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Oct 3 04 5:52 PM
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Oct 5 04 12:54 AM
Quote:LOS ANGELES -- He's on the verge of stardom and living a celebrity's life:
A mansion overlooking Los Angeles. Of course.
A-list invitations, including to the hot "X2: X-Men United" premiere earlier this week.
Pricey togs from trendy stores.
Adoring women charting his every move.
And there's the payoff -- minimum six figures, maximum the stratosphere.
That's the world of Clay Aiken, the North Carolinian who finds himself in the middle of the TV phenomenon "American Idol."
The show, one of highest-rated on television, drawing about 20 million viewers a night, has helped revive the talent show genre and made Aiken a household name.
In a national USA Today poll in March, Aiken was voted the most popular contestant, and magazines, including Us Weekly and People, have featured him in articles.
Last fall, Aiken, 24, of Raleigh was just another student, pursuing a special education degree at UNC Charlotte. Now, he's trying to remain humble and focused on his goal of starting a foundation to benefit autistic children.
"It's not the money. It's not the fame. It's the influence," Aiken told The Observer this week in his first interview since becoming an "Idol" finalist.
Aiken is singing to win the weekly contest, in which millions of viewers call in to vote for their favorite singer. The one with the fewest votes gets booted off the show. Following Wednesday night's vote, four contestants remained, including Aiken.
Victory brings a record contract and the virtual certainty of a No. 1 album, as last year's "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson proved when her disc debuted at the top of the charts in April.
Even being a top 12 finalist assures Aiken of six figures in payments from his work on the "American Idol" compilation album that was released Tuesday, the show's producers say.
But first, he has to get past finalists Ruben Studdard of Alabama, a mammoth singer with a smooth voice; Kimberley Locke of Tennessee, who has moved up in the voting ranks after receiving increasing praise from the show's judges; and U.S. Marine Joshua Gracin. Studdard and Locke have been named front-runners by many, though Studdard was one of the two lowest vote-getters Wednesday.
"I would absolutely love to be in the top three with Kim and Ruben," Aiken says. "We all have a mutual respect for each other -- I would absolutely say the two of them are my best friends here."
Beyond the top three: "I would love to be in the top two, mainly because I want to be here to the end of the show," he said.
Studdard and Locke express equal affection for Aiken.
Studdard, who isn't one to get mushy, treats Aiken like a brother, pantomiming punches or grabbing Aiken's arm and bending it like a scarecrow's (a move he made on Monday as the show's finalists attended the "X2: X-Men United" premiere").
Asked about Aiken during a rehearsal for Tuesday's show, Studdard -- who frequently sports jerseys emblazoned with his hometown 205 area code -- joked, "All I can say is, 205 beats 704."
Locke expresses her feelings more directly. She and Aiken are such close friends that they've discussed becoming roommates in Los Angeles after the show's run ends, she said.
"I love Clay. He's very much like me. He's very genuine," she said.
When it comes to getting feedback on her singing, she said, "I always go to Clay because I know he's going to tell me the truth."
Aiken, a Southern Baptist who describes himself as "happily single," followed an unlikely path to stardom on the show. In an early audition, judges questioned whether his unconventional looks -- rumpled red hair, glasses and his prominent ears -- made him pop-star material.
"When he first walked in, let's face it, he looked like he had two satellite dishes growing out of his head," said the show's co-executive producer, Nigel Lythgoe.
A makeover that introduced contact lenses and darkened his hair changed his appearance to match his smooth voice.
"I think it's been a welcome transformation," says John Dahlstrom, one of the show's hair stylists. "I think it does wonders for him."
Life in the mansion where the contestants live is hectic, with constant supervision from chaperones. Filming of promotional spots for each week's shows can take eight hours or more, and rehearsals are a daily duty.
Stylists advise contestants on their wardrobes, and each is given a budget to buy on-air clothes; if a contestant wants to go over the set amount, which the Fox network wouldn't disclose, he or she must pay out of pocket.
(During a tour of the wardrobe room, the brown leather jacket Studdard wore on Tuesday's show sported an $895 price tag; Aiken blushingly confessed to his mother that a favorite pair of shoes he's worn on camera three times cost more than $200.)
In recent months, Aiken has marveled at his worldwide fan base, which fills Internet message boards with missives on his green eyes, his endearing awkwardness, his smile -- and his voice.
Along with his success has come some backlash from the show's fans and critics, including those at Entertainment Weekly magazine. Some have said he's too theatrical and hasn't stretched himself enough with his song choices.
Aiken admits to searching for his name on the Internet and visiting some of the pro-Aiken fan sites. But the extensive displays of online adulation and the boxes of fan mail he receives, which recently included a 500-foot-long greeting card signed by thousands of Raleigh-area residents, have surprised him.
He tries not to absorb the fanaticism, he says. "It might give a false sense of hope," he says.
He's grown accustomed to hearing whispers of "That's Clay!" when he goes out shopping, or having strangers shake his hand. One night, he was in a restaurant just three tables away from actress Glenn Close. Nobody approached her, but four people came to his table to talk to him, he says.
Aiken says that he is more hyperactive in person than on the show. He also says he would be a little sharper-tongued with the "American Idol" judges, especially the tart-tongued Simon Cowell, in real life.
"I think the real me would probably talk back to Simon some more -- I come across as more meek than I really am," he says.
The reason he doesn't mouth off is the same reason he doesn't drink alcohol in public: because children might be watching.
"I don't think that's an example I want to set for somebody -- not if I want to be the American Idol," he said. (In his pre-"Idol" life, Aiken says, he'd have a drink with dinner about once a month.)
Another reason is that Aiken takes the criticisms from Cowell -- and other judges -- to heart.
After Cowell ridiculed Aiken's facial expressions, Aiken determined to keep his face locked in a smile during his next performances. In response to singer Paula Abdul's requests that he dance more, he loosened up his moves. Still, he says with a grin, he'll never really dance.
He says he pays the most attention to judge Randy Jackson, a record producer.
According to Jackson, Aiken doesn't have much to worry about. In an interview, Jackson rated Aiken a virtual lock to be one of the show's final two. "It's a Clay-Ruben show. ... It's down to the two of them."
Lythgoe says the outcome is not clear. The show keeps a tight lid on information about the top vote-getters to maintain suspense, but Lythgoe says the top three contenders in the group have shifted during the contest.
Last year, Lythgoe acknowledged, that wasn't the case -- Clarkson was top vote-getter from the beginning weeks.
Aiken says he's not counting on winning. "I'm so much further than I thought I would be -- just being here is absolutely amazing to me," he says. "If it's not meant to happen, I'm totally, totally happy with going back to being a teacher."
Leigh Dyer: (704) 358-5058; [email protected]
Oct 5 04 12:56 AM
Quote:LOCAL HERO - NEARLY EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT CLAY
By DANNY HOOLEY, Staff Writer
His fans know him as Clay, the budding "American Idol." Around here, he's just good ol' Clayton.
Friends and family of North Raleigh native Clay (OK, Clayton) Aiken attest that to know him is to love him. And as they watch him being transformed into a national celebrity, they're finding, to their delight, that America loves him, too.
"He's a role model for a lot of kids," said Patsy Stone, who taught senior English to Aiken at Leesville Road High School in the 1996-97 school year. "He always had a positive attitude about things."
This week, Aiken advanced to the final four of the popular Fox TV singing competition, where viewer votes whittle down the finalists. The winner will be revealed on the May 21 season finale.
Thanks to TV interviews, magazine articles and Web site bios, everybody knows by now that Aiken is a nice, churchgoing boy who loves his mom.
For his mother, Faye Parker of North Raleigh, life has been hectic since her son became a public figure.
"I'm getting phone calls from people I don't know," she said, shortly after fielding a request from "Access Hollywood."
Aiken's spotlight sometimes catches Parker standing in the shadows. But she seems quite comfortable with the attention -- maybe even more so than her son.
Last Friday, Parker was besieged by Clay fans at Stein Mart on Creedmoor Road when they found out she was Aiken's mother. It wasn't hard to figure out: "Clay's Mom" was painted on the back of her 2000 Mercury.
That day, she sold a lot of the Clay Aiken T-shirts she carries around in her car. Proceeds go to the YMCA and to help kids with autism. Aiken, a special education major at UNC-Charlotte, was once a counselor at the Y, and he specializes in working with autistic kids. (For more information on buying Aiken merchandise, call 772-9040.)
Although Parker can be guarded when talking to the press, thanks in part to a Fox-imposed gag order, there's another part of her that would make an excellent Hollywood publicist. And she's very proud of her boy.
So, too, are his former co-workers, his friends and the churchgoers at Leesville Road Baptist.
'Good boy' image
By coincidence, Stone was one of the shoppers at Stein Mart last Friday. She said that well-wishers told Parker that it was gratifying to see a young man with Aiken's personal and religious values making it big.
Given that image, it may have raised a few eyebrows when Aiken appeared in an "American Idol" sketch recently that amounted to a racy Clairol Herbal Essence commercial.
Aiken was a good sport (and a decent actor, too). He spoofed his "good boy" image by looking appropriately mortified as he stood outside a trailer listening to former contestant Carmen Rasmusen inside having a loud "organic experience" as she got her hair shampooed.
Parker, who helped shape her son's religious values, was not offended. She thought it was a hoot.
"Isn't that the funniest thing?" she said.
Apparently, that's more characteristic of Aiken than people may think.
Meredith Cox once worked with him at the A.E. Finley YMCA on Baileywick Road. She said he has a wicked sense of humor.
"These days, he really gets stereotyped as being this sweet Southern Baptist boy," Cox said. "He is all that, but he also is this really funny guy. He can just be really witty and sarcastic."
She described her friend's celebrity as "surreal," adding that his wit probably helps him laugh off the many tabloid stories about him.
"It's kind of silly," she said. "But I guess if you're in a tabloid, that's kind of big time."
So far, the attention paid to Cox as Aiken's friend has been minor -- she's been approached by local newspapers and TV crews a few times.
No interview for Star
Diane Bubel of Huntersville recently talked to a couple of North Carolina newspapers, too. Aiken used to work with her 12-year-old son, Mike, and Aiken has publicly credited her with pushing him to try out for "Idol."
Bubel is apparently not considered close enough to Aiken to be on press lockdown. Still, she said she is careful about who she speaks to, out of plain loyalty and good sense.
"A couple of other journalists called, and I declined to make comment," Bubel said. "One was the Star magazine, and the other was the Globe. I didn't really think they were suitable publications for Clay."
Some publications, though, are unquestionably suitable. Aiken's pastor at Leesville Road Baptist, the Rev. Roger Shuford, has been interviewed by Biblical Recorder, a Southern Baptist publication.
He's also heard through Parker that "Access Hollywood" is looking for him, but he'll wait for the go-ahead before he speaks to the show.
"It's pretty cool, to be honest," Shuford said, "especially with it being Clay. He's a pretty neat guy."
He added that the congregation is "tickled to death" by Aiken's success.
That's our boy
And that success does a lot for regional pride.
At Zebulon's "Arts in the Park" festival on Saturday, Bonnie Parrish was working at a booth to raise money for the American Cancer Society. But it was her Clay paraphernalia that caught the attention of passers-by.
Parrish had T-shirts, buttons, pendants and CDs featuring the hometown idol.
"Everybody that comes by stops and says, 'Oh, it's Clay! Oh, it's Clay,' " said Parrish, who, as of Saturday, had cast 1,967 votes for Aiken during his stint on the show.
Aiken has agreed to donate a portion of the sales of the items to the American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life," Parrish said. The group also is raffling off an autographed T-shirt and CD.
Here in North Raleigh, Raleighwood Cinema Grill at the Shops at Falls Village is packed each Tuesday evening with "Idol" fans cheering Aiken on. The place seats about 200, and people are regularly getting turned away.
Those lucky enough to get in this week erupted in cheers whenever Aiken's name was mentioned.
His two powerhouse performances inspired pandemonium. Even mean ol' "Idol" judge Simon Cowell called Aiken's soaring rendition of Neil Sedaka's "Solitaire" a "grown-up, fantastic performance."
Guest judge Sedaka went so far as to ceremoniously bequeath the song to the singer: "It will always be a Clay Aiken song."
In the audience, Mollie Planer and her daughters Sara, 9, and Hanna, 6, cheered while donning homemade Clay masks and hats.
Up in the front row, Krystal White, 10, made some noise for Aiken after each of his numbers. During a commercial break, she praised him for helping out the YMCA. She belongs to a Y program at Green Year-Round Elementary School.
Parrish was there, too, as she has been religiously since Raleighwood first opened its doors to Clay fans five weeks ago.
She, like everyone else there, was buzzing about Aiken's performances afterward.
"It was awesome," she said. "The best ever."
The morning after
The next day, Parker sat in her room at the Farmer's Daughter hotel in Los Angeles with her friend Francis Wilson and watched "Idol" judge Randy Jackson talk about her son on "Good Day Live."
She had attended the "Idol" taping the night before, and people were still buzzing about Aiken -- a USA Today poll showed him way in the lead, with 75 percent of the votes.
Parker even got to dine out with "Idol" contestants, Sedaka and his wife. She said meeting the music legend was a treat.
"I just hugged him and said, 'I loved you before, and now I love you even more.' "
Staff writer Thad Ogburn contributed to this report.
Staff writer Danny Hooley can be reached at 836-4953 or [email protected]
Oct 5 04 1:04 AM
Quote:LOS ANGELES -Taylor Stonack, 20, twice bought $200 plane tickets to be in the same room with North Carolina's Clay Aiken for an hour.
The first time, after waiting five hours outside the L.A. studios where "American Idol" is filmed, production officials turned her away because all the seats filled up, so she returned home to Poulsbo, Wash.
After buying a second plane ticket, she was back on Tuesday with two Los Angeles-area friends, wearing red-and-white jerseys printed with "Clay 1" in place of a sports logo. "We're on a mission -- we have to see Clay," she said just before being ushered inside the studio to prime seats behind the show's judges (staffers apparently found her shirt telegenic).
Each week, only about 50 to 100 members of the public are admitted to the studio, which holds just over 500 seats, after the first spots are doled out to contestants' friends and family members, production officials, reporters and the occasional celebrity fan, such as NBC's "ER" cast member Laura Innes.
But that doesn't stop hundreds more hopefuls from lining up amid uncomfortable concrete surroundings for hours -- usually by 10 a.m., when broadcasts begin at 5 p.m. -- for a glimpse of their favorite contestants.
Neva Reese, a 22-year-old writer from Santa Monica, Calif., showed up with a poster reading "Clay is Adorkable;" on the other side was "Go Clay, my Leprechaun of Love." It was also her second time in line; she was turned away a few weeks ago. "Thankfully, Clay is talented, so I knew he'd be back," she said.
Reese was voted "most geeky" in high school, so she feels a kinship with Aiken, whose gawkiness has drawn legions of adoring fans. "I've liked him since the auditions because he was such a geeky kid," she said.
Other fans include Nancy Burgess, 44, who traveled from Lancaster, S.C., with her mother, Betty Peagler, after winning the trip to see the show through a contest on Charlotte's Fox 18. "Clay's my baby," she said. "I just think he's got it -- he's got what it takes."
Desiree Gutierrez, 19, of Fresno, carried a "Marry Me Clay" poster. "Because he's beautiful, his voice is beautiful, he works with kids -- I love everything about him," she gushed.
The fans waiting for the shows are just one part of Aiken's powerful fan base, who've filled Internet Web sites, message boards and online polls with enough support to make Aiken a favorite to head to the show's finale. Fans have established Web sites with such names as "The Claymate Mansion" and "Lecherous Broads for Clay."
Aiken's support transcends borders. Aiken's mother, Faye Parker, said she has granted an interview to a radio station in New Zealand.
And an Aiken fan e-mailed The Observer from Canada to say it's filled with "Claynadians," who mourn the fact that they can't vote for him each week on the show's toll-free lines because they don't function across the border. Assuming Aiken makes the finals, she said, she's planning to drive to New York for the night solely for the purpose of dialing in two hours' worth of votes for him.
But it's too soon to say what the fan base means for Aiken's chances of victory over such fellow competitors as smooth-voiced Ruben Studdard.
Latisha Sellers, a 35-year-old county clerk from San Diego, attended Tuesday's show bearing a poster reading "Clay and Ruben keep me Groovin'." She's not sure which she'll vote for the night of the finale.
"They're going to be the last two," she said. "But it's going to be hard after that."
Oct 5 04 1:08 AM
Quote:Clay Aiken's ClayNation
I am not a Clay Aiken fan. I don't even watch American Idol. But as the editor of Elites TV I have not been able to escape the all-encompassing passion of the fans of this unlikely new star.
The e-mail that finally made me decide to write a piece on Clay fans was addressed to one of our writers, Ray Courtright Jr. Short and sweet, it said "Thank you, Ray Courtright, for a great article! It is refreshing to read unbiased reporting when it comes to American Idol. Well-written, insightful, and right on the nose!" OK I do read the articles I publish, and Ray is definitely not an unbiased writer and is definitely a Clay fan (read his articles and see what you think: "Musical Idol Beyond The American Idol Competition?", "Clay Aiken: Pulling Ahead In The American Idol Marathon Competition?", "Clay Aiken & Ruben Studdard - Entertainer vs. Studio Singer?"). Coupling this with the many letters I and my other writers receive when they mention anything negative about Clay (and KC does really enjoy your letters, Clay fans), I thought I should investigate this a little more.
First check out the websites. There is www.claytonaiken.com with a full screen picture popping up immediately. Then there is www.clayaiken.freewebpages.org/ with, suprisingly, another very large picture of Clay. Looking a little further we find www.promoinnovations.com/clay/ with guess what - nope - just a small picture of Clay. And last but not least, well actually it does have the smallest picture, clay.neurox.net/. Our sources says there are at least 6 websites devoted to Clay, though I think they may have missed a few. Josh Gracin supposedly has one, and none of the other contestants even rate a website.
Of course there are message boards galore out there discussing Clay and the rest of the American Idolers. At EZBoard alone (a very popular free forum site) there are 7 Clay Aiken boards that have been created, the most active being That's The Clay.
And finally there are the message groups - like the Yahoo group Claymates. I tracked them down, signed up for the group, and found to my suprise not the usual welcome message, but several useful files for any Clay fan.
Yes, their name is the Claymates. To make sure that I understood the jargon that has built up around Mr. Aiken, one of the files sent by the Claymates was a glossary of terms that every Clay fan must have. Meaning that not only has Clay gained fanatical fans, but has also had a language created around him. All he needs now is a small piece of land and a jeweled crown and he can run his own country - perhaps "The Republic of Clay"? No wait - that is another of his fan groups.
So now we have Claynadians - Clay's Canadian fan base, and Ameraikens, who all are clayving for more Clay. Or more importantly, they are all voting for Clay each week with an undying loyalty to their titular head of the ever expanding Clay Nation.
Oct 5 04 1:12 AM
Ruben thrilled to be crowned' Idol'
Clay says there's no winner or loser
For 'Idol' finalists, survival is just the start
By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
A new American Idol won't be named until May 21, but the remaining competitors "the final four" already can consider themselves winners.
Clockwise: Joshua Gracin, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken and Kimberley Locke consider themselves winners already.
"We've all won, just to get this far. Even the person who leaves this week 'please, God, don't let it be me' is No. 4 out of 70,000," Clay Aiken says. (Related item:Experts dissect the Idol final four.)
Surviving to this point is more than a symbolic victory. Based on the track record of the first Idol, odds are good that Aiken, Joshua Gracin, Kimberley Locke and Ruben Studdard will have entertainment opportunities that non-Idol singing hopefuls can only dream of.
The first Idol, Kelly Clarkson, has had a No. 1-selling single and album and has a movie due June 13, From Justin to Kelly, with runner-up Justin Guarini, who will release his own album this summer. Fourth-place Tamyra Gray also is working on an album as well as on Fox's Boston Public.
This year's finalists already have a single under their belts, Lee Greenwood's God Bless the U.S.A., with a CD of love songs in stores. Ten of them will take part in a 39-date summer tour. Top-10 finisher Kimberly Caldwell has lined up a correspondent's gig with Fox Sports Net's 54321.
"Tamyra said it the other night: There are just a plethora of opportunities," Locke says.
All four finalists, each stifling yawns Friday at the end of a long week, expressed hopes of having singing careers, along with giving acting a try. But first they're focused on the contest.
"I'm going to make sure I take advantage of every moment," Studdard says. "My goal was really to make the top 32. God has blessed me to (get) above and beyond what I imagined."
Each remaining week has a perk, too. The final three get to go back to their hometowns to shoot video for next week's shows. And the top two perform before more than 6,000 at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles May 20.
But none wants to look too far ahead. After fan and judge favorite Studdard was nearly eliminated last week, nothing is taken for granted. "Anything can happen," Gracin says. "Nobody's safe."
(Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe rejects Internet speculation that last week's vote might have been manipulated for drama. Votes are tabulated and audited by outside firms, he says. "If we were ever caught doing anything like that, we'd lose the entire franchise around the world. It isn't worth it.")
Oct 6 04 6:40 PM
Quote:Experts analyze the 'Idol' final 4
Who has the inside track? USA TODAY's Bill
Keveney gathered a panel of music-celeb judges to clue us in.
Q: Why should viewers vote for you to be American Idol?
Clay Aiken: "You can't campaign. You just hope. I really hope that people vote
for me because they like what I do, because they feel what I sing is quality
and is something that moves them."
Joshua Gracin: "I can honestly say I'm the only one that's been myself on
stage and off stage. I don't play no acts. I don't smile for the camera on cue.
That's why some people think, 'Oh, he looks like something's wrong with him.'
It's not that. If I'm happy, you'll know I'm happy."
Kimberley Locke: "I want people to vote for me on talent and talent alone.
Unfortunately, I don't think that happens every week. But the only thing I ask is
that people vote on my performance."
Ruben Studdard: "I don't really know what to say. I think I've proven I'm consistent every week. I'm just chillin'. I have so much fun
on stage. I just get out there and do my thing every week."
Pat Boone, former pop idol who has his own record label, Gold Label (www.patsgold.com):
On Clay Aiken: "I like his quality of sincerity. He never seems like he's trying to impress you. He has the perfect voice, perfect pitch.
He was like a tenor Tom Jones, at least on Build Me Up Buttercup. There's a confident little smile." Boone thinks that Aikin should
win: "Clay has shown he is more versatile."
On Joshua Gracin: "On Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye, he had great pitch. I thought he did a great job. I really think he needs to go
right into country. Josh has the best chance at a major career. I not only love him as a country artist, but as a Marine, there's a
particular connection (with the country audience)."
On Kimberley Locke: "I felt I Heard It Through the Grapevine was uncomfortable for her. She should try to sing songs with which
she's comfortable. She has her own natural soul. Where the Boys Are is a hard song to sing, but she sang it beautifully."
On Ruben Studdard: "Last (week), Ruben was incredible. ...On Ain't Too Proud to Beg, he was mellow and confident and
supremely talented. There's a sound in his voice that I think he could sing the phone book and it would stir emotion." Boone predicts
that Ruben will win: "I've loved him from the start. He's so appealing."
Terry Ellis of En Vogue, who contributes to the album Church: Songs of Soul & Inspiration, out June 3:
On Clay Aiken: "His vocals are absolutely incredible. He has such a powerful, classic sound. I could see him as a 2003 soulful
Barry Manilow. He takes criticism extremely well, because he has completely evolved into an overall entertainer." She predicts that
Aiken will win: "He's the bomb."
On Joshua Gracin: "What I like about Josh is his masculinity. He's got that heart, as if he's performing in the movie Top Gun. He's got
this down-homeness that I really love. He's got a good stage presence, except he seemed a little nervous. I would say to him, just
be confident in your talent. It doesn't matter what other people are thinking."
On Kimberley Locke: "I loved Kimberley's second song, Where the Boys Are. There was a sweetness and sincerity and a sense of
nostalgia. On I Heard It Through the Grapevine, she sounded great, but like she was holding back a little bit. It would be nice if she
gave you a little more. Her voice is sultry, solid and powerful."
On Ruben Studdard: "He sings with so much heart and so much passion. He has this natural sincerity about him. On the ballad he
sang, Ruben gave it a more 2003 pace. He had that whole Luther vibe about it, sincere, sultry and smoky." She believes that
Studdard should win: He's "natural, almost like he was born on the stage."
Doug Robb, lead vocalist for rock band Hoobastank, aiming for a September release on its second album:
On Clay Aiken: "The guy looks like he should be a rock singer, but he sounds like he should be on Broadway. He has a great voice.
When I say he seems like he's more suited for Broadway, that's not an insult at all. It's about it being theatrical. He's got a good look
that the pop culture could embrace." He predicts Aikin will win: "(He) has more of the total package, as far as marketability."
On Joshua Gracin: "I'm not really feeling his (performances). He has a kind of country feel. If they're trying to make pop stars out of
these people, he doesn't encompass the whole package of what people would buy into. He's got a better chance if he doesn't win
this contest to go pursue the country side. He obviously enjoys that more."
On Kimberley Locke: "She has a pretty genuine feel to her. Her charisma is real, not put on just for the show. I think people can
relate to her just being normal. She's got a really smooth, great voice and she knows how to use it well."
On Ruben Studdard: "He's a good singer. There's something about him that is pretty real. I get the feeling he genuinely likes to sing
and is doing this for the right reasons. I don't know if I get that same vibe from everybody else." Robb believes Studdard should
win: "He seems like he's just enjoying the ride."
Vitamin C, pop singer whose new single, Last Night, is due soon:
On Clay Aiken: "I am so impressed by his growth (as a singer). He's gotten rid of the cheesy elements. He blew me away with
Solitaire. He's a really good performer. He seems like an old-time teen idol. He seems comfortable moving around the stage. He
doesn't lose concentration and he shares his enjoyment with others." She believes that Aiken should win: "Clay all the way!"
On Joshua Gracin: "He has a spectacular-sounding voice. But I don't think Josh has found his whole persona as a performer. He
will have a long recording career. I thought it was interesting, what he did with Bad Blood. Kind of cool. It was slightly outside the
norm, opting into the country flavor."
On Kimberley Locke: "I thought she was spectacular on Where the Boys Are. I thought she was OK on Grapevine, but I just didn't
buy the song. Kimberley is really pleasant to listen to. She has great range. She can go from soft to loud and do it with great feeling.
She seems at home with herself."
On Ruben Studdard: "He's got a great voice. A lot of these singers are better than the average top 10 artist. But the tough thing
about being a pop idol is that it doesn't have (as) much to do with the singing. It's the whole package." She predicts that he will win:
"Ruben has the best stage presence."
Weird Al Yankovic, whose new CD, Poodle Hat, will be available May 20:
On Clay Aiken: In appearance, "it looks like he went from a huge dork to a not-quite-so-huge dork. I should know from experience.
He's a talented singer, with enthusiasm and stage presence. That was a bravura performance on Solitaire. I thought Neil Sedaka
was going to propose to him at one point. Clay seems like a young Barry Manilow with Ryan Seacrest hair."
On Joshua Gracin: "He's got a very pleasant country voice. In Bad Blood, he seemed rattled. He might have forgotten a couple of
words. He's still a very talented singer. He doesn't seem as confident. I certainly wouldn't want to be the one who votes Josh out.
He looked like the guy who beats you up in gym class."
On Kimberley Locke: "I thought she was wonderful. She's my second favorite, next to Ruben. She even made Where the Boys Are
sound soulful. I can't offer any criticism. She was ear-delicious, as Neil Sedaka said."
On Ruben Studdard: "He's a cross between Luther Vandross and Teddy Ruxpin. I like the way he gives props to his homies in 205.
He's happy to be on stage. Makes it look effortless. Maybe he could have a salad once in a while." Yankovic predicts Studdard
should and will win: "He's clearly the man."
Ken Barnes, USA TODAY music editor:
On Clay Aiken: "He's a smooth and powerful vocalist, but he painfully overenunciates every syllable and, as Simon Cowell says, is
better suited for Broadway. Puppy-dog appeal could swing the popular vote, though."
On Joshua Gracin: "The worse his performances get (and last week's Bad Blood was a nadir that eclipsed his infamous massacre
of Kool and the Gang's Celebrate), the more belligerent he acts -- and the more popular he seems to become. Clearly out of his
league talent-wise, but may hang on another week or two."
On Kimberley Locke: "A solid singer, but non-musical factors (specifically her lack of teen-idol appeal) will probably hurt her."
Barnes predicts she should win: "She's overcome a shaky start to become perhaps the most accomplished and versatile singer of
On Ruben Studdard: "Ruben has the most natural singing ability, despite his lackluster uptempo performances." Barnes predicts he
will win: "You have to consider him the front-runner, unless too many voters are turned off by his sometimes-sullen demeanor or
Oct 6 04 6:42 PM
'American Idol' finalist inspires a world of fans
By MATT EHLERS, Staff Writer
Most pop stars have fan clubs. Other acts have the more cultlike communities, like Jimmy Buffett's "Parrotheads." Clay Aiken -- without a national tour, without a hit record -- has a community.
It's a place where Americans call themselves "AmeriAikens," Canadian followers are Claynadians and women type on and on and on about OCB (Our Collective Boyfriend). Some call themselves Claymates. Others ride The Clay Train. In fact, just call it Clay World, and in that mystical cyber planet Raleigh's "American Idol" finalist, win or lose, is already getting the idol treatment.
On dozen of Web sites, message boards and chat rooms, fans -- mostly women -- break down everything from Clay's voice to his clothes to the mouthed "thank yous" he gives the judges.
They chat about his eyes. They chat about his pants. They tape each episode and watch it over and over again, sometimes in slow motion. Then they chat about it.
"This is actually the first time this has ever happened to me. I never thought I'd be emotionally invested in someone I'll never meet," said Claynadian Erin McSwiney, a 23-year-old student at the University of Calgary. She's a citizen of the People's Republic of Clay (PRoC).
Clay World is a place where a 54-year-old bookkeeper from California can post messages under the name "AClayzingrace" and receive positive feedback from other women just like her.
"I feel like I'm a part of something that's really big," said Peggy Taylor of Santa Monica, Calif. "He seems to have bridged the gap between the ages." Taylor posts messages at www.bolt.com, which hosts the official forums for FOX.
The PRoC is one of the more inventive Clay sites. The Clay Train on which these fans ride has metaphorical cars that describe their emotional state. There's a Mrs. Robinson car, for older women with romantic feelings for Clay, and a Group Hug car, where fans go when someone says something bad about him. Then there's the Debacle car, where the sentiment is a little more R-rated.
They've even created an Aiken vocabulary. When describing a particularly fetching photograph of Clay, citizens type *swoon* into their messages. *Thud* represents the sound a fainting Clay fan makes when she hits the floor. Obsessing about every little thing Clay does is called "Zaprudering," after the Abraham Zapruder film of the John F. Kennedy assassination.
Anne McKemey, a 28-year-old mother of two from Farmville, N.C., is a PRoC citizen who has diagnosed herself with OCD (Obsessive Claypulsive Disorder). This is not her typical behavior.
"I feel really, really, really silly, but at the same time, I'm not ashamed. He's somebody worth being proud of," she said. "My poor husband, he's been so patient."
Lisa Courtney, 31, is a happily married technical writer in New Jersey. She enjoys being part of a Clay-based community. "It's almost like finding that you can ride a bicycle after all these years. It's like being 12 again."
What does it feel like to live in her little corner of Clay World?
When Courtney came across some newly posted pictures of Clay recently on the Internet, she couldn't help herself. She oozed. Right in her office.
"I slid off my chair onto the floor."
Staff writer Matt Ehlers can be reached at 829-4889 or [email protected]
Quote:Take a peek at reporter's `American Idol' diary
Observer's Leigh Dyer dishes on Clay, Simon and a love triangle (?)
Observer staff writer Leigh Dyer, who has followed N.C. "American Idol" contestant Clay Aiken since he made the show's finals in February, recounts her inside look last week at the show:
Thursday, April 24: Fox publicists call to tell me they're lifting their moratorium on interviews with "American Idol" finalists, and I'm to be the first reporter invited to interview Aiken since he made the show's finals. Plus, I can tag along to the premiere of "X2: X-Men United" with the five finalists and attend the live "AI" show on Tuesday.
Monday, April 28: After traveling eight hours, I learn Aiken has pushed back our interview to 4 p.m. because he thought he was going to see his mother, Faye Parker. But she's a no-show because she got tickets to see "The Price Is Right."
3:40 p.m.: I arrive early at the Hollywood mansion where the finalists are staying. It's as gorgeous as expected, but messy -- it bears evidence of lots of people going in and out, with items stacked all over the kitchen counters and papers strewn on tables.
Though Aiken is afraid of water for reasons he won't discuss, he leads me to a chair beside the undersized backyard pool for our interview. He later shows me the atrociously messy above-garage bedroom he shares with Marine Joshua Gracin, proudly showing off his collection of 14 pairs of designer shoes.
6 p.m.: At Grauman's Chinese Theatre for the "X2" premiere, each reporter has a tiny square marked on the carpet where he or she is allowed to stand and interview celebrities as they walk by.
I spot ousted "AI" contestant Kimberly Caldwell a few spots down the carpet from me -- she's been hired to cover the premiere for Fox Sports Net. I try to angle next to her for a few comments, but a snarky woman on the carpet yells at me: "Is your name Jimmy Kimmel?" Apparently I'm standing at the ABC late-night host's carpet square, though he's nowhere in sight. I give up and head back to my spot.
My dorkiest moment: After "AI" judge Randy Jackson bypasses me to talk to a TV reporter, I yell to get his attention: "Dawg! Randy! Over here! Dawg!" Luckily, it works and I nab a few comments for my story.
8:30 p.m. I can tell that "X-Men" fans will find this movie really cool; however, as I'm nearing the end of a 23-hour workday, the loudness makes my head hurt.
Tuesday, April 29:
10 a.m.: The day starts with an interview with "AI" co-executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. He drops a few tabloidesque tidbits during the conversation -- such as bringing up a rumor that Caldwell, singer Trenyce and former contestant Corey Clark were in a love triangle in the mansion.
11 a.m.: The next stop is the cramped wardrobe room with stylist Miles Siggins. All outfits the finalists are planning to wear on Tuesday night's show are hanging on a rack. Trenyce's rainbow-colored creation is actually a shirt, but she's tiny enough to wear it as a minidress.
Next I find my way to the studio where the contestants are rehearsing. Gracin rehearses his first song, "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye," with a plan to walk out into the audience and sing it to his wife. Aiken later tells me he talked Gracin out of the move, saying it would look odd to sing a breakup-themed song to her.
3:30 p.m.: I find judge Simon Cowell out behind the studio, smoking and talking to Lythgoe. I want to approach to interview Cowell, but publicists stop me, saying he's already declined interview requests.
5 p.m.: The show begins, airing live on the East Coast. The studio, with 500 cheaply made seats banded together with what look like twist ties, seems smaller in person than on TV. Thanks to the speaker system, every singer sounds great. The audience grooves to every song, but Ruben Studdard, Kimberley Locke and Aiken seem to get the loudest and most enthusiastic reactions.
6:30 p.m.: I'm invited to dinner with Aiken, his mother and their entourage of about six other friends. We head to a tiny Italian restaurant with about six tables. Two customers recognize Aiken and approach to shake his hand while he's eating a plate of ravioli.
The manager turns up the TV as the tape-delayed show starts at 8 p.m. Aiken watches each performance intently -- including his own. When he suspects a singer has missed a note, he freezes and grips the edge of the table.
Wednesday, April 30:
9 p.m. Eastern time: During a layover in Chicago, I learn that Studdard, widely viewed as a frontrunner, has shockingly been voted into the bottom two contestants. (Trenyce ultimately is booted). Is complacency among Studdard's fan base the explanation for the poor showing, or could the voting have been rigged to increase the show's drama? Since co-producer Lythgoe had declined to answer some of the questions I tried to ask him about the voting, I don't have enough information to judge.
Oct 6 04 6:44 PM
Quote:Joshua starts off with "Jiv Mike's Idol Thoughts, May 6: Ruben Scores with BeeGees Hits
Joshua starts off with "Jive Talkin'." The song wasn't very good to begin with, so he didn't have much to work with. It was OK, but not top four material. He's definitely a great showman, and he looks more relaxed this week. Perhaps he knows he's gotten farther than he should have (and if you want to argue, just look at his reaction last week), and thus feels he's already succeeded. As for the judgesï¿½ did I miss something? How was that country?
Clay does "To Love Somebody." I don't recognize the song, but I really liked it. Clay is, more and more each week, the one to beat on this show. That was impressiveï¿½ I even liked the outfit. I've got to give credit where credit is due - "Aiken leaves me shakin'" is a pretty good sign.
Kimberley Locke is next, singing "I Just Wanna Be Your Everything." She's in good voice, but she seemed a little off-tempo at the beginning. Very odd to hear that song that low. Wasn't the worst performance, but it wasn't the greatest either. "Sweet but ordinary," as Simon said, summed it up nicely.
It strikes me as a shame that Rickey Smith isn't still in this - he'd really be able to knock out the Andy Gibb songs.
Finally, Ruben gives us "Nights on Broadway." OK, my girlfriend and I are dancing. She really dug this, as it was pre-Saturday Night Fever. That was a blow-away incredible performance, best of the night so far without question. And I've decided that he made a great decision in not wearing the 205 jerseys every week.
Nothing good can possibly come of Josh and Clay singing the same song ("To Love Somebody"). Well, not for Josh anyway. That wasn't horrible or anything, but it was nowhere near Clay. The last thing he needed to do is remind people how terribly outclassed he is.
SWEET: Clay sings my favorite Bee Gees song, "Grease." He's even wearing leather. It should be black leather, and if he would have worn black with "T-Birds" on the back, I would have declared him the winner right here and now. As for the dancing, I'll let my girlfriend take this one: "We've been bitching that he needs to move around more, and now that he has, I can say, NO, HE DOESN'T." Didn't moves like that get Elvis banned from Ed Sullivan?
Now that I mention it, I shouldn't complain about the BeeGeesï¿½ they could have Elvis week.
Anyway, I should probably mention I enjoyed that performance a whole lot, dancing notwithstanding.
K-Lo is next with "Emotions." I don't recognize this one either, but considering I hate this type of music as a rule ("Grease" being the obvious exception, of course), that shouldn't be really surprising. That said, I love Kim's voice and range. When Ruben and Clay are putting on a home run derby, Kimberley hitting triples should still be impressive.
Ruben sings "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" to finish the night. Fantastic job. Ruben definitely came back from his bottom two showing with a vengeance, as I was hoping he would. I feel like I need to smoke a cigarette after that. Love the beret, too.
We come back from break to the pointless red room segment. Again, Josh strikes me as someone who knows he's on borrowed time, just saying whatever he wants to say.
Major thanks to the local Fox affiliate for not interrupting the show with routine weather updates, as they put a crawl on the bottom third of the screen. That's as it should be, since if someone needed to know about the weather, they could switch over to one of the other fifteen stations doing updates every two minutes.
Anyway: the rankings. I have to give it to Ruben this week, although Clay is a close second. Kimberley is third, and Josh in last. Now, who do I think will be voted off? Josh is my choice, obviously, but I have a sneaking suspicion that K-Lo will be next because people will be concentrating on their favorites after last week, and Kimberley has consistently placed lower than Josh. I just hope that I'm wrong.
Oct 6 04 6:53 PM
Quote:American Idol 2, May 6: Pulling Out All the Stops!
by David Bloomberg -- 05/07/2003
The final four know they need to bring it tonight or they may not have another chance. Clay has some fun with one song while Josh countrifies a couple of BeeGee hits. Who will stay and who will go?
It's the final four! And we have Ruben, Kimberley, Clay, and Nikki - er, Josh!
As the show begins, a number of audience members have what appear to be thundersticks - the inflatable tubes you bang together to create noise, usually reserved for sporting events. Some look like they say "Ruben" on them, though I can't tell if all of them are printed. I know the guy in the U.S. who makes thundersticks here in the U.S., so I'll have to see if I can find out if they're the real deal or imitations.
Enough about that, though. Ryan Seacrest comes out to start the show. He reminds us (as if we needed reminding) that last week we lost Trenyce. The audience boos. And Ruben was in the bottom two. The audience boos louder. It's very serious, he says. So at the end of the show, he encourages people to get off the couch and vote. Sitting there and saying, "Yeah, that was nice" doesn't do anybody any good. Thankfully, he doesn't say, "Vote for your favorite." Do you think maybe he learned a lesson? Nah, me neither.
Before he introduces the judges, he says they are predicting more drama tonight and the singers are really feeling the pressure. More drama? What, are we going to find out that Kimberley is having Clay's love child or something? And how do you predict drama on a live show? Or am I just way overanalyzing every stupid comment Ryan makes?
The songs tonight are courtesy of the BeeGees, and Robin Gibb is there to guest judge. We are treated to a history of the brothers Gibb and find out that they wrote a lot more songs than just the ones they performed themselves. Before Robin takes his seat at the judges' table, Ryan asks if he can be honest. Robin claims he can be. Yeah, we've heard that from guest judges before. OK, enough of this, let's get to the singing!
Joshua Gracin, "Jive Talkin'"
I've never heard country disco before. I'll be fine if I never hear it again. That said, the song doesn't seem to require much in the way of range the way Josh performs it, so he does a decent job. He shouts a bit at time, and he runs around through the audience through most of the song, which I think involves them more and distracts them from the fact that he's not doing a great job. Still, better than some of his recent performances.
Randy: Like you doing this song-- did your thing-- might be back tonight.
Robin: Love this version of the song because I love the country feel to it.
Paula: Your warmth comes through-- your fans never feel gypped-- awesome.
Simon: You're not going to beat me up, are you? (Referring to Josh's not-so-veiled threat from last week.) Better than last week-- lucky you're doing two songs-- shouted it a bit-- not bad.
Clay Aiken, "To Love Somebody"
Now this is a singer. He puts Josh to shame. Clay belts the song when it needs belting, softens when it needs softening. It's simply awesome.
Randy: I gotta give you props-- really trying to win-- brilliant.
Robin: Fantastic version-- the way the song should be sung.
Paula: The last two weeks have been my favorite Clay moments-- matured as a performer-- caught up with your beautiful voice.
Simon: This is the third show I've done, starting with Pop Idol, and that's probably one of the best performances I've ever heard.
Ryan makes fun of Simon for calling the show Pop Idol, which Simon didn't actually do, and Simon points out that the show started in England - with better hosts! Heh.
Kimberley Locke, "I Just Want to Be Your Everything"
It's not Kim's fault, but the background vocals seem to be drowning her out completely. I can barely hear her voice when they are on at the same time. Ugh. Producers, come on! Therefore, it's hard to determine how well she is doing on the high notes. However, what I can hear sounds great.
Randy: Turning up the game-- great.
Robin: The way to sing the song-- never heard it sung by a girl before-- great.
Paula: Classy gal-- beautiful-- can't say enough.
Simon: Didn't do it for me-- sweet and ordinary-- nothing special--not as good as before.
Before Ruben goes on, we find out that yes, audience members do have Thundersticks and yes, they do say "Ruben" on them. OK, that's settled. I feel better, don't you?
Ruben Studdard, "Nights on Broadway"
Again the background vocals are too loud. But what I can hear of Ruben sounds great. He again shows that he can sing anything, anytime, anywhere.
Randy: So proud of you-- do your thing week in and week out-- sing like a true professional.
Robin: Loved it.
Paula: You rock! you make everyone feel so good.
Simon: After what happened last week - which was crazy - if you weren't in the competition, it wouldn't be the same.
OK, here are my rankings after the first song:
Hey, look, it's a plug! Ryan says all of the audience members can find a copy of the American Idol 2 love songs CD under their seats.
Now it's time for the second songs. Ryan says that even with all of the songs the BeeGees have done, believe it or not, Clay and Josh chose the same one. I'm thinking, "Josh is soooooo dead.
Joshua Gracin, "To Love Somebody"
Frankly, if Ryan hadn't said anything, I wouldn't have realized they were the same song! Once again, Josh has countrified it and come up with a much different version than Clay's. Clay' is better, mind you, but Josh's is not bad. In fact, I'd rate it as one of his better performances.
Randy: I gotta give you props (he's giving out a lot of props today)ï¿½ best we've ever heard from you.
Robin: Absolutely greatï¿½ country feel was superb-- great voice.
Paula: It is so your night-- great quality.
Simon: This was risky - but you pulled it off!
Ryan asks Joshua if he feels better about his relationship with Simon now that Simon has said some good things. Josh says he's always liked Simon. He doesn't always agree with him but he's a good man. Yeah, 'cus people frequently threaten to beat up people they like!
Clay Aiken, "Grease"
Clay does an interesting version of this song and has a ton of fun with it. He can sing anything. Yeah, I know, I've said that before, and also about Ruben, but hey, it's true. And if Randy can give out props to everybody, I can repeat myself too. Anyway, Clay has some good stage moves to go along with his performance as well.
Randy: I'm sitting here laughing! having a good time! I like the moves, baby.
Robin: I love your voice! love your interpretation.
Paula: You know I'm proud of you (because he danced)-- you shook your thang--having fun-- it's a blast.
Simon: HORRIBLE! Sorry, everything about that was horrible (the audience boos). You had a great performance and it's all thrown away. (He says all of this with a bit of a smile!)
Ryan asks Clay what he'd like to say back to Simon - after all, he was just having fun, not taking it too seriously. Clay jokes that he doesn't take Simon too seriously. Ryan makes Clay do another hip swing like he did during the song.
Kimberley Locke, "Emotions"
You can tell with this song that Kim is going for the win. She puts her heart and voice into it all the way. Not quite as good as we've seen her before, but close.
Randy: That's a great song! you did a great version of it.
Robin: I agree! wonderful voice! love your range.
Paula: Great hearing all the colors and harmonies! you owned that song.
Simon: Sort of agree-- good! don't think it was your best night, still.
Ryan asks Kim about the intensity of the competition and she agrees that things have been tense. Then Ryan lapses back to his usual comment about remembering to vote for your favorite. Ugh.
Ruben Studdard, "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart"
Great, as always. But I just don't find it as exciting/fun/whatever as Clay.
Randy: You keep bringing it every night! brilliant performance.
Robin: One of the best versions I've heard! fantastic.
Paula: What a night! you make everyone feel warm and fuzzy.
Simon: What you proved tonight was consistency! both songs were sensational.
Ryan asks Ruben what he thinks about as the judges talk to him. Ruben responds that he's just paying attention because his mama told him to pay attention when people talk to him. Good answer!
With a few more minutes to kill, Ryan and the final four are in the red room. He asks some questions, the most interesting of which is if Josh was nervous. He says no, he just wanted to be himself and perform for the fans because they're what it's all about. I do think Josh had more fun tonight than in past shows, and I think that's because he expects it to be his last. Then again, he probably thought that last time, too.
Ryan leaves us on a bad note, once again telling viewers to make sure they keep their favorites in the competition. No, NO, NO! Make sure you keep the best in the competition, whether they are your favorites or not! Will he never learn?
So, what do I think of the second set of performances? This may surprise some people, who will likely put Ruben ahead of Clay, but I still liked Clay's performance more. So it looks rather similar:
Which means overall, that's my same list. So if the votes go according to performances, Joshua and Kimberley will be in the bottom two, and Joshua will go home. Frankly, for a change I do expect it to go according to that. The fans of Kimberley, Clay, and Ruben are on high alert. They won't let what happened last week happen again. Bank on it.
David Bloomberg is the Editor of RealityNewsOnline and can be reached at [email protected]
Oct 6 04 7:02 PM
Quote:Amanda writes: I would be hard-pressed to name a band I hate more than I hate the BeeGees. Had I known that tonight was BeeGees night on "American Idol," I would have attempted to find a replacement for my part in this week's column. I don't know how objective I'll be able to be between sticking forks into my eardrums to make the bad bad music go away. I apologize in advance if I can't restrain my loathing to a degree you've come to expect from me.
Josh Gracin - "Jive Talkin'"
Mary writes: "Jive Talkin'" is countrified by Josh. Again, I think Josh does himself a disservice by running through the audience and singing. I don't think he is fit enough (had enough training running and singing at the same time) to do this properly. His breath control is off and his facial expressions while he sings makes me think he is a human muppet. I think the judges were off with their critique of his singing. It was just average and Josh is an average singer in recent weeks.
Amanda writes: I agree with Mary. Josh needs to stand still. Panting while singing is unattractive. That said, though, I didn't hate this performance, likely because Josh's countrification made the song less BeeGeesish, and that's a plus in my book. I agree with the judges that he was far better than last week. Better enough to stay? Time will tell.
Molly writes: This was "Celebrate" redux. The running around was a bad idea, doing two rounds of the chorus before even attempting a verse was a bad idea, the hand gestures were a bad idea (the come-on hand flutter, the pointing at his eye for "gets in my eye"). I was surprised at how much the judges liked it.
Clay Aiken - "To Love Somebody"
Mary writes: I think this song was just okay. I wasn't wowed by his performance until nearly the end. It was very competent, but I had to wait until he was nearly finished before he showed his vocal pipes. He did well, I just wasn't excited by it. Clearly I differ with Simon and the other judges. I think their effusive praise was a bit mismatched.
Amanda writes: I was bored by this performance. I'm generally bored by Clay now. I get it, okay? He can sing. But it's all he can do. He doesn't engage me at all. I would not pay money to see Clay in concert. I would not buy a CD of his. I think I might even switch the station if he came on the radio. I need more than just a voice to hook me. Clay cannot be a pop star; I do not think he'd make it as one.
Molly writes: I liked this a lot, and felt that it was Vintage Clay. He seemed very easy and at home with this rendition. Good emotion, and outstanding power at the end.
Kimberley Locke - "I Just Want to Be Your Everything"
Mary writes: I think she did a nice, competent job with the song. Again, I was not wowed and I know she is capable of better. Technically she seemed to hit the notes, but maybe the catalog of songs did not allow her a good choice for her voice.
Amanda writes: Kim didn't seem like she was having much fun this week, and her performances suffered for it. She sang well, but didn't add much besides the voice. I think that her "backup singers" were partly to blame too; the arrangements seemed less showcasey of her voice than they did for the other performers this evening.
Molly writes: This was a surprisingly lackluster performance from Kimberley, considering what great performances she's had the past couple of weeks. I agreed with Simon's comment that it was "sweet and ordinary". No major glitches, but nothing to get excited over.
Ruben Studdard - "Lights on Broadway"
Mary writes: I think he did an okay job with the song, but he is still sounding hoarse to me and further, that backup singer track was just distracting and a little off. I probably liked his performance the best of the first set of four even if I think Clay sang the best.
Amanda writes: I think this was my favorite Ruben performance so far. I was really impressed. I think he deserved all of the judges' praise.
Molly writes: I agree that his voice sounded hoarse. I also didn't feel like he was always "on" the notes. Usually I give performers some degree of slack, because of the limited time they have to prepare their songs, but even taking that into account I felt like it was a sloppy performance from Ruben. Not bad, nothing that makes me reconsider his being in the top 4 by any means, but not great.
Joshua Gracin - "To Love Somebody"
Mary writes: He countrifies this song. I think it was a poor choice to sing a song that Clay sang. Clay did a better job with the song. I wish Josh would tame his Groucho Marx eyebrows. It distracts from his vocal performance. Overall, Josh was better this week than last week, but I'm still not sold on him. I think Randy way over-stated that Josh was the best he's ever heard him.
Amanda writes: My roommate said when they announced this song that they'd tear Josh up for choosing the same song as Clay, but it was really like comparing apples and oranges. This song was completely different countrified, and it wasn't all-bad. Josh was more competent than I've seen him in a long time, and he seemed in both performances to be less nervous than he's been in recent weeks. The arrangement was good for him, and I think he might have saved himself this evening -- but at the expense of another, more deserving performer.
Molly writes: I absolutely agreed with Randy that this was the best we've heard Josh. I thought he did an excellent job with this song. I was surprised that they allowed two contestants to sing the same song, or that the contestants agreed to it. If I were Josh, I would have done whatever possible to avoid inviting a comparison to Clay's vocals. But despite that, I think Josh did well on this song, and if it was a choice between inviting the comparison and doing "Staying Alive" (or some other song similar to his ill-fated "Jive Talking"), I think Josh made the wise decision.
Clay Aiken - "Grease"
Mary writes: I think he did a better job with this song than his first. But I found his body movements for the first time EVER to be incredibly distracting. His moves were bad, but his singing was good. Nice job. I have no idea why Simon said that was horrible. I don't get it. I have a pretty good tv with stereo sound.
Amanda writes: I hate "Grease" more than I hate the BeeGees. I do not have anything to say about this performance, besides the fact that the Michael Jackson jacket was cool in a retro way.
Molly writes: I thought Clay's dancing was horrible (sorry, Clay!). It's not a song I much care for, either, which unfortunately tends to color my judgment. I thought he made some interesting musical choices in his phrasing and pitch, which I appreciate, but I can't warm up to the song, and I enjoyed his first performance a lot more.
Kimberley Locke - "Emotions"
Mary writes: Destiny's Child just remade this song and I have to say I like Kimberley's version better than theirs. I think Kimberley did a better job with this song as opposed to her first song of the evening. She really showed her range. I really hope she gets to stay and that we don't have an all-male final 3. Come on voters, make me proud!
Amanda writes: This was not a banner week for Kim. She was kind of unspecial in both songs, techincally competent, but rather blah. I know she can do better, and I just hope that Josh's performances tonight didn't make many viewers forget the carnage from previous weeks and that he will be the one to go, allowing Kimberley another chance to shine next week.
Molly writes: I had a similar reaction to this song as I did to her first song, which was a feeling that she was disconnected from what she was singing. In particular, this one came off to me like a vocal exercise. I didn't get any sense of feeling or (ironically) emotions from her. I suspect that this was just a bad genre for her.
Ruben Studdard - "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart"
Mary writes: Like with Clay and Kimberley, I liked his performance of this song better than his first. His voice didn't seem as hoarse - though it still was. I think he did a nice job with the song.
Amanda writes: This song started poorly for Ruben, but it finished quite well, I thought. Ruben should be safe this week.
Molly writes: I too preferred this song to his first one. He gave a real sweetness to his performance. (If they were going to double up on songs, I would have been curioius to have compared Ruben and Clay's versions of this one.)
Mary writes: I think the bottom two will be Josh and Kimberley. I really wish Josh would be the one to leave, but I fear Kimberley will be the one to go.
Amanda writes: I would love to see Clay in the bottom two this week. I'm just sick of him. I think Mary and Molly are right, though, in their assessment of the situation. I hope Kim gets to stay.
Molly writes: I agree that Josh and Kimberley will be the bottom two. On their merits, Josh should be the one to go. But if I were Kimberley, I'd be very, very nervous. This wasn't a good time for her to have subpar performances, and it's too bad for her that Bee Gees night came at such a crucial juncture.
Oct 6 04 7:05 PM
Quote:Will it be Kimberley?
Will it be Joshua?
Will Ruben land in the bottom two again tonight?
Will Clay visit the bottom two for the first time?
Here's my review of last night's performances:
Recap Date: May 06, 2003
We've Got Your Talent, America!
'American Idol' Tuesday Performance Show Recap
Recap by Greg Council
A BEE GEE IN THE HOUSE -- The stakes were high tonight as the Final Four competed to remain in the competition on FOXï¿½s American Idol. The four remaining contestants were joined by host Ryan Seacrest (one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People) and the returning judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.
Guest host for the evening was one of the Brothers Gibb from The Bee Gees, Robin Gibb. The contestants all sang songs tonight written by the Bee Gees; songs from over the Bee Gees forty-year career.
Each of the four remaining contestants fought hard as the stakes were raised with the show moving into the final three weeks of competition:
01) Joshua Gracin: "Jive Talkin" & "To Love Somebody"
Tonight was Josh's opportunity to prove himself, and he certainly gave it his all in both his performances. For the first performance of "Jive Talkin" Randy said he liked it and was impressed. Robin said he loved the country feel Josh brought to the song. Paula said Josh was awesome tonight. Simon said it was better than last week, still lucky that they were doing two songs, but not bad. Was Josh back tonight? Was it his night? Later when he sang "To Love Somebody" it was probably one of his best performances of the entire competition. The second time around Randy said he would have to give Josh his props, that it was the best he had ever heard him sing. Robin called Josh's second performance superb. Paula said tonight was so Josh's night, excellent performance. Simon said it was risky but Josh pulled it off, well done. Wow a compliment from Simon on Josh? Going into tonight I was betting Joshua would be leaving tomorrow night, but now I'm not so sure.
02) Clay Aiken: "To Love Somebody" & "Grease"
Fan favorite Clay performed both a ballad and an uptempo number tonight. On "To Love Somebody" Randy said he had to give Clay his props and called his performance brilliant. Robin said Clay had a fantastic voice and also said it was brilliant. Paula said she had really enjoyed Clay over the last two weeks, and that he had matured as an artist. Simon gave Clay one of the best compliments I had ever heard from Simon yet when he said out of all the "Idol" shows that Simon had done, that was one of the best performances he had ever heard! Very well done Clay. Clay said he was enjoying himself and on his performance of "Grease" it certainly showed through. Randy said he was having a good time, and he liked Clay's attempt at dance steps and moves. Robin said he loved Clay's voice and he liked his interpretation of the song. Paula said she was proud of Clay, he shook his thing, and it was wonderful. Simon on the other hand called Clay's second performance horrible, just horrible. Well I wouldn't go that far, but I have seen Clay perform better. At least he finally moved his hips some.
03) Kimberley Locke: "I Just Want To Be Your Everything" & "Emotions"
First Kim performed the Andy Gibb classic. Randy said all the contestants were trying hard to win tonight and Kim's performance was great. Robin said he had never heard that song performed by a female and it was wonderful. Paula said Kim was classy and glowing and she loved it. However Simon said Kim's first performance didn't do it for him, calling it sweet and ordinary, nothing special. He said, "sorry Kimberley, wasn't as good as before." Now on her second performance of "Emotions" Randy said it was one of his favorite Bee Gees songs and Kim did a great version of it. Robin said Kim had a wonderful voice and it was just tremendous. Paula said it was great hearing all the colors and harmonies and that Kimberley owned the song. Simon agreed that it was good, but stated that it was still not Kimberley's best night. I would have to agree with Simon; Kimberley not at her best, but would America agree?
04) Ruben Studdard: "Nights On Broadway" & "How Can You Mend A Broken
After landing in the bottom two with voting last week, Ruben was back in rare form tonight. On his first performance of "Nights On Broadway" Randy said he was so proud of Ruben, that he continued to represent week after week, singing like a true professional. Robin said he loved the energy of Ruben's performance. Paula said "Ruben you rock" stating that Ruben just makes everyone feel so good. Simon said after the craziness of last week, that if Ruben weren't in this competition it just wouldn't be the same. Simon called Ruben's performance superb. Simon should have waited for Ruben's second performance of "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" because that was beyond superb! Randy said Ruben was bringing it every night, and called his second performance brilliant. Robin said it was probably one of the best versions he had heard of the song, and called Ruben's performance fantastic. Paula said Ruben just makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy, and his performance was unbelievable. Paula looked at Simon and said "you do not make me feel warm and fuzzy" and Simon came back with the quote of the night when he responded "that is not what you said last night." Simon complimented Ruben on his consistency, and called both his performance tonight sensational and fantastic. Again I would have to agree with Simon's summary and interpretation.
So what did we actually learn tonight? Well Josh did redeem himself, Kimberley stumbled but did well, Clay shined but maybe not all the way, and Ruben was consistently fantastic once again.
All I can say is America has a VERY hard decision to make. Everyone did well tonight and there was no clear "loser" among the four. But someone has to go home tomorrow. The contestant with the lowest number of viewer votes will have to leave the show.
Since I have to predict that someone will leave, I will have to say it maybe Kimberley Locke. If not Kimberley, then most likely Joshua Gracin. But Josh did well tonight, so I am going with Kimberley. If that is true it will turn the competition into a three way male race, which is exactly what happened with the first "Pop Idol" in the U.K.
To find out the actual results, we will just have to watch tomorrow night Wednesday May 7 at 8:30 PM eastern. It's American Idol, the search for a superstar on FOX.
Oct 6 04 7:14 PM
Quote: LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - The Tuesday night "American Idol" (May 6) opens with host Ryan Seacrest urging fans at home to stuff the ballot boxes for their favorite finalists. Ryan is clad disparately in a "Peace-Out" t-shirt, pinstriped tuxedo jacket and blue jeans, apparently showing his support for the Blind Costumers Guild. He reminds the viewers to vote early and often, in true Chicago style.
The guest judge is Robin Gibb. A musical montage reminds us that Robin was always the Bee-Gee with the worst hair, which at certain points was quite the achievement.
The show gets underway Josh "The Permanently Furloughed Marine" Gracin singing "Jive Talkin'." He starts off well but then, apparently craving combat, he stages a sneak attack on the audience and the camera. Pacing and trying to strut, he's soon out of breath and his hold on the tune suffers a bit. The crowd is still clearly enthusiastic. Randy says Josh did his thang. Paula says that Josh never "gyps" the audience, which will now provide a rare test for the Gypsy Anti-Defamation league. Simon calls the performance "manic" and says Josh shouted a bit, but declares it "not bad."
Clay Aiken chimes in next with "To Love Somebody." The song takes a really long time to kick into gear, which is the fault of the arrangement more than anything else. In a black suit and electric blue tie, Clay seems to be biding time until the chorus, where his voice comes through in fine form. He shows a nice and new richness, selling the emotion once the song becomes complicated. Randy, stuck in a verbal rut early on, says that Clay did his thang and says that he's obviously trying to win. Robin says that Clay sang it the way it's supposed to be sung. Simon says that of all the performances he's seen on "Pop Idol" and "American Idol," this was one of the best.
Kimberley Locke falls victim to an awful backing track on "I Just Wanna Be Your Everything." As is often the case with Kim, she starts off a bit tentative and gets engulfed in the first set of background vocals. She rarely stays lost for long and finishes well. Randy is either really enjoying the evening or else he's been replaced by a cyborg with a limited vocabulary. He issues his second straight version of "you're really trying to win this thing." He chooses not to point out that she did her thang. Paula calls her a classy gal. Simon says it didn't do it for him and that it was "sweet and ordinary." Paula seems chagrinned to be anywhere near Simon.
Ruben Studdard follows with "Nights on Broadway." After a couple so-so weeks and a voting scare last time out, Ruben lets loose a tiny bit. Heï¿½s never going to break into Hammer-esque dance moves, but he does something better. He has such control over the stage that all he needs to do is put his hand up and everybody in the crowd (and no doubt a few people in the home audience) snaps with him. The judges are happy to join the lovefest. The Randy-bot points out that Ruben did his thang. Paula says that Ruben rocks. Simon says that without Ruben the competition wouldn't be the same.
The night loops back with Josh singing "To Love Somebody." Don't the contestants know what's being sung each week? There's really nothing Josh can prove from singing the same song as Clay just minutes after the uber-gelfling. Josh's rendition, featuring a newly affected vibrato, is actually quite fine. He holds the melody well and his arrangement goes through the song's dull parts must faster than Clay's did. When he gets to the chorus, though, he lack's Clay's burst of vocal revelation. It's good, but a relative let-down. Randy-bot gives Josh his props and says it was the best he's ever heard him. Simons says it was risky, but Josh pulled it off.
Want to talk about risky? Try Clay singing the theme from "Grease." This is hardly the song selection to beat those "You belong on Broadway" comments. It's a nice vocal performance undone by basic fluffiness of the song. In a silly red pleather jacket and matching shoes, Clay seems to be having fun and mocking his inability to dance.
Here's a simple question: If you're in the final four of a competition like this, do you waste a performance on such a trifle, showing that you can make light of your liabilities, or do you choose a more serious song that displays your strengths? Clay would have been better served with the latter. His version of "Grease" is good, but it's a baked potato and rubber chicken away from dinner theater and based on his macabre interpretation of hip thrusts, the poultry had better be juicy. Clay's lucky his first performance was so impressive.
The first three judges seem pleased, though. "I'm just sitting here laughing," Randy-bot says in a way that makes it sound like praise. Paula says Clay shook his thang, which seems odd. Clay has no "thang." Simon, also sitting there laughing, has only one word, "Horrible." The boos are deafening. Simon even draws a disapproving grimace and televised thumbs-down from a certain purple-haired Zap2it.com staffer sitting directly behind him.
Kimberley Locke again falls victim to the evil disembodied back-up singers, covering "Emotions." She picks up far quicker this time and shows off the most dynamic range of anybody remaining in the competition, adding some nice falsetto grace notes. The first three judges are all praise, but Simon is again on the fence, saying it wasn't her best night.
The show closes with Ruben whose "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" is the performance of the night. This is a man whose voice you can just be happy listening to, whose voice you can imagine pouring from a radio. The best part of song is watching Robin Gibb in the front row, eyes closed, mouthing the lyrics. Randy-bot calls Ruben "dawg" and says he did his thang. Robin calls it the best version he'd heard anybody do of their song. Paula says Ruben makes everybody feel warm and fuzzy. Simon says both songs were sensational. Ruben stumbled last week and probably made the bottom two as a result, but this week he stepped back up.
Josh ought to be a given for the bottom two this time around. This was perhaps his best week yet, but it's just his time (or past his time). Clay's super first effort will probably be enough to erase his Grease-y misstep, dropping Kimberley to the bottom two.
If anybody besides Josh is voted off this week, it will be an upset, but as they're fond of pointing out, on "American Idol," anything can happen.
Oct 6 04 7:18 PM
Bee Gees night [American Idol] - Augie De Blieck Jr. - [email protected]
We're down to four Idol wannabes now, and with each note sung and each vote cast, you can see the lineup of people ready to declare conspiracies are afoot and spout long-winded theories as to why so-and-so deserves to win, why such-and-such deserves not to, and how much you-know-who was already declared the winner weeks ago. So let's get started then.
Last night was BeeGees night. It taught me one remarkable thing: The name of the band is a shortening of "Brothers Gibb." I'm 27 and, before last night, I never knew that.
Once again, I thought Clay did the best of all the contestants. His first song was strong and powerful. The second song, "Grease," showed us not just a different aspect of his voice (that he can go Frankie Valle high on us), but also a great sense of humor, performing in bright red sneakers and swiveling his hips like a self-conscious Elvis impersonator. You just know he was looking at Paul Abdul throughout the whole song. It was funny, but only because he could pull off the song, as well. If he didn't sing as well as he did, it would have been a horrible misjudgment of epic proportions.
Kimberley Locke, surprisingly, didn't have a good night. She needs to stop singing songs that start off low and breathy only to climb high and powerful later. She's had far too many songs now that she sounded awful to start with, only to save herself in the end. I would suggest she go for something straight and powerful next week. I imagine it'll be contestant's choice next week. Let's hope she picks something up tempo. It might be time to pull out another Diane Warren song.
Josh was OK last night, but he had a low note problem. The first song he sang didn't go low enough. It sounded like he just petered out, when he was supposed to be reaching low for the note. He did OK, otherwise, but he couldn't compare to Clay. Running through the audience during the song strikes me as a last gasp effort to win fans.
Ruben was Ruben, and that's what threatens him. He's not spectacular. He's got a great voice and does a great job every week, but he never overwhelms me and never wows me. I think the last time he did was when he sang the song from ALADDIN many weeks ago.
All that said, Ruben is safe this week. His fans won't let him go through a repeat of last week. I think Clay is safe, as well, because his fans are maniacs. You should see the voting campaigns they have organized.
So the bottom two this week is Josh and Kimberley, and I'm hoping like hell that Josh's number comes up. I know better than to predict it, though. I'd love to see a Clay/Kimberley finale. Gossip has it that the two of them are considering sharing an apartment in L.A. when all is said and done. Having them in the finals would be icing on the cake.
Oct 6 04 7:20 PM
Quote:In the key of Bee Gee
The final four took another step on Tuesday's American Idol.
USA TODAY's Ken Barnes: After Bee Gees night, I felt everything I wrote in Tuesday's paper was off base. Kimberley Locke sounded bland, Ruben Studdard was ill-suited for Nights on Broadway (though much better on How Can You Mend a Broken Heart) and Clay Aiken was the best, especially on a stirring To Love Somebody but also on the Simon-maligned Grease. One constant: Joshua Gracin's mangling of Jive Talkin' was the evening's low point.
Among respondents on USA TODAY.com, Ruben garnered 74% of more than 190,000 votes cast.
Oct 6 04 7:24 PM
Quote:Attack of the Killer Males
by Gil Sery -- 05/07/2003
Whoever said women could do anything men could do obviously never heard Kimberley Locke sing tonight. In a night where the men far outclassed the woman, Kimberley may be singing a different tune come Wednesday night, but let's look at each one in turn.
Joshua "The Marine" Gracin: Josh's first performance was at least better than last week, however that's not saying much. He did OK, but I wasn't blown away by the song choice or the performance.
He did much better, though, with his second song, "To Love Somebody." His performance, rendition, and song choice were all better the second time around, although his facial expressions still made him look like he was constipated. Perhaps it's time to ask for Josh to ask Clay for some tips on how to keep away from those awful facial expressions.
Prediction: He redeemed himself somewhat this week, but still can't compare to Ruben or Clay. He'll most likely be in the Bottom Two this week.
Clay "Broadway-bound" Aiken: Clay's rendition of "To Love Somebody" was excellent. However, it's hard to tell whose rendition was better, his or Josh's, because they were both so different.
Not content with one excellent song, Clay raised the bar and blew me away with his second song, a rousing rendition of "Grease," complete with leather jacket (now if only he had left his collar upï¿½). Regardless of how "horrible" Simon thought it was, I thought it was outstanding.
I agree with Simon over 90% of the time, but this time Simon was so far off, he was in a different zip code!
Prediction: The only contestant who is totally safe this week.
Kimberley "Too Little, Too Late" Locke: After two weeks of stellar performances, Kimberley gave two performances that can only be described as mediocre at best. Her first performance was a bad song choice and didn't even hold my interest.
The second time around, she chose a better song and did somewhat better, but her performance of "Emotion" was nowhere near the caliber of the rousing performances of the previous two weeks.
Prediction: Kim definitely didn't have one of her better nights. I think she'll be in the Bottom Two.
Ruben "The Velvet Teddy Bear" Studdard: Ruben is starting to concern me. Even if you overlook the fact that he sounds very much the same week after week, this is the second consecutive week where his first song tanked and his second song soared. What does this mean for anyone who goes to a Ruben concert? Will the first few songs of the concert always tank until Ruben is warmed up and once again in top form?
I never thought I'd say this, but I think Josh's first performance was better than Ruben's tonight, despite what any of the judges thought. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this was his worst performance since his warbling of *Nsync and Gloria Estefan's "Music of My Heart."
His second song was a thousand times better than his first one. As Randy would say, "You did your thing, dawg." Nevertheless, I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the Bottom Two tomorrow, although I would be surprised if he were eliminated.
Prediction: This is a tough one to call, as it can go either way. Ruben has a massive fan base that can't see any of his imperfections, and there are at least one or two. His fans will probably save him from the Bottom Two after last week's fiasco, but anything can happen.
Final Predictions: Josh and Kim will end up in the Bottom Two with Kim Locke losing out. Josh will be eliminated the following week, but still go on to a career as a country artist. This would leave Ruben and Clay to duke it out for top honors.
Oct 6 04 7:26 PM
Quote:Fox flays rumors of 'Idol' fix
Aiken says he's confident viewer voting is handled fairly
As fans of the hit Fox TV show "American Idol" await tonight's voting results to find out whether North Carolinian Clay Aiken advances another round, Fox officials are encouraging viewers to put their conspiracy theories to rest.
Despite what many are saying on Internet message boards, the show's voting isn't rigged to increase its drama, Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said this week.
Questions arose last week with the surprisingly bad showing of Ruben Studdard, who was named the second-lowest vote-getter among five finalists. (After each Tuesday's broadcast, viewers have two hours to phone in votes for their favorite singers, and the lowest vote-getters are announced each Wednesday night.)
The show falls under game show rules spelled out in the U.S. Code and the Code of Federal Regulations, which require the voting results to be presented unaltered, Grogin said. The regulations say in part that licensed broadcasters who run contests shall "accurately disclose the material terms of the contest ... (and) shall conduct the contest substantially as announced or advertised."
In other words: The contestants named as the bottom two (or three) vote-getters are really the bottom vote-getters, he said.
If there is ever a dispute about voting results, the show's producers have the final say, Grogin noted, adding: "There has been no reason at this point for there to ever be a voting issue where the producers have had to get involved."
In an interview in Tuesday's USA Today, the show's co-executive producer Nigel Lythgoe said the votes are tabulated and audited by outside firms. "If we were ever caught doing anything like (manipulating the totals), we'd lose the entire franchise around the world. It isn't worth it."
Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, said it's unlikely that producers would take a chance on sparking a scandal by manipulating the lucrative show.
Thompson also noted that the show was consistently landing top-five ratings each week even when its results were following a predictable track. "I don't know what would have motivated anyone to `fix' it," he said.
Aiken, in an interview last week in Los Angeles, said he has no doubts about the voting results. "I'm assured of the fact that it's honest," he said. Aiken, 24, is a Raleigh native who put off his final semester at UNC Charlotte to pursue a record contract on the show.
So what explains last week's results? With Studdard and single-named singer Trenyce (who was booted) in the bottom two, that left Aiken, Tennessee's Kimberley Locke and U.S. Marine Joshua Gracin as the top three singers. After Gracin received severe criticism from judges, many viewers had assumed he was headed to the bottom two.
Some viewers suggested that Studdard's downfall may be explained by race -- could a majority-white viewer base simply be voting more often for white singers? (Aiken and Gracin are white; Studdard and Trenyce are African American; Locke is biracial.)
Thompson rejected that theory, noting that when viewer voting winnowed the contestants to a final 12, the group was well integrated by race, gender and body type. Plus, several white contestants have already been voted out handily.
Thompson also noted that many of the nation's biggest singing stars -- from Prince and Michael Jackson to current favorites Nelly and 50 Cent -- are black.
"It's hard to make too much of the race thing unless you theorize that it doesn't kick in until the end (of the competition)," he said.
Thompson favors a simpler explanation: Fans of Studdard's smooth singing assumed he was headed for victory and focused their voting efforts on other singers.
"This is a culture that has always liked underdogs," he said. "There's a little less affection for a person who seems to have everything fall into his lap than for somebody who seems to be struggling."
Oct 6 04 7:30 PM
MAY 7, 2003
American Idol is talon time more than Talentime and gives couch potatoes the chance to root for someone
By Tay Yek Keak
I HEARD it through the grapevine. American Idol 2 was some sort of glorified karaoke contest which I did not follow until some friends asked me who I thought would win.
People were arguing whether it would be Ruben, Clay, Joshua or Kimberley (see sidebar).
The show, a hugely successful talentime contest that grips millions of viewers in the United States, has, after 14 episodes, narrowed its popstar wannabes to just four with three more episodes to go.
I expected it to be cheesier than a French bakery and I was right.
It is as cheesy as a slugfest can be with big, strong voices belting out pop standards, ballads and schmaltzy bathroom-friendly songs.
The show searches for a performer, not a genius. So, nobody commits suicide by doing hip-hop, rap, heavy metal, new age chants, or goes weird by waving her arms as the next Stevie Nicks.
But, boy, is it entertaining.
Because of its pizzazz, because of its bigness, because of its tackiness, I thought it had been born in the USA until somebody told me that it is cloned from a Brit prototype called Pop Idol.
American Idol 2 is so popular that it is in the top five of the US ratings almost weekly.
In Singapore, its viewership has gained an average of 266,000 for viewers aged four and above. It peaked at 316,000 viewers last week.
The first instalment of American Idol was crowned the highest rated TV programme in the US last year, with 22.8 million viewers tuning in for the finals in September.
In this second season, it makes competitors weep more by splitting the shows into two parts on consecutive nights - Tuesday for the song segment and Wednesday for the results portion.
Here in Singapore, the two parts are combined into one show, which is shown a few hours behind the Wednesday episode in the US.
And, man, can those people sing. If they were taking part in a Singapore Talentime, they would be judging, not competing.
FAT MAN, STICK MAN
YOU get goosebumps, I tell you, listening to fat man Ruben Studdard, stick man Clay Aiken, and songbird Kimberley Locke, who handled Billy Joel's New York State Of Mind like a pro.
Now, to understand this pop phenomenon, you have to understand the American state of mind. It is a mentality that celebrates celebrity so much, it is surpassed only by one thing - the opportunity to create one.
If you give Americans a target, chances are they would either shoot it or root for it.
In American Idol 2, the ultimate star-making process of putting somebody out there to root for hits a perfect note.
Viewers vote by phone to push their favourites through every week until only one is left holding a million-dollar recording contract.
This thus confers absolute power in the talent quest to potatoes at home talented mostly in yodelling under their showers.
That number, as revealed in one episode by the show's host, Ryan Seacrest, adds up to about 18 million people.
The fundamental flaw in this awesome display of democracy is, of course, the wrong person could get elected.
Everyone, from the judges to the audience to even a tone-deaf guy like me, was stunned, I am sure, to see what happened in last week's episode.
The singing Marine Joshua Gracin - a contestant best described as a 'nice-looking guy, singing in tune, so what?' - is still in the running when better ones have gone missing in action.
THERE can be only one reason for this: The American patriot beats the American partridge.
Now, with this anomaly, one basic ingredient of entertainment - controversy - is satisfied in this show.
American Idol 2, if you notice, is a series that has it all. It has drama, disputes, humour, humiliation, Oprah-style openness, and most significantly, an opera-class bad guy.
One finalist, Corey Clark, was dropped from the show after it was revealed that he faces trial on charges that he assaulted his sister.
In the US, every nook, every cranny, every person from a granny to a referee, can be milked for all their 15 minutes of fame. Better still, infamy.
So, the show's three judges do not just assess the entertainers; they are also the entertainers.
The fat one, Randy Jackson, a record producer, is described as a guy who has 'produced eight No. 1's'.
Pop star Paula Abdul is introduced as someone who has 'released six No 1's'.
And the man whom everybody loves to hate but longs to hear, caustic Brit record exec Simon Cowell, the ugly coyote feared by the Coyote Ugly aspirants, is a chap who 'just thinks he's No. 1'.
His talon time, in this talentime, of brutally frank but perversely funny comments is a crucial element in shows about real people today.
Viewers, I bet you, tune in just for his jibes. I do.
When Cowell says, 'If I were your mother, I'd tell you to shut up', he is fulfilling a key component of reality shows - the art of the insult to get the result.
Cruelty is a big draw these days and his acerbic I-say-it-as-I-hear-it remarks provide the topic at the water cooler the next day.
From Survivor to The Amazing Race to The Bachelor, viewers expect the confrontation as an exertion of the harsh truth. In other words, it is not real until it gets real mean.
To a point, of course. The venom spouted in American Idol 2 does not last.
It is dissipated within seconds by a great voice, a good song, a nice smile, and a happy assertion of fun as a family event.
Last year's winner Kelly Clarkson, for instance, shot to stardom precisely because she has everyone's support. Her first single, A Moment Like This, taken off her debut album Thankful, set records by jumping from No. 52 to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
There is even a new American Idol movie called From Justin To Kelly, which co-stars Clarkson and the first runner-up Justin Guarini.
To be released on June 13 in the US, it features the two who play themselves and who fall in love in a romantic comedy that mixes real-life adventures with scripted hijinks.
Clearly, the American Idol phenomenon is made for the young but from the way it seeks out the little old women among its studio audience, it engages grandma too.
There is something to be said about a show choreographed to such an overwhelmingly popular extent.
What it comes down to is this: It is basically about one uncontested mainstay of showbiz - Everybody loves a song contest.
American Idol 2 airs on Thursdays on Channel 5 at 8 pm.
Guess winner through SMS
FROM 40 to four. American Idol 2 gives the American audience the power to vote for their favourite contestant.
They do so through phone, selecting two finalists out of the eight performing each week. Four wildcards are chosen from those who failed to make the cut, making the total number of finalists 12.
Audiences then get to vote one out each week until the American idol is crowned.
It may be a contest to choose an American idol, but audiences in Singapore also want to have their say as to who deserves to be the winner.
Especially since they may get to win a trip to Los Angeles for the grand finals if they correctly guess who gets the boot in each week's episode.
Little wonder that the number of SMS messages, which are in the thousands per episode, has gone up by nearly four times since the start of the SMS contest from April 10, according to a MediaCorp spokesman.
Ratings for the talent search programme have peaked with last week's two-hour special, with about 8.2 per cent or 316,000 viewers aged four and above tuned in.
The Channel 5 website also has an online forum on the show, information on the contestants and judges, as well as synopsis of weekly episodes.
Though viewers cannot vote for who wins, they send SMS messages to support their favourite contestants - via the programme's live SMS bulletin board.
Going by the messages, Clay and Ruben are the most popular.
But the live SMS bulletin board gets mixed comments. For civil servant Angeline Kwek, 23, it is a great source of entertainment.
'I found it simply hilarious, though it may not serve the purpose of encouraging participants they like. Some SMS messages are quite entertaining,' she said.
Others found the SMS messages irrelevant, irritating and downright rude sometimes.
Sub-editor M. Michael, 32, said: 'I hate the SMSes. They are nonsensical. The comments are all based on looks.'
It was earlier reported that some viewers had complained about obscene words appearing on the SMS messages.
MediaCorp responded then that it had an official censor on hand to moderate the whole SMS exchange and thus, the language approved for broadcast met its censorship standards. -- Ho Ai Li
Oct 6 04 7:31 PM
Quote:'Idol' Finalist Clay Aiken Proves He Is A Winner
Aiken Spends Morning AT WRAL; Wows Sell-Out Crowd AT DBAP
POSTED: 4:12 p.m. EDT May 7, 2003
UPDATED: 8:47 a.m. EDT May 14, 2003
RALEIGH, N.C. -- What is is like to be 'idolized' by people across the country? What is Simon really like? Who does his hair? Just a few of the many questions Clay Aiken answered Friday morning during his appearance on WRAL's Morning News on Fox 50.
Aiken, 24, of Raleigh, is one of three finalists on the hit FOX show, "American Idol." During his whirlwind visit home Thursday and Friday, he was the toast of the Triangle.
Aiken shared his 'Idol' experience with WRAL-TV viewers and WRAL-FM Mix 101.5 listeners Friday morning. He said his helicopter ride aboard WRAL's Sky 5 and singing the national anthem before a sell-out crowd at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park Thursday evening are among the highlights.
Aiken said he takes 'Idol' judge Simon Cowell's comments in stride and that hair and wardrobe stylists have helped create his "updated" look.
Aiken said he is in awe of the superstars who have jugded him throughout the competition -- including Diane Warren, Lionel Ritchie and Neil Sedaka. Sedaka even took the contestants out to dinner and presented them with autographed copies of the lyrics to "Solitare" -- a Sedaka song Aiken performed in the contest.
Aiken said the attention he has received from the show has been overwhelming. Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker has even proclaimed May 16 as "Clay Aiken Day." He said he remains grounded thanks to his family and friends.
"My mom is just awesome," Aiken said.
Meteorologist Mike Maze gave Clay the chance to take over the weather forecast.
WRAL's starstruck morning news team -- Bill Leslie, Laurie Clowers, Mike Maze and Mark Roberts -- were armed with questions and received autographed photos. Aiken got a shot at presenting the weekend weather forecast.
Aiken's popularity is evident in his hometown, but "Claymates" from across the country -- even Canada -- have been e-mailing WRAL.com, happy to be able to watch video clips of the hometown hoopla. Many are offering Aiken their support in WRAL.com's Fan Forum.
Aiken's busy visit started Thursday morning, when pop culture met politics. Aiken was greeted by spectators and "official fan" Gov. Mike Easley at the State Capitol building in Raleigh. Aiken treated spectators in the rotunda to an inpromptu rendition of "On The Wings of Love."
"Every week I think I'm going home," Aiken said. "It's a mathematical thing that somebody has to be the lowest, and so every week I think 'It's going to be the week.' I'm blessed to be around as long as I've been," he said.
Aiken also stopped by the YMCA in North Raleigh, where he worked as a counselor until he left for Hollywood three months ago.
Aiken arrived at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park Thursday in style aboard WRAL's Sky 5 helicopter.
Then Aiken headed to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park -- aboard WRAL's Sky 5 -- where he threw out the first pitch and sang the national anthem before the Bulls' game against the Rochester Red Wings.
An American Idol camera crew has also recorded Aiken's trip home for a story that will air later in the competition.
Aiken took another step closer to becoming the next American Idol Wednesday night when America voted and sent home Joshua Gracin, the singing Marine. That left Aiken, Ruben Studdard and Kimberly Locke as the final three contestants.
Reviews were mixed of Aiken's performances Tuesday night, when the four remaining contestants each sang two songs by the Bee Gees.
Aiken's first selection -- "To Love Somebody" -- got a solid response from all the judges, with Simon Cowell saying it was the best in the history of the show. When it came to Aiken's rendition of "Grease," Simon called the performance "horrible."
Aiken headed back to Los Angeles Friday afternoon, with stops to pick up fellow finalists Studdard and Locke, who also visited their hometowns, along the way.
The winner will be announced May 21.
Oct 6 04 7:35 PM
Quote:Clay Aiken's former chorus teacher proud of her student
5/8/2003 8:24 AM
By: Cle Pickett & Web Staff
He's a Raleigh native and he could become the next American Idol. Once again, Clay Aiken advanced to the final three on Wednesday night on Fox's American Idol.
Now, he has to prove himself to America, but 10 years ago, Aiken had to prove himself to former chorus teacher Elsie Norton.
"Clay was very dedicated," said Norton. "He was always there when I needed him."
Norton was Aiken's chorus teacher at Leesville Middle School and even back then, she says the Triangle native had a voice that stood out from the rest.
"If anyone was going to audition for a solo, if he was auditioning, they usually probably didn't audition because they knew he'd probably get the part," she continued.
That's why Norton says she's not surprised that Aiken beat out dozens of his American Idol competitors to secure a place in the show's final rounds.
"I see him getting a lot of offers...maybe record labels,ï¿½ Norton said.
She's not the only one who feels that way. According to Norton, Aiken is also a favorite of American Idol judge Paula Abdul.
"I just said, 'you know Clay Aiken?' and she just grabbed me and said he is so good and for someone like her to say that with that kind of honesty I knew he had a chance of moving up."
But if that inside track doesn't pay off for the singer in the end, Norton says her former student will be a winner in her book. He'll also be a winner to those who hope to follow in his footstep on that path to fame.
Aiken's success has students all over Wake County wishing for their chance in the spotlight and to be taught by the teacher who taught the singer who could become the next American Idol.
"When I found out I was going to Southeast [Raleigh High School], I was like "oh my God, I'm going to be taught by the same teacher as Clay Aiken was so I'm really thrilled that I could be a student of Ms. Norton," said Ashleigh Hocutt.
For now, Clay Aiken fans say they'll continue to do their part to make sure that their hometown idol becomes the next American Idol.
"I watch it and I vote as many times as i can," said Norton.
Norton is currently the director of choral music at Southeast Raleigh High School. She has kept in touch with Aiken and sang with him at a wedding a few years ago.
Oct 6 04 7:36 PM
Quote:American Idol contestant comes home to Raleigh
TOM FOREMAN Jr.
RALEIGH, N.C. - Even North Carolina's governor thinks "American Idol" contestant Clay Aiken needs to shake his booty a little bit more.
During a one-hour appearance Thursday at the state Capitol, Gov. Mike Easley met Aiken, a finalist on the Fox television talent show and gave the singer a North Carolina lapel pin for good luck.
"You can either wear that or put it in your pocket," Easley said. "I don't want any more excuses about why you're not moving around enough when you sing."
A lack of dance moves has been one criticism of Aiken's performances. In his latest performance Tuesday, he added a little hip wiggle as he sang "Grease."
"I guess the governor missed Tuesday night," the Raleigh native said. "I think I moved enough ... for the rest of the season. So, I'm going to calm down a little bit. I might break something, I think."
Aiken arrived in Raleigh less than a day after he learned he was one of three contestants remaining on the show. The winner among Aiken, Ruben Studdard and Kimberly Locke will be announced May 21.
Aiken, 24, reached the Capitol at 10:15 a.m., emerging from a bright yellow mini-SUV with his trademark spiked hair, untucked shirt, jeans and blue and white shoes. He entered through the north doors of the capital and briefly posed for photographers before disappearing into an office.
A short distance away, the fifth-grade class from Center Grove Christian Academy in Clemmons sat in the shadow of a marble statue of George Washington beneath the capital rotunda, listening to a tour guide recite the building's history.
"I told my mom 'I don't want to go to Raleigh to the capitol building,'" said 10-year-old Lauren McCleary. "She said 'Don't worry, you'll have a good time.'"
Did she ever.
Aiken came out of the office and waved to the class, then walked up and shook hands. Lauren was one of the first hands he got to, and all she could do was shiver with excitement and grin from ear-to-ear, breathless and unable to speak.
Was she happy she made the trip after all?
Easley then took Aiken back to the rotunda, where he sang "On The Wings of Love" a capella to building employees, the Christian school children who peered down from a second floor balcony and pages who came over to the capitol from the Legislative Building.
"Is there any doubt who the winner is?" the governor asked when Aiken finished.
Aiken also told Easley that, like another North Carolina singer, he wants a bridge named after him. The state recently honored James Taylor, who grew up in Chapel Hill, by naming a bridge in Orange County after him.
"When you win it all, we'll get you a bridge," Easley said. "It may be a small one with this budget, but we'll get you a bridge."
The governor said he's started learning the guitar, but he's not ready for prime time. Aiken said the next time he was home, he wanted the governor to play for him, "at my bridge ceremony."
Aiken had just one more public appearance Thursday. He was scheduled to sing the national anthem at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and throw out the first pitch before the team's game with the Rochester Red Wings.[
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