith Richards), a moustache, their eyes, policies against weight gain, fingers, even buttocks.

One can only hope that Clay Aiken has insured that glorious voice of his.

Thanks to Tasapio for the picture the extraordinary Clay Aiken.

Technorati tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, May 15, 2006

I'll have a Filet of Promo.....Well Done

I’ve been thinking about marketing Clay’s album. I know how that comes as a surprise to …….Ted Williams? (and that’s just because he’s chillin’ right now)

I’ve seen a lot of comments that Clay should get the promotion that Artist A got or the radio support that Artist B got. The thing is marketing plans are not cookie cutter. You aren’t ordering your dinner at the Marketing Bistro where you can say “He’ll have what she’s having” like that scene from When Harry Met Sally. (Although I have been known to do a Meg Ryan as Sally impersonation when seeing Clay in fitted black pants.) Marketing strategy isn’t like standing in front of the fish counter at the grocery store (where you may see Clay buying his milk) and saying “I want 2 filet of sole, 4 pounds of jumbo shrimp and 3 magazine covers.

What is it with food examples, I just finished my supper???

Anyway, the bottom line is that Clay should get what Clay needs and not what anyone else got. What Clay needs is dictated by the product strategy, the target markets chosen and any additional strategies defined (new image). But you also need to take into account the artist’s strengths. For instance, Clay is as much a TV star as he is a recording artist.

I’ve been starting to watch a few other artists to see what their marketing is like. Most are from Sony/BMG (RCA parent). Even though Clay is under RCA specifically, marketing people talk and share ideas and best practices. I attend a regional marketing roundtable every six weeks. Most are not in my industry but I’ve still found some of their techniques useful, even though I’ve obviously had to adjust them for my specific company and goals.

Rob Thomas had the challenge to show that he could be a solo artist. He already had great respect as a songwriter and as the “voice” of Matchbox Twenty. I don’t believe that Rob has the world’s best voice but I do find his voice unique. I found it personally interesting that even though I own all of MB20’s albums, it did not even occur to me to buy his solo album, even though it came recommended by a friend. Did they not market to MB20 fans, assuming that we would just buy it? Perhaps it was because the lead single did not appeal to me. Or the fact that despite offering the very popular DualDisc format (CD and DVD), they did not offer just the CD. Clay’s album is rumored to be DualDisc, I hope they offer both choices.

(HA! As I write this the Red Sox pre-game show is on the radio and they just played the radio call of Ted Williams last at bat. I think I have ESP or something.)

Sorry, I am the queen of tangents. The lead single is critical to set the tone, especially in this age of digital downloads which drive album sales down. Sure, many will just download it rather than buy the whole album, but hopefully it will intrigue enough people to buy the actual album.

I’ve also been very curious about Christina Aguilera’s new album. First, her release was suppose to be this spring like Clay’s and like Clay she had to go back in the studio. Her album is now slated for 8/15 and I would expect Clay’s around that timeframe +/- a few weeks. Christina is an international star with a somewhat quirky image. She’s the female voice of her generation, IMO even though she occasionally gets a case of over melisma-itis. So how do you market someone who started a teen queen poptart, then had to get down and Dirrrty and now wants to celebrate a more mature adulthood as a happily married woman? I’m watching closely, especially since her album appears to also be a concept album.

It looks to me like they are going for the glam look to go with the early decades influence. However, her press release mentioned a couple of dirrrty songs so it seems that RCA was unwilling to let her go 100% with the new image. Labels are going to be pretty cautious until they figure out this balance between pushing album sales versus digital downloads. Her people mentioned that she was able to record some “angry” songs after having fights with the labels. I can’t wait to see if Clay sings I Survived You in concert later this year for that very reason….. Rumors of a song called Compromise on Clay’s album may have a very significant meaning. Video of ISY by Solo.

Christina is using MTV as the vehicle to blast her single out there and that makes sense as MTV has been very good to her. She’s always been a very visual artist in the same way that Britney Spears is, with the big exception that Christina can actually sing.

What I hope for Clay’s marketing is that they will be able to showcase the fact that he not only has the voice that everyone is aware of but that he has a quick and sarcastic wit (makes for great couch time) and he rolls the vocals and the sense of humor all together in one package (that’s small “p”) to be the great concert entertainer that he has become.

All artists have a brand. The true brand lies somewhere in between what the label was going for and what the public (or each individual) perceives. For instance, my brand perceptions are:

Rob Thomas—Songwriter with interesting voice
Christina-Incredible Singer with revolving/odd personality
Kelly C- Radio Star
Alicia Keys—Blues in her fingertips

Clay Aiken-Singer/Entertainer. He has the ability to be all of it for a long time. (And I think her writes but we may not see that for awhile.) But the whole package is there, more than anyone else out there and that is what they should market. Start with the big surge to radio and be creative with the online marketing. The TV marketing is easy. He sells himself in front of the camera. Then televise this man in concert.

The world needs to know what Clay Nation knows.

I saw a funny marketing cartoon today from the New Yorker. It is a picture of a man standing at the pearly gates facing St. Peter. There is a big sign above the gates that says “Birth, Death and Beyond”. St. Peter says to the man “Actually, preferred Heaven too but then the marketing guy got a hold of it.”

Technorati tags:

Lost...by a NOSE!

I've always felt that I had a lot in common with Clay. No, really. Lord only knows how many derogatory remarks he heard about his looks growing up, and certainly he had to have gotten it a lot once he entered the wonderful world of showbiz. As it's perfectly obvious that he's really lovely, it just goes to show you how blind some people can be, doesn't it? The great thing about Clay, as opposed to a jellyfish like me, is that he never seemed to be too insecure about it -- as he famously said about his big ears, "Ah'm always gonna have these!" Anyway, as everyone knows, looks are all-important in the entertainment biz, especially in acting, and some people (ahem!) will go to ridiculous lengths to...um...enhance things...

I was going to be the best actress EVAH. Of course, that was before the soul-destroying experience of 4 years at a theatre conservatory, encounters with venal agents, clueless directors, self-involved and impoverished actors (more in a future installment about that!), and the exhausting and tedious round of mind-numbing temp jobs I slogged through for the sake of my “art.”

I should have known how it was going to go down my very first week in the conservatory. I arrived at the mandatory “Corrective Makeup” course to subject myself the the scrutiny of the so-called experts. After they circled me, mumbling, shaking their heads and jotting notes on clipboards, I was told what I needed to "correct:"
  • my nose
  • my eyes
  • my chin
  • my teeth
  • my hair color and hairstyle
  • my thighs
  • my butt
  • my boobs
  • and my weight, by about 30 pounds.
Surveying that list, I decided what they really wanted was someone ELSE.

I steadfastly refused to do any of it, declaring that I saw women like me hawking oven cleaner on television all the time. The instructor just shook his head, saying, in essence, that if I didn’t do anything else, I MUST have my nose fixed.

“Why?” I asked. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Well, look at it,” he said. “It has no tip on it.”

I went and looked in the mirror. It looked okay to me. And since it was my mother’s nose, my aunt’s nose, my sister’s nose and my grandmother’s nose and was good enough for them, it was good enough for me. It had always functioned adequately. And besides, I was a singer, and had heard stories about nose jobs ruining the intonation. (This is apparently why Streisand never got hers done.) So, no thanks. Uh-uh. Not a chance.

This same instructor -- who, by the way, wasn't exactly a gorgeous specimen himself, considering this is what he was soon to play on Broadway -- goodnaturedly harangued me for the next four years: “Didja get it fixed yet?” "What do you think?” Finally, at graduation, he walked up to me and handed me a little box.

"Here," he said. “It’s a tip for your nose. Made it myself.”

He had to be kidding. But no...inside the box I found a flesh-colored...thing...about the size of a chocolate chip.

“And what am I supposed to do with this?” I asked sardonically.

“Well, when you’re going to an audition in a big theatre, just paste on it with a little spirit gum, cover the edges with makeup, and nobody’ll ever know.”

Yeah, right. I went home and tossed the box in my dresser drawer, convinced I’d never open it again, and walked off singing "I gotta be me...I gotta be me..."

Cut to the late summer. I hear about a cattle call audition at the Shubert Theatre downtown. They’re looking for “Argentinean peasant” types to shake their fists in the air and sing “Evita” 6,000 times per show in the musical of the same name. Now, I look about as much like an Argentinean peasant as Pippi Longstocking, but I delusionally thought I could pull this off with my pale Germanic skin, red hair and blue eyes. Well, I did my best: a wig, three sets of false eyelashes, dark makeup applied with a trowel, my best dusty 1970s Bo-Ho wear, and a babushka. At the last moment, in a fit of desperation, I pasted on The Nose, figuring it would help. I looked something like this. Or this. Or, God help me, this.

It was a very, very, very hot August day in downtown Chicago...the kind of hot where you’d swear if you dropped an egg on the sidewalk you could have it with bacon and a side of home fries in a matter of seconds. The house area of the theatre where the auditioners sat was air-conditioned, I’m sure, but the backstage area was not. I stood in line with 50 other would-be actresses, most of them naturally and appropriately swarthy and clad in their bartending uniforms or whatever they had worn to work that day. Needless to say, I looked ridiculous (think Lucy in the grape-stomping scene). At least, most of the other girls seemed to think so, as they kept turning around to covertly point and snicker. Finally, one of them took pity on me and, handing me a mirror, suggested, “You might want to check your makeup.”

Peering into it through the glaze of sweat and the three sets of false eyelashes, I was horrified to discover that the spirit gum was melting in the heat and The Nose had listed over to the starboard side of my real nose, looking like a giant wart. I was frantically attempting to restore it to its proper position, when...of course...my number was called.

Out on stage, I handed my sheet music to the accompanist and encountered another problem -- The Nose had now migrated up to a spot just below my eyes, and I was having a little trouble seeing over it. Praying the auditioners were far enough away not to notice, I bravely launched into a robust version of “Till There Was You” from The Music Man.

All went well until I hit the high note on “music” in the bridge, and I suddenly felt The Nose unpeeling from my face like a Band-aid. At “wonderful roses,” with a "riiiiip!" it launched into the air and went flying. Dismayed, I watched it go. Astonished, they watched it go. Yep, we all watched it go. (NASA would be proud.) But somehow -- what a trouper! -- I kept on singing. And The Nose hit the floor of the orchestra pit with a little “ping!” right on cue at “dawn and dew.” Now, that takes talent.

A moment of horrified silence. Then, a whisper from out there:

“Oh, my God...she sang her nose off!” A pause. To me: “Um...are you okay?”

“Oh, yes! Absolutely!” I insisted, squinting myopically at the pit in a futile search for The Nose.

“Well.” They looked at each other, obviously unsure as to whether they should call the Health Department about the crater-faced leper now standing before them. “Thanks. We’ll be in touch.” Ahhh. The kiss of death. And too bad, too...I killed on that song. (Notwithstanding losing a body part onstage, that is.) But I guess the best singer in the world would have been shangheied by a little thing like that.

Did I ever see The Nose again? No. Did I want to? Nope. But what I really wished, once I got home, was that I hadn’t trimmed the false eyelashes while they were on my eyes.

Talk about adding insult to injury: it's tough to get a date when you look like a rabbit. And I don't mean this rabbit.

Technorati tags:

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Music Memories: Folk, Rock, Jazz That Touch My Soul

Isn't it incredible how music touches our souls? I can't carry a note - but I love to sing at full volume when I'm driving. My husband doesn't mind. Another reason to love him.

So here's some from my free-flowing memory book about music. There's lots of great videos here - so take time to let them load!
I remember when I was pre-teen - one of my great joys was driving home from our country house and listening to the radio. At 8:05 PM on Sunday nights - one of the stations played the complete album of a popular Broadway Show. Now, no one in my family could sing at all - I'm not sure who was the worst - but we were all really really bad. That stopped none of us. We knew all the lyrics. One of my Dad's and my favorites was "Those Were The Good Ole' Days" from Damn Yankees. How we loved the "hahahahahahah" part - we'd scream with laughter.

I remember my freshmen year in college - I was feeling blue and I would play Donovan's "Catch The Wind" over and over and over again. I was a theater major - so I knew how to be dramatic. I'd sit in the window seat in my dorm room and feel sorry for myself and sing. I think I rather liked that feeling of being miserable, just a bit. And, of course, I wore black. Here's Donovan.

I remember the first time I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and fell in love with George Harrison. And stayed in love with George and am still in love with George. I think sometimes that he and Clay Aiken have so many similarities. A gentleness and spirituality - and a snarky sense of humor. I bet Clay enjoys Monty Python . . . Oh, and they share incredible cheekbones. George Harrison singing "Something" - watch him forget the words towards the beginning - looks like the Harrison Random Lyric Generator was at work:

I remember when Ella Fitzgerald did one of her last concerts on Broadway. What an incredible woman. Probably the best voice and vocal interpreter I've ever heard. How I adore her. Here's Ella and Count Basie. It's fabulous to watch them riff with eachother - Basie on piano and Ella with her voice - almost as if Ella's saying "OK you play your instrument - I'll play mine". My Goodness - does it get any better?

I saw Yves Montand at his farewell concert at Lincoln Center. I knew he started as a song and dance man -- but I had no idea how fabulous he was. I loved him as an actor - but he was a showman. Oh, now that was a concert to remember.

Charles Aznavour used to do a midnight concert around Christmas time - it was my present to my sister so many years. I saw his farewell concert on Broadway too. Went this time with my husband, my dear girlfriend and her husband and their 3 children and their husband, wife and partner. All sitting in awe of that musical talent – that performer. So many people have mentioned wanting to hear Clay sing "She". They know it as the Elvis Costello version. But it's Aznavour's song. I wanted to find a video of it--but couldn't. Here's La Boheme - don't know the year, but boy he's young.

I remember protesting the Vietnam War and singing protest songs. I saw Tom Paxton and Eric Andersen and Tom Rush and Judy Collins in little clubs in the Village. And I remember Bob Dylan in Newport when he first went electric. And Arlo and Pete too. I know I'm forgetting some. This Pete Seeger video is still sadly relevant today. Listen to the words and feel his passion.

I saw Mel Torme from the 3rd row at Purchase College - also right before he passed away. He looked like a little toad on his stool . . .an old man with old old hands. And then he sang. You closed your eyes and you'd swear he was young. It was amazing to hear.

I saw the wonderful Eric Clapton at Madison Square Garden just recently. My husband and I were invited to a special enclosed box by one of the hotel's we work with. There was drink and food. But the box was behind the stage. You couldn’t see him except for the back of the jumbotons. Everyone in the box left to get floor seats (you were allowed to). We almost did. But the music started. And we were alone in the box and we started dancing. We stayed there all night. We could hear perfectly. We could see him on the screen. We sang and danced and acted like fools. The waiter came in to refresh the bar - took one look and closed the door behind him. What a night! Here's a clip of Eric with Phil Collins singing one of my favorite songs.

I'll end this with Clay Aiken and all the excitement he brings to the stage. And the joy I feel when I watch him. When I listen to a cd I made of the Houston NaT - there's a moment in the first song where someone laughs. It's my favorite moment. It captures the sheer unselfconscious infectious bliss that man brings out in all of us who love him. Thank you spotlightlover for the video.

Here's my Quote for this Blog: After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. Aldous Huxley

Please visit all The Conclayve posts and don't forget to comment. We love feedback. Thanks for visiting.
Here are some great blogs for more music memories: Wednesday's Child

Technorati tags:

Friday, May 12, 2006

Birthdays on Weight Watchers

The other day was my birthday. Clay didn't blog to wish me a Happy -- what's up with that??(ha ha, just kidding, I'm not a psycho).

I've been on Weight Watchers for 5 weeks (14 pounds lost!). My pal at work bought little teeny mini cupcakes (3 points each) to celebrate my birthday. I had packed my little yogurt, sandwich and rice cakes like I do every day, but there should be no points calculation on your birthday, right??

So, I ordered a Buffalo Chicken Salad for lunch. I don't even want to know how many points, but it was damn good. Then my friend calls and wants to meet for a cocktail after work. How could I say no? (BTW -- I don't count liquids. It's all water in my book, whenther it's coffee, soda, wine or a margarita). Three glasses of Pinot Grigio and a steak sandwich later, I headed for home. It certainly was better than a crappy sandwich for lunch and a Smart Ones for dinner. Tomorrow I get to celebrate all over again, so I'm just hoping to stay at the 14 pounds lost for this week.

Oh, and the Yankees won for my birthday (and last I checked were winning again tonight) so all in all, it was a good birthday!!

Technorati tags: ,,