Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Joyful Noise'

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Joyful Noise'

Article excerpt

Clay Aiken brings the holidays through song

If you think the Christmas blitz comes earlier every year -- heck, Target launched its first holiday ad before Halloween -- that's nothing to Clay Aiken.

He gets into the spirit in September.

There's a reason for that: He has been preparing for another Christmas-themed tour, "Joyful Noise," which opens Friday in West Palm Beach and crosses the state to Sarasota's Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall the next day.

"My neighbors must think I'm crazy," he says over the phone. "I blast Christmas music really loud, I'm dancing around the house and singing all these songs. But it's just me getting ready for this tour.

"At least this tour starts after Thanksgiving," he says with a laugh.

The 33-year-old singer, who was the runner-up in the second season of "American Idol," says he hasn't done a Christmas tour since 2007, so he had to refamiliarize himself with the standards.

"Christmas can be tough," he says, "because the songs don't change that much over the years. Everyone's heard them before. Many of the ones I've chosen come from my Christmas album (2004's million- selling 'Merry Christmas With Love').

"But this time around, I decided to change it up and go back to the basics. This show will be a lot more simple, no more dancers, with an orchestra."

Instead of bringing an orchestra with him from town to town, he uses local musicians at each tour stop. For Sarasota, he'll have a 20-piece orchestra behind him.

"It's a huge undertaking," Aiken says. "For me, I stress out over all the details before we go on the road. The orchestras usually learn the show in one afternoon. Little things can go wrong, but I don't notice them because that's how good they are. These musicians are true professionals and they're always prepared.

"By the time the first day comes around, I'm not worried anymore, but everyone else around me is stressed out. Funny how that works."

Aiken's parents divorced when he was just a year old, so Christmas was a two-day event in his native Raleigh, N.C.

"We would go to my father's house on Christmas Eve," he says, "and then my mother's on Christmas. So it was two days of presents - - that part was cool."

Now that he's a father -- his son, Parker, is now 4 -- the holiday is even more of family affair. But Parker won't be joining him on this tour.

"Can you imagine a 4-year-old being cooped up on a tour bus?" he says, laughing. "It might be cool for him for about a week, but then he would get bored -- and how do you entertain a 4-year-old going from town to town?"

Since finishing second behind Ruben Studdard on "American Idol" in 2003, Aiken has had a satisfying career. His debut album, "Measure of a Man," sold more than 2 million copies, and "Merry Christmas With Love" was the biggest-selling holiday album of 2004.

He doesn't garner the huge album sales of "Idol" winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, but he has a large, devoted following -- they're called "Claymates. …

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