Monday, January 28, 2008

Clay Aiken: Day One, Year Six: The Singer, Diane and Mike

Clay's Hollywood Round AI audition, Late 2002

Clay in New York, January 2008 (Photo by Richard Drew)

“Take time to tell me you really care

And we’ll share tomorrow together

Baby, I’ll always love you forever...”

Lyrics from "Always and Forever", Clay Aiken's audition for "American Idol"

On January 28, 2003, millions of people heard you sing for the first time. I was one of the people who met you at “Take.”

Five years later, you are still here and showing a more wide-ranging talent than ever before, performing before enthusiastic and appreciative audiences while appearing in your debut on Broadway. (I’ll be in that audience later on in your run.)

Before “Spamalot”, there was Diane --- and then Mike, but before “Take,” another Diane and Mike were pivotal to your life.

Part of the reason you are where you are today is because of people named Diane and Mike.

I wonder what it was like in that house in Charlotte when Diane Bubel first heard you sing. There you were, a 23 year old special education major working as a mentor to her son Mike, a job, she has said, at which you excelled. As a CAP (Community Alternatives Program) worker, a YMCA counselor and a substitute teacher for a class of students with autism, you had already devoted yourself to delving into autism’s mysteries. You have said that singing, which had always been a part of you, had been put on the back burner.

One day, working with Mike in the Bubel household, you started to sing.

Diane heard something in that glorious voice, saw something in you that should not be denied. There was a new television talent show called “American Idol,” and Diane thought that you should be part of it. You were reluctant, not because you didn’t have the talent, but because you thought you didn’t have the image.

Diane persisted. Knowing that you would have to leave the work you had been doing with her son if you succeeded in getting a spot on the show, she insisted again and again that you should audition.

You auditioned in Charlotte, but failed to make the cut. You went to Atlanta, and got a ticket to Hollywood. You were cut in your Group Two auditions, but came back as America’s Choice in the Wild Card round. You made the Top Twelve, and three months later you finished second.

Then you started to win: sales records, magazine covers, every poll your name appeared on, industry awards.

Less than a year after your first audition, you set records with your first single --- and you founded The Bubel/Aiken Foundation to continue to spread the message of how inclusion benefits all children, regardless of ability.

Five years later, you have sold more than 6 million CDs, EPs and CD singles and earned more than $28 million in box office through your seven tours. BAF has been awarded millions of dollars to develop curriculum, programs and services, and has supported the inclusion of children with disabilities into the same life experiences as their typical peers through Let’s All Play summer camps, Champions of Change honors, ABLE to Serve grants, and numerous other grants and awards.

It started with your talents and passions, but twice, your success received a major assist from Diane and Mike.

One Diane leads to another --- and to another Mike, as well. The opportunities you earned through your finalist run on AI and your record-setting recording debut led to your first major prime time interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News. I look back at that interview and I remember how remarkably open and candid you were, how frankly you talked about the struggles and challenges and losses of your life. (From then on, I knew I could trust you to be honest.) I also remember how Diane looked at you when you sang “Measure of A Man” and a bit of “Moon River” --- she heard it, too, that remarkable something of you.

Somewhere along the line, during your audience interaction on your seven tours, your talk show appearances (particularly the hilarious rapport you have shown with Jimmy Kimmel), your skits on “Saturday Night Live,” your “As Clay Aiken” moment on “Ed” and an even better one on “Days of Our Lives,” or your first real shot at building a character on “Scrubs,” you made it abundantly clear that you are a very funny man with a gift for taking on various characters. I had my moments as an actor before I became an assistant director of feature films and started watching other people act, and I thought it was possible that you had the makings of a good actor in you.

How did “Spamalot” happen? Did Diane Sawyer bring her husband (some guy named Mike Nichols) to one of your concerts, or did they watch you on TV? Did you met him one night at dinner at the Sawyer-Nichols household? Or was one of Mike’s professional colleagues the one who led to your second pivotal audition, the one that impressed a director with eight Tony Awards, as well as Eric Idle, who wrote the book, lyrics and music for “Spamalot” and who, with Monty Python, created the role of Sir Robin that you play now?

Once you were cut from your high school musical, and now Mike Freaking Nichols says
Clay Aiken is amazing beyond that glorious voice. Turns out he is an excellent comic actor and a master of character. People will be surprised by his wide ranging talent, since the first impression is of great country charm and a singer to remember. This guy is not only a star, he is a lot more. We are lucky to get him for Spamalot.

Surreal, isn’t it?

Clay as Sir Robin in "Spamalot" (Photo by Joan Marcus)


Today is quiet for you, your second Dark Monday following another week of cheers and laughter and the affectionate support of your talented cast mates. There have been sold out, standing room only crowds, crushes of well-wishers at the stage door, photographers shouting your name amid a blitzkrieg of flashes.

Fifteen years ago you saw an actor named Martin Moran play Huck Finn in “Big River” and now you take over the role of Sir Robin from him on Broadway. Coincidence or providence?

You have said that this is a full circle moment for you. I agree --- it’s breathtaking, really. I can’t wait to see “Spamalot” and everything that follows it.

This is a full circle moment for me, too. Five years later, you are still here and your career is growing in ways I had not imagined. You’ll have “Spamalot” at the Shubert in New York through May 4, and you are also busy working on your next album, one you have said will be a true reflection of you. Beyond that, there will be tours, television shows, and more of your service to UNICEF and The Bubel/Aiken Foundation. So this is the last time I will formally commemorate that moment, five years ago. It is dear to me, but your future is bright with promise. I prefer to bask in the warmth of your limitless potential.

And I will still laugh at the quirks and the foibles that make you deliciously human.

For all that has been, and for all that will be...

Thank you, Diane and Mike Bubel.

Thank you, Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols.

And thank you, Clay Aiken, for a wonderful five years that is only the beginning.



Bring on the music!

And may you be blessed with love, happiness and success, from this first day of Year Six on through tens of thousand of bright tomorrows.

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Anonymous said...

What a beautiful column about such a beautiful man. Thanks for expressing so eloquently these thoughts that we all share about Clay. You are a wonderful writer.

Clayworthy said...

O dear Berk,

I just posted a comment, meant for your latest blog but I think I have posted it in the previous blog instead, is there any way to bring my comment over to the right place, because I didn't save a copy so am unable to copy & paste my thoughts again.


jane, Singapore

The ConCLAYve-Nan said...

As always Berk - it's a pleasure to read your wonderful blogs. Thank you for this - and thank you Clay.

Darlene said...

Very nicely written.
Keep reaching for the stars, Clay!

Anonymous said...

Clay Aiken, is a breath of fresh air to the entertainment business. What a role model, for our children. Watched him on Idol, and have seen his growth. There is no end to this man's inner self.
God bless him.

aclaymom said...

So well written and expresses exactly what I feel, too. Thanks for putting it in words for all to see.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written.

Thank you.

Thank you Clay :)

luci said...

Berkley, as always, you have touched my heart with your words and with the love you hold for Clay Aiken.
Love, luci

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Anonymous said...

Reading your article not only brought a tear to my eye, it makes me feel totally illiterate. This was beautiful and makes me feel terrible because I do criticize Clay because he is more talented than most of the people receiving attention from the music industry and I guess I want him to look,always, as good as he sings!!