A few months ago, I decided to change jobs. I had heard of a new job opportunity at an iconic international company that would allow me to work in an industry that has always fascinated me. The word on the grapevine was that it is extremely difficult to get hired at this organization. I networked hard and was able to secure a phone interview which ended with an appointment for an onsite interview. Thirty minutes after I hung up the phone, I received a call from my daughter at college. She is studying Public Relations and had to create a mock press release based on an assigned company and she had emailed it to me for review. I opened my email and saw the logo of the company that had just invited me onsite. I had four more events like that happen to me in a ten day period of time. Coincidence? Or was this my own personal version of The Force?
Earlier this week, a number of entertainers who were either native to Raleigh, North Carolina or who had a deep connection to the North Carolina Theater in Raleigh performed at a benefit concert. Performers included Broadway legend (and former NCT director) Terrence Mann along with Broadway singer/actress Lauren Kennedy. Also in the “cast” were actress Sharon Lawrence, and singers Quiana Parler and Clay Aiken-Multi-platinum recording artist, Broadway actor and Raleigh’s unofficial tourism ambassador.
He opened the show singing Home from The Wiz. How appropriate. He talked about sitting in the Memorial Auditorium for the first time, while watching a production of Big River starring Marty Moran as Huck Finn. Years later Clay was invited to play Sir Robin in Monty Python’s Spamalot on Broadway. The actor preceding him? Marty Moran. I discussed that Circle of Life in Destiny’s Child Part 1.
There was a lot of talent in this benefit concert that night. But in the video and audio of the show, a few things were clear to me. First, Clay can sing anything. Fans have always laughed that he can sing the phone book but he seemed determined to prove it. He dueted with various performers and easily slid from Broadway singer to pop singer depending on song and partner. As Nan said, she watched three different Broadway songs from three different shows and saw three different singer/actors. He embodied the song and morphed that embodiment to suit the mood. He sang traditionally and then he played with his voice as if it was an acoustical guitar and a trumpet all rolled into one. In Those Magic Changes from Grease, he seemed to be having a jamming session with himself and all of the Clays were thoroughly enjoying it.
And then there was his performance of Mack the Knife. This is such a strange song, it’s about a killer sneaking around slitting people’s throats and yet it's performed with this jazzy flair. What does this have to do with Destiny? Clay sang this song on American Idol in 2003 in the show that put him in the final. He needed to nail the performance, they had changed the words to his previous song at the last minute and he had stumbled a bit. That night found a young man on stage who was feeling the pressure to nail it.Sing it big and they will like it. This week it was the seasoned professional who sang a sadistic song with a sassy, grooving ease. He felt no pressure to nail it because he owned it the minute he opened his mouth.
As an aside, what is UP with his voice? The man has always had a voice better than 90 percent of the singers out there and it improves when he’s live on stage. But 2010 Clay? His voice is even better technically and the notes are effortless as always but there’s something more there now. I feel a joy and abandonment in his singing that I haven’t seen in a few years. I was thinking about it today as I was driving home from work (at that iconic new company that ultimately hired me last month). He sings with a sense of freedom to explore and experiment. He sings with no pressure, likely born from working with a new record label that finally, in his own words, gets him. He sings with hope. Does he sense the hand of destiny too?
So what else did our sister Destiny have in store for him this week? Sure, he stood on that very stage three months ago as he recorded a PBS special that had a smashing premiere in Chicago this month and will be airing on PBS stations nationwide in August. Interesting, but by itself probably a mere coincidence at best. But the memory, the event, the intersection of dream and reality began a lot earlier. It began when a 17 year old Clayton entered a regional performance competition and stood on that Raleigh stage in a sparkly blue vest and sang a song that was too big for most adults. He sang it with little nuance, just the “all in” naiveté of a teenager, but the judges rewarded him for the raw talent of it all.
Fast forward (or flashforward as Clay said that night) fourteen years to that very spot where the untamed wild pony had impressed a group of local educators and parents. He’s a household name now, about to embark on his ninth tour in seven years. He returned to sing that same song, not because he had a choice but because there was no other choice. He had to close that circle. I’m sure Miss Destiny has a few more waiting. I wonder if he has an aunt named Emmy.
Many thanks to GBB, Fountaindawg, Brightstar and toni7babe for their talents and treasures in the pictures and film clips on this blog. Check out Destiny’s Child Part 1 and Destiny’s Child Part 2 to see this amazing life.
Clay Aiken, Spamalot, Lauren Kennedy, Terrence Mann, Quiana Parler, Bobby Darin, Spamalot, Ruben Studdard, destiny, fate, PBS, American Idol, North Carolina Theater,Grease, Sharon Lawrence, Star Wars, Decca Records, Martinn Moran, Raleigh