By John Petric
If you haven’t suspected it by now, this ought to confirm it. Yours truly is over the hill.
I liked Clay Aiken.
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Maybe it was the sultry evening....
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Whatever it was, I loved it.
So yes, Clay Aiken. He’s a piece of work isn’t he? A cross between John Edwards and Paul McCartney, he mines the emotional veins dug by Streisand, Manilow and Celine, yet without the severe schmaltz or extreme hysteria of those three.
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And yet, let me tell you …..he can sing like a son of a gun. When he isn’t sounding like God’s most precious choirboy, he approaches Luther Vandrossian levels of soul pop.
So the first half of the first half was just that. Even the songs that weren’t about self-affirmation sounded like they were. And then everything suddenly coalesced a few tunes later for what would turn out to be the master stroke. “These Open Arms.”
“What if everything you ever took for granted was gone?” … “And everything you thought was right was wrong?”
Those very questions might be on Michael Vick’s mind right now. But our boy Clay was singing from the fist-sized organ in his chest. He’s no dummy. In fact, I figure him to be quite shrewd. The placing and pacing of “Arms” woke me up and won me over.
Aiken sang those soul-numbing lyrics with every ounce of focused emotional force he could conjure. Every hurt, every slight, every deep yearning to be loved when he wasn’t came out in that song. And let me tell you, we’re talking utterly convincing. I would’ve dabbed his eyes myself if he’d been teary.
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With violins and cellos and violas caressing the melody, Aiken had the force of Oprah’s entire universe behind him. It was pure pop beauty, and I was awestruck by the moment.
Having achieved that level, Aiken returned to it frequently in the second half, but not before he had some fun with golden oldies and whatnot. He had a fine sense of humor, often self-deprecating and a little bit wicked, like when he mentioned the “Chemical Contaminated” grass.
His goofy, well-executed medley (with awesome symphonic accompaniment – mustn’t forget that) included dead-on snippets of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince and even “Achy Breaky Heart.”
After “These Open Arms” my favorite song was “Without You” a not-so-minor pop masterpiece. Aiken didn’t quite nail it as perfectly as Harry Nilsson, who was nowhere near the technically accomplished singer Aiken is. But he nailed it nonetheless, in his own patented I-die-for-your-sins-every-night way of performing.
And I found myself trying to figure out how I was going to tell the world I didn’t hate the guy—that, indeed, I was somewhat touched by him.