Friday, September 29, 2006

The Older Blogger

As I sit down with my laptop, my WORD processing program and my glass of Zinfandel, I still feel (mentioned it in my last blog) so much like Carrie Bradshaw on Sex in the City searching for the 'angle' for my next blog. Now, mind you, I said I 'feel' like Carrie not 'look' like Carrie. Carrie is almost 30 years younger in the series than I, and I'm assuming a very well paid columnist. I, on the other hand, am doing this for 'fun'. And I'm in good company, not only with all the wonderful Clay fan bloggers, but with thousands of 'older' bloggers.

In an article I recently read in my latest AARP magazine, which sits on top of my copy of People, Teen People, Entertainment Weekly, Money, Forbes & Time, there was a blub about the 'older' blogger who upon retiring from the workplace now turns to blogging to enable them to interact with a new social group of 'like minded' people. It also keeps their critical abilities sharp because they're reading, writing and thinking. Hell, I've been doing that since I found 'like minded' Clay fans 3 years ago. Blogging gives me another outlet
for all the reading and thinking I've been doing all along.

The article continues to state that "A blog is there forever, so people continue to read the posts and say how they've affected them". The blog has given us a voice". The fan boards have given us a voice and Clay has encouraged us to use our voice!

It's been a long time since I've written anything creative... the past many years have found my writing limited to:
  • Notes to the various teachers & school administers excusing or giving permission on behalf of my 3 children
  • Notes and letters to various commercial establishments who didn't credit my accounts
  • Notes and letters wishing family and friends well on their birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, births, bar and bat mitzvahs, confirmations, engagements, thank yous and sympathy notes upon the death of someone dear to them.
  • Notes and letters keeping family and friends caught up on family happenings
  • 30 years worth of business correspondence, technical instructional material and personnel appraisals
  • 3 years worth of board posting
  • 1 years worth of blogging

I'm going to embrace "The Older Blogger" tag because it puts me in very good company. I believe it to be a chronological reference that establishes the blogger to be someone that has experienced lots of life which provides that person with lots of life stories and lots of opinions.

I've found my 'hook' and my future blogs will chronicle my life experiences, both funny and sad, both wise and not so wise. It will be my version of "Learning to Sing, Hearing the Music in Your Life".

Who knows, since blogs last forever someday my grandchildren and their offspring will find my writings amongst the archives in some archival forum of the future. ...Whatever form that will take.

Technorati tags:

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Thousand Different Ways: Different Voices & Impressions Part II

More members of The ConCLAYve chiming in to discuss their thoughts on A Thousand Different Ways and Clay Aiken.

If someone asked me to sit down and write a list of my least favorite songs - many on the A Thousand Different Ways track list would be on it. Truth is, when these songs were popular, I was listening to Danny O'Keefe, Elvis Costello, Eric Clapton or Queen. So I wasn't very optimistic when I saw the songs Clay was covering. I mean, I didn't mind covers - but my list of songs I wanted him to cover was very very different.

I never expected to have an overwhelming love affair with this album. I had no expectations. When I heard the clips I wasn’t really sure if anything remarkable was being done with this album. I had long wished for Clay to do a song where there were instrumental breaks – where the “music” was an integral part of the song and where Clay’s voice was as powerful, as nuanced, as charged as his performance. How shocked I am that despite a list of songs I’d been dreading . . . I have been given what I wished for. My husband said, when he listened the first time, Clay’s not singing with the band – he’s playing with the band. Every time I listen – and believe me, I listen a lot – I realize how true that is.

So many people have spoken about individual tracks and have expressed my feelings – that it isn’t necessary for me to do that. What I can say is that from the moment I heard Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, I fell hard. The guitar tugs at my heart the way that Clay’s heartbreakingly truthful voice does. Here You Come Again is almost too intimate – and the smile I hear in Clay’s voice when he sings “looking better than a body has a right to” makes me think he’s singing directly to me (except for the body part *g*). And Broken Wings make me feel like I’m transported back to a Moody Blues concert – all marvelous vocals and an excitingly spiritual arrangement.

The bonus cut – If You Don’t Know Me By Now (available at Kmart only) gives me my wonderfully soulful Clay. I love this sound on him. When my husband listened to it he remarked that it made him think of Elvis and that southern gospel sound that used to be a big part of r&b. But by far, my two favorite songs are the one’s that Clay has co-written. Lonely No More has a more modern feel than many of the songs on ATD – and a great hook. It’s wonderful to sing aloud and I find the overlaying of vocals really exciting. The part where he sings “tonight” and there’s that little pause before the background voices jump in with Clay makes me smile every time – it’s just such a wonderfully unexpected moment. And Lover All Alone (available from iTunes only) is a deceptively simple song. The lyrics hold up when read as poetry and the arrangement and vocals are beautifully done. Such a special song deserves to be heard – so I decided to use it for a montage.

I'm amazed - but I think this CD will become one that I will pull out frequently - one that will comfort, inspire and surprise me for a very long time. Is it what I wanted for Clay's 2nd album? No. But hearing what he has done - it is more than I ever hoped for me.

A Thousand Different Emotions

It's been a whirlwind week in Clay Nation and before I finish packing for my 3000 mile trip to see Clay on Jimmy Kimmel Live, it seems like a good time to reflect. It's kind of fitting that Clay was on The View this week because our blog is a lot like that show with different women offering different views.

This first listen of this album requires headphones. Otherwise you miss the special things about it. The way he goes from falsetto to tenor to baritone in about 4 notes in his slow and sultry version of Dolly Parton's Here You Come Again. Or the way he uses his voice like a musical instrument, following the notes of the actual electric piano up down in an instrumental interlude during Every Time You Go Away. Perfect pitch and a really interesting segment in that song. It's funny, I always liked the perfectly imperfect Daryl Hall version and to a lesser extent the poppy Paul Young version. But this version tops them both.

A few times I tried to play “guess the cover” when the songs started and I could not. Clay and his producers really took great care to find fresh arrangements for the songs. The Celtic music for Bryan Adams' Everything I Do made me go from an ambivalent feeling toward that song to one where the music takes you to a different place in your mind. I guess it's Calgon on a CD.

It's hard to pick favorites because I keep changing my mind. Broken Wings combines an Evanescence feeling with poetry and an exciting build up, it's a great driving song and I hated the original. Clay takes the overwrought Celine Dion song Because You Loved Me and makes it a bopping, percussion driven song that I can't wait to hear in concert. He rocks it out on A Thousand Days, which we've already seen in concert. Clay co-wrote Lonely No More which has a very catchy hook, almost two hooks in fact. Another original song Everything I Have brought tears to my eyes the first few times I heard it as it connects with this mother of a teenage daughter while she and her father dance the sometimes difficult dance of growing up. Someday I will play that as they dance at her wedding.

My favorite by far is the song Clay wrote and that is only available on itunes as the bonus track called Lover All Alone. The sophisticated lyrics, the sadness and resigned aching in his voice and the incredibly wonderful arrangement have me loving this song more with each listen. The world should hear this song and know that Clay Aiken not only writes, he writes with emotion and sings his own words from the depths of his soul. There is one part where Clay is singing a rather low note and all of a sudden you realize that a cello has taken over the exact note and tone. A Masterpiece.

So listen with the headphones first. Then get in your car and crank it.

He's Going to Be In Good Company
My music tastes are very different to most peoples. Growing up in England I was exposed to the Beatles, Stones, Animals etc. and music from all over the world, to this day I still prefer World music to any other. I have everything from Tuuvan Throat Singers, to a Turkish Singer called Tarkan, to Yousssou N’dor in my collection! I really have never related to a lot of American type music so when I saw the playlist of Clay’s new CD I was really wondering if I was going to like it at all. I hated Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” and as I only like Celine Dion singing in French…well I’ll say no more!

Of course like a "true” Clay fan I went to one of the CD Release parties and bought ATDW at Midnight.

I had about a 30 minute drive home at about 2 in the morning. I don’t think that my first listening experience could have been any better. Driving alone on a back country road, in the dark, listening to his voice just wash over me was a delight to my senses.

I really was pleasantly surprised by “Here You Come Again”. I was fully prepared to fast forward through that song but I actually listened to it all the way through. Now I still don’t like the song itself but I think Clay does a masterful job on it. It is, to me, so different to Dolly’s that I actually am starting to like it! (OMG I can’t believe I actually typed that)

As for ”Because You loved Me” I am so glad that he did not over-sing it…this version is sublime despite what some reviewers say! To me it sounds nothng like Celine’s version for which I am very grateful.

I am not any kind of an expert on music but I do know what I like and I do like most everything on this CD. My least favourite? I don't think there is anything I really dislike. I think I will have to listen another few hundred times just to make sure!
Now my most favourite is really easy for me. It is Lover All Alone. I adore his singing on this one and the words are so poignant that it brought tears to my eyes. To know that Clay wrote part or all of it is indeed an added bonus. My only regret is that because it is an iTunes bonus not everyone will have the chance to hear it.

Now being a Clay fan I know I am biased but this CD will definitely be added to my all time favourite list which includes Placido Domingo, Queen, Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Harry Secombe, Nana Mouskouri and many others. (I told you I had eclectic tastes) Pretty good company don’t you think?

"Help me paint a picture of my life...." - Clay Aiken on Lonely No More

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I'd like to paint a very personal picture of how one man's incredible voice touched three generations of our family.

You see my mother-in-law Carol, neighbor, dear friend, and fellow artist is also an incredible woman living with alzheimers. She is an advanced state where she can no longer remember the right words or piece them together enough to verbalize her thoughts. I can still remember the days when she sang in a barbershop quartet and community choirs adding her rich crystal clear soprano vocals. I can also remember her effortless piano work while singing harmony with my husband. My youngest son is a musician and we credit his talented grandmother for helping develop his passion for music.

The other day when my in-laws were over for dinner, I recognized the signs that Carol was drifting away. My FIL, a respected researcher in developmental psychology had previously described the use of music therapy in alzheimer's patients and how the rise in certain brain chemicals affect the mental state. Knowing that listening to music in her own home helps to regulate her mood, reduce aggression and depression, I decided to put on A Thousand Different Ways.

My husband and FIL were busy chatting away as I watched my MIL stare blankly into her plate. My heart was crushed. Was it only a few years ago that she listened to the CD mix of Clay songs that brought her such joy? The volume was low but I turned it up before I started to clear the table. As Clay's crystal clear vocals hit the chorus of Without You, my mother in law, head still bent, started matching tones, quietly at first, and then with a continuing strength that startled me. After months of barely uttering words, Carol was singing.....not only singing but matching pitch. Every single time Clay sang the word "Liiiiiive" she was right there with him, a look that I can't describe in any other way than complete contentment and joy. Her eyes twinkled and she smiled and as if on cue we all enthusiastically applauded. The lump in my throat was getting out of control and glancing to my FIL for support I saw the tears in his eyes that mirrored my own. My husband was swallowing hard and my son's mouth was dropped open in disbelief. Clay's brilliant and crystal voice dug down deep and reached her on a level that blew us all away. Pink Armchair beautifully articulated how THAT VOICE gets into your psyche and stays there. There was no doubt in my mind that she was responding to THAT VOICE. A force of nature indeed.

In trying to list all the different ways Clay Aiken's voice has delighted and thrilled me on ATDW, all the reasons seem to fall away compared to those few moments in time. I know without a doubt that my son will retell this story years from now because it was just that powerful. I'm sure he'll always remember it as the day his grandmother sang again.
If you would like to read Part I of our Impressions - click here

And don't be shy about leaving comments . . . Use Your Voice.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Thousand Different Ways: Different Voices & Impressions Part I

The ConCLAYve is made up of a number of different voices - drawn together because of our admiration and appreciation of Clay Aiken. If we could be sitting around a virtual table, drinking wine and sharing stories . . . one topic would surely be Clay's new album, A Thousand Different Ways. But of course, we're all so chatty - this will have to be Part I. Why not listen while reading? You can stream on AOL Music and please add your comments. It's fun to join in the conversation and the more voices - the merrier.

Pink Armchair:
My boss (who has a casual interest in Clay) made an interesting remark to me about him this week. She watched the GMA interview, The View, and some of the entertainment show coverage. One of them showed footage of a CD release party, and in watching it she observed, “It must be something about his voice -- it seems to have affected you all so strongly, and in so many different ways.”

Could that be... “a thousand different ways?”

I know, for me, the very first time I heard it, it hit me right in the solar plexus. I remember thinking that it was impossible to ignore, and that it was such a force of nature, it couldn’t be denied. I wasn’t worried for Clay during American Idol, because I knew that THAT VOICE wasn’t going away. It couldn’t. Once you’ve heard it, it gets into your psyche. And stays there.

So I find myself unable to pick a favorite track on this new CD. There are some I like better than others, but every time I listen to it, different things strike me, and certain nuances come to the fore that I hadn’t noticed before. The main thing is: no matter what you think of the song choices, no matter how you feel about how the album came about or what you hoped it could have been...the VOICE is still undeniable.

His crystalline sense of pitch, his perfect intonation, his unselfish interpretations -- respect for the composer: what a concept! -- his choice to sustain (very difficult) straight tones (listen to “Every Time You Go Away” and “Here You Come Again” for prime examples of that) instead of copping out to the tedious melisma so many singers today use to hide their lack of vocal power and technique. (This is assuming, of course, that they’re actually singing. And these days, that is certainly not a given.)

And the idea that he actually contributed to writing some of these tracks gives me great confidence in his future -- it shows me that he’s not JUST a singer (albeit one of the best ever to pick up a microphone). Go over to iTunes and download “Lover All Alone” if you don’t believe that.

Maybe Clay’s style isn’t in vogue right now. All I can say is that I think it’s timeless. And long after today’s “flavor of the month” is relegated to the discount bin, Clay’s recordings will endure, and hold a prominent place on my CD rack. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Out of all the wonderful contributors to this blog, I’m pretty sure I am the one with the least sophisticated musical knowledge/taste. I’m a disco babe from the late 70’s/early 80’s. I don’t listen to “indie music”, I have no idea who Leonard Cohen or Rufus Wainwright are and a classic, to me, is Brick House (only kidding a little bit). So, other than the fact that I don’t think this should have been a “covers of love songs” CD from the git-go, I didn’t have a problem when the track list was released. I loved the originals of these songs (except Everything I Do --- HATED IT). I even dragged my big 80’s hair and acid washed jeans to see Richard Marx in concert with Wilson Phillips.

Even though I probably wouldn’t have been disappointed anyway, this CD has been a real surprise to me. I knew I would like it, had no idea I would LOVE IT. It’s been almost a week now and my favorite keeps changing. Today it’s “When I See You Smile”. Clay just seems so joyful and passionate while singing this song. I am dying to see him sing this one live. “Here You Come Again”, “Right Here Waiting” and “Sorry Seems…..” are simply amazing and take my breath away. As for “Everything I Do…”, Bryan Adams’ version made my ears bleed. Gargle with broken glass much, Bryan? I was not looking forward to this on ATDW, but I can’t stop listening to it. It is gorgeous. This is how a love song should be sung.

I don’t want this to become an epic novel, so I’ll move on to the original songs. There are no words for “Lover All Alone”. The world needs to hear this song. I’ve loved “A Thousand Days” since last summer and only love it more after seeing Clay perform it live on GMA. It’s the first song I listen to in the car every morning. “Lonely No More” is a great song and my 2nd favorite at the moment. “Everything I Have” and “These Open Arms” – also great. These 5 songs, plus “Tears Run Dry”, plus 1 or 2 more originals, plus Clive’s covers, would have made a more well-balanced CD.

All in all, even though this isn’t the CD I wanted, I am more than pleased. Clay and Jaymes took lemons and made lemonade (how corny is that!). While I wait for Clay’s next effort, I will play ATDW over and over and over and love every minute of it!!

'A Thousand Different Ways' by Clay Aiken. His third CD since October, 2003, if you include his Christmas album, 'Merry Christmas, With Love'. I anticipated this CD with baited breath for over a year. I yearned to hear new music from Clay, yearnd to hear that glorious voice wrap itself around new songs and new lyrics. Hearing his four new songs on last summer's Jukebox Tour only whetted my appetite for more. I wanted to hear Clay on my radio, blasting out my car speakers. I thought, with 'Back for More', I'd get that.

I was wrong.

What Clive Davis and RCA Records choose to release was an album of covers with only four new songs thrown in the mix. Maybe RCA thought that they'd cash in on the cover craze started by Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow but they failed to understand that those CD's were recorded by artists over age 50 with a repetoire of respected work behind them. Clay is 27 years old.

The album, 'A Thousand Different Ways' is a vocal masterpiece. The following was written by Claymaniac in PA the other day:

I'm sorry more people don't get it, but that doesn't diminish my deep appreciation for what Clay and Jaymes (and all the others) have done with this album. It doesn't matter to me whether these songs are songs I would typically like, or whether it's a genre I would typically like--it's the musicality, the thoughtfulness and beauty of the arrangements (despite the fact that the strings are overdone), the elegance of the vocals, the many small details that indicate care and attention that make me love this album. A thousand bad reviews, a thousand unhappy or dissatisfied fans cannot make me love it any less.

While I agree with her about the musicality and totality of the concept CD, I just don't love this CD. I love the arrangements, I absolutely love Clay's voice and the things he did with it, I love how he's experimenting with vocal nuances and using his different voices to convey emotion. I only wish he would or could have choosen a more diverse representation of love songs, songs that were not so well-known, songs that would have challenged his emotions and voice even more. And let me be blunt. I wanted rock songs on the CD, the kind of songs you blast out your car speakers while rolling down the highway. Fist-pumping, get-up-on-your-feet, dance-in-the-aisle songs. I know Clay is capable of them, I know he can do them, because I've seen it. I've seen it at more than 25 concerts. I've seen the audience fist-pump and I've seen Clay rock out so an album of covers with not much difference in the tempo is perplexing to me.

It's not Clay that I don't like, it's not Clay's voice that I don't like, it's the covers on the CD that I don't particularly care for. That he sings his ass off on them is undeniable, but this writer is looking forward to the next CD, hopefully one full of original songs like the itunes download that reportedly Clay wrote, "Lover All Alone', a stark, contemporary song about a man trying to find a home for his heart. It's brilliant in its simplicity and Clay is finally writing. If this is the kind of song that is in his soul, I want more of that, please.

Trying to get my thoughts down about Clay Aiken’s new cd gets my head spinning in A Thousand Different Ways.

Some of the critics that have reviewed this cd so far would have me believe that this is merely a cd of cover music, unoriginal and uninspired where everything sounds the same and beneath what any “real” music lover should want.

Uninspired? Unoriginal.

Not so much.

Luckily , I make up my own mind. I don’t need a critic to tell me what I want to listen too. That is an advantage of being “older”. Ironically a lot of “reviews” come from people that obviously haven’t even listened to the cd.. I don’t say “obviously didn’t listen to it” because their opinion differs from mine, but because they make inane inaccurate comments and half of them think there is a title track.

So, I am not really that interested in what they have to say about this cd but instead what it says to me.

Isn’t that really what music is all about anyway?

I won’t go through a whole list song by song. I have just started to really “experience” this cd and the journey is to be savored. It is actually a bit of a revelation if a person really wants to “listen” and not just “hear” what is being sung.

For example, I can’t see how anyone can listen to Clay’s version of Broken Wings and say it is “unoriginal”. They can say they don’t like it, it doesn’t work for them, they prefer Mr. Mister’s version but it is NOT a carbon copy of that group’s original.

Perhaps because I am in a melancholy point in my life, the haunting quality of the background singer voice intertwining with Clay’s makes me really listen to the song and take more from it somehow. I have always loved the Mr. Mister’s version but I don’t know if I really “listened” to it fully. I think the spoken word, while distracting to some, ties it all together. The last line of that poem, which is the last thing you hear on the cd is “A thousand different ways”. I actually think that is clever and makes the cd seem even more cohesive.

Lonely No More is an original song co-written by Clay. It is one of my favorites on the cd. Clay also co-wrote (and rumor has it is the major contributor) Lover All Alone which is only available when downloading the cd from Itunes. Some have said it has a Five for Fighting or a James Blunt vibe but for me it conjures of the pure, unrestrained voice up Art Garfunkle. Oh, I suppose he isn’t cool either and that dates me but I don’t listen to music to be cool. I listen to music to feel, to somehow connect to the lyrics and music whether they are fun and irreverent or make my heart break a little.

My heart breaks a lot hearing Lover All Alone. How many of us have felt lonely even when there are others around us? Most people just want to love and be loved. That concept is achingly communicated with this gem of a song.

Although it isn't what I envisioned for a second mainstream release, Clay took great care and took risks in this cd whether people can see it or not. There are so many nuances and different “voices”. I know it has me listening to songs I thought I “knew” with a completely different perspective.

Any cd that can do that is special. I am grateful for Clay Aiken and what he made out of A Thousand Different Ways.
Clay gives an exquisite performance of Without You on The View - Enjoy!

And join us in a couple of days for Part II!

Technorati tags: ,, , , , ,

Thursday, September 14, 2006

To Spoil or Not to Spoil...that is the question

To spoil or not to spoil.

I'm one who likes surprises, as long as they are good. I don't like to know the score of the game before I watch it. I don't mind surprise birthday parties as long as I look thin that night. It's kind of odd because usually I'm a total control freak. It probably all depends on how I feel about the overall situation. If I'm excited about it, the surprise is OK. If I am ambivalent, I don't care if I find out something out before I was supposed to. If it is bad news, I want to know. If someone says "I've got good news and bad news", I always want the bad news first.

I have always loved The West Wing. I never read any spoilers about it until the seasons after Aaron Sorkin left and I thought the show lost its focus and it's zest. But in the final season, it was reborn and so was my love of the show. I knew there would be a lot of loose ends tied up and this time I wanted to enjoy them as they happened.

The last few days of the long wait for Clay's new album is upon us. A Thousand Different Ways has felt like a thousand different days of waiting. The album is now streaming at many Clear Channel Music stations before it goes on sale on September 19th. I chose to let myself hear one song and that's it. It's hard when so many have chosen to listen to the whole album and the reaction is so incredibly positive. Words like Masterpiece, a work of art, raising the bar of what pop music should be. Someone described his version of Broken Wings as sex while floating on air.

I listened to an incredible remake of Dolly Parton's Here You Come Again that has Clay moving effortlessly from falsetto to baritone in just a few seconds. I've played it on my ipod on repeat. And I'm told this isn't even the best song on the album.

So why don't I just give in and listen? I really want to hear the song he co-wrote called Lonely No More. Many are saying it is one of the best on the album. Yet, still I resist. It was a lot easier on the last two albums. The music was leaked just a day or so before.

I guess it's because I don't open my presents on Christmas Eve. It's because I'm an ESTJ, a planner. And this plan has a specific end date that calls for jubilation leading up to midnight September 19th. I'll be attending one of over 80 parties being held in the US and Canada in an international celebration of love and the joy of music. See CD Release Parties Homage to the voice that has no equal, wrapped in a 6'1" tall, lanky frame with a model's profile, a comic's wit and a clown's feet. Not to mention a humanitarian's soul.

I want to hold it in my hand, turn it over, struggle with the shrink wrap that requires a nuclear weapon to open. For his first album, Measure of a Man, I broke the case as I rushed to open it. (I finally spent the 99 cents at Barnes and Noble for the little CD opener thingie.) I want to look at the liner notes, read about his journey and struggle to make the album. Read his notes of gratitude to his "musical family", his notes of thanks to his real family and his notes of love to his Clay Nation family.

Yeah, I may stop a minute and look at the poster of this picture.

But then I will wave goodbye to the other bleary eyed but joyful Clay fans and hope into my car with the 9 speakers for the 50 minute drive home. I want to let the music envelope me.

Why would anyone want to spoil that feeling?

Technorati tags:

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Clay Aiken and the Passion for Service

I did not recognize the other names on this list, but I should not have been surprised to see the name I did know.

It was, after all, just a matter of time.

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 5, 2006

Personnel Announcement

President George W. Bush today announced his intention to nominate eight individuals, designate two individuals and appoint thirteen individuals to serve in his Administration:

The President intends to appoint the following individuals to be Members of the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities:

Dallas Rob Sweezy, of Virginia, and upon appointment designate Chair, for an additional two year term expiring May 11, 2008.
Clayton Aiken, of North Carolina
Stephen Bird, of Virginia
Valerie Billmire, of Utah
James Boles, of New York
Stephanie Brown, of Florida
William J. Edwards, of California
Brian J. Kelly, of California
Mary Margaret Pucci, of Illinois
Linda Hampton Starnes, of Florida
Stephen Henry Suroveic, of Pennsylvania
William E. Tienken, of Illinois

I could almost hear the questions...

“Wait a minute… Clayton Aiken? Clay Aiken, the pop singer? How is he qualified to serve?”

The newspaper articles announcing his appointment don’t tell you: too many of them are running with skeleton staffs that only reprint what goes out on the wire. Today, in reporting this appointment, several papers mentioned only that Clay Aiken “gained fame as a runner-up in the ‘American Idol’ show's competition. He had worked as a YMCA counselor in Raleigh before launching his singing career.”

That leaves out a few pertinent points regarding Aiken's qualifications to serve on the committee --- actually, that pretty much leaves out all of them. The first is his absolute commitment to helping make all of life’s opportunities available to every one of us.

"In a real sense, all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” – The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here are the facts about the considerable experience that Clay brings to the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities:

While still a student, Aiken worked for two years teaching a class of children with autism. He also worked for CAP-MR/DD, the Community Alternatives Program for Persons with Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities, serving as a mentor to young people with disabilities. Through that program, he met the Bubel family and worked with their son Mike.

He received his Bachelors Degree in Special Education from The University of North Carolina, Charlotte, in December 2003. (His first goal had been to become a teacher for children with special needs.) Having delayed his graduation to compete on “AI,” Aiken fulfilled the requirements for his final semester through an independent study course in which he proposed designing a mock foundation to advance inclusion. That project became the Bubel/Aiken Foundation.

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” - MLK

In July of 2003, Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel, an advocate for children with disabilities who is herself the mother of a child with autism, founded the Bubel/Aiken Foundation.

BAF's mission is to integrate children with disabilities into the same life environment as their typical peers. In just three years, BAF has helped raise awareness, change attitudes and change behaviors toward people with disabilities, emphasizing what they have to offer society, not just what society should offer them. The foundation has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to advance its mission, including working with Youth Service America in presenting the Clay Aiken Able To Serve Awards, which are given to young people with disabilities in support of their community service projects.

Among many other grants, BAF has awarded:

$20,000 to the TRIAD autism summer camp program at the Center for Child Development at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

$25,000 to The Western DuPage Special Recreation Association to support inclusion services offered through the Naperville Park District.

$32,000 to Concord High School for the Peer to Peer program, “a year-long class designed to foster relationships between what educators call ‘typical’ students and students with disabilities”

$12,500 to publish the book “Our Friend Mikayla”, written by the fourth grade classmates of Mikayla Resh, a student at Lower Nazareth Elementary School who has cerebral palsy, visual and hearing impairments. The children write about accepting people with disabilities and talk about what Mikayla has taught her friends.

Now in its third year, BAF has sponsored inclusive summer day camps in four cities, working with the YMCA in Kansas City, MO, Raleigh and Concord, NC and Hobart, IN. From its start as a pilot program, the camps now run for most of the summer and serve children ages 5 to 12, with a preschool program in Hobart. In year four, the inclusion camps will expand to several more locations, increasing the number of children served.

For two years, BAF has sponsored conferences for KIT (Kids Included Together), advancing KITS’s recreational, child development, and youth development programs.

The foundation has also received millions of dollars in grants and donations, including $1.5 million from State Farm Insurance and $500,000 from the United States Department of Education to develop an inclusion curriculum for elementary schools, and the generous support of businesses and the public at large.

The Bubel/Aiken Foundation has honored as Champions of Change a number of people whose actions “have substantively advanced the issues of inclusion” at benefit galas, including the first “Night of Champions” in Kansas City (with the related Kaleidoscope children’s art project) and the “Voices for Change” galas in Los Angeles, Hawaii and Florida. In conjunction with the gala, Los Angeles also held the Friends In Deed inclusive art project for children.

In 2004, Aiken appeared at benefits for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, founded by the former First Lady, and for America's Promise / The Alliance for Youth, led by General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.), Founding Chairman. At the America’s Promise gala, Aiken gave $1,500 scholarships to each of the seven youth presenters at the program, who were chosen for their exemplary service to their communities as well as their outstanding character.

Aiken has been a keynote speaker at the Pacific Rim Conference on Disabilities and the Fearless Caregiver Conference.

Aiken was appointed to be a National Ambassador for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), with a special commitment to education. Following the tsunami in December 2004, he appeared on NBC’s tsunami relief telethon and made a field trip to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, to observe the rebuilding process. In May of 2005, he spent a week visiting camps for people displaced by rebel violence in Northern Uganda, including talking to children who had been kidnapped by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Aiken testified on behalf of UNICEF before the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs of the Committee on Appropriations, United States House of Representatives. He also helped raise funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina and served as the spokesperson for the 2005 Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign. Recently, he helped raise awareness of the situation facing children in the Middle East conflict. His fans replied by donating over $70,000 for emergency relief.

Aiken has also served as ambassador for the Ronald McDonald House Charities and rode their first float in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Years Day 2005, supported McDonald’s World Children’s Day, served as the national spokesperson for Toys for Tots, performed with Broadway star Heather Hedley for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS, participated in the National Education Association’s Read Across America, recorded PSA’s for the Autism Society and performed “Give A Little Bit” for the Cartoon Network’s Kids Help Out campaign, empowering children to help in UNICEF’s response to the tsunami disaster.

“Make a career of humanity ... and you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.” - MLK

Clay Aiken is a man with both the education and the experience to serve this committee well. He is not yet 28 years old, but he has a decade of experience in working with children, bringing insight, energy, dedication and compassion to his service. His dedication to the inclusion of children with and without disabilities speaks for itself.

Whether it is on a presidential committee or in one's community, whether we bring a lifetime of experience or simply passionate commitment and absolute dedication to an issue, great changes come about through the action of those who have the courage to care.

In considering the significance of this appointment, it does not matter that I am a left-leaning Bay Area liberal and progressive. It does not matter that I am at odds with many of the actions and ideologies of the current administration. In another blog, I will write more about the challenges facing this country in these precarious times. Right now I will celebrate the fact that appointment to this committee affords the appointees with an opportunity to serve, bringing myriad ideas and a range of possibilities to the too-often neglected issues concerning people with disabilities.

Regardless of who holds the position of president at any particular time, it is an exciting and important opportunity for Clay Aiken and the other appointees to bring attention to the issues facing people with intellectual disabilities to the office of the presidency. It will take a commitment of heart, soul and mind to bring about change, and Clay has demonstrated that commitment for a decade. How wonderful it is that he has been given this opportunity to continue his advocacy for inclusion and opportunity for all.

"Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verbs agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics to serve.

You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” - MLK

Sounds like Clay Aiken to me.

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