Clay Aiken’s sophomore CD, A Thousand Different Ways debuted last week and it’s already hit the number two spot on the top forties charts. That’s probably due to the fact that Aiken fans bought it on pre-sale through Amazon without even hearing it. It’s been a couple of years since Measure of a Man hit record stores, and the Aiken fan phenomenon hasn’t changed.
More than 125 fans gathered at the Burbank Hilton Hotel and Convention Center to listen to Clay’s new music, eat some food, “dish” about their idol, raise money for his Bubel/Aiken Foundation, and engage with some very special guests. Also, there were three hundred ATDW CD’s that had been pre-sold and then handed out that night.
Fred Bronson of Billboard Magazine was there to exchange and inform. He has become the icon of music industry statistics and predictions for Los Angeles area Aiken fans since Clay’s first CD release. Fred’s friendship with Clay and his experience in the business make him a desirable person to have around at an event of this sort, and the party guests were delighted with his presence once again.
Mr. Bronson did Q&A with the fans about industry standards and expectations for Clay’s new CD. He also gave some sound advice about how to handle requests with radio stations for ATDW.
Fred himself always has a million different irons in the fire—books he’s writing, others he’s updating. His latest entitled, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand is in bookstores now. Fred will be writing for the upcoming American Music Awards as well as Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve show. One interesting new endeavor he mentioned was the writing he’s been doing for American Idol Magazine. And with regards to that publication, Bronson conducted a short informal survey that was related to his current research that involved Clay. Here’s what he said:
I’m writing a lot more now for the American Idol Magazine. I started off writing one or two things and then they gave me a whole bunch of assignments. For the next issue there will be a story on the top ten performances for the last five years. Sorry, but Clay didn’t make it—no, I’m kidding, of course he did. (Lots of laughter from crowd.) I won’t tell you where he ended up, but I will tell you he is in the top ten. You’ll have to go get the magazine to find out how he was ranked.
OK, Brian (Bronson’s assistant, who was there that night) would like to do this, so we’ll do it. I’m going to give you two songs that Clay performed on the show. Your vote is not binding, because we’ve already figured out the top ten. I’ll mention two songs. Please raise your hand for one or the other as to which you think was his best performance.
Bronson went on to take a poll on what the fans thought was the best of two AI Aiken performances—Bridge Over Troubled Water and Solitaire.
Interestingly, there was a bigger reaction for “Bridge” than there was for “Solitaire.” Who knows what Fred had up his sleeve with this off-the-cuff survey, but he had a sampling of the fan base right there and it was obvious he wanted to take this opportunity to survey them, so we’ll see what he comes up with. It was a fun little sidebar for everyone to play with that night.
Another highlight of the evening was Suzie McNeil, the last young lady to remain standing on INXS-Rock Star last year. Suzie’s duet with Clay on A Thousand Different Ways entitled “I Want to Know What Love Is” is edgy and memorable. Producers knew what they were doing when they got the two of them together to record this. The blending of their voices is not to be missed. You’ve got to hear it to believe it, because as love song duets go, it doesn’t get any better than this.
I think all the Claymates were sold on the song, but they may have been just a little hesitant at the thought of actually meeting Suzie McNeil from the Rock Star show. What would that be like?
I had the pleasure of being the first that night to meet Ms. McNeil as she found her way to the Hilton entrance and I escorted her and her friend into the party.
As it happened, the “rocker” stereotype was quickly forgotten because in the few minutes after she began to speak Suzie was embraced by the crowd. She came across as a sweet, soulful but playful young woman. Endearing, open and extremely conversational, McNeil wowed all the fans with her personal accolades for Aiken’s talent and character, little tidbits of info about her experience recording a song with him, and some details about the way her own career was going. Everyone listened and became enamored.
Here’s a bit of what she had to say that night to the fans:
There’s just a couple of things I wanted to say and the one resounding thing is that I relate to Clay as an artist and as a musician. He is so lucky to have all your support and love. I mean-- to do this--I walked in and I was like—all this is amazing! So, I just wanted to say that it looks really special to me, and I’m honored to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
My time with Clay was short and sweet. The gentleman who produced my album produced that track—“I Want To Know What Love Is”. He called me one day late at night and he said, “I want you to do this thing—you guys were both on TV—c’mon it’ll be great!!”
But in the end it just depends on how it sounds, and if it resonates, and if everyone likes it. . .(crowd applauding and yelling.)
One thing I wanted to remark on though that was special about Clay was the fact that these days in music—I don’t know if I’m supposed to be saying this—but there’s quite a bit of “treatment” that goes on, especially with a vocalist. I’m sure you know about “auto-tuning”, everyone knows about it—and it happens. It’s the industry standard right now. So that specific producer—he uses it—but he’ll only tune things that need it. Like I said, it is the industry standard.
I was sitting there when he was “tuning” Clay’s voice, and he didn’t even look at me, he just said, “Whoa, this guy (and this producer has worked with Paul McCArtney, Mick Jagger, Aerosmith, Faith Hill—all these people.)--he said “Clay is perfectly in tune. And I was like, whoa! So, we’ve got one of the best singers, probably in the world, on our hands. (Of course, crowd is going completely crazy at this point.)
That’s it—it’s all I wanted to say. Thank you for having me. Congratulations Clay!
Suzie said what she had come to say, and it looked like she was finished—she didn’t speak about herself at all. But the crowd wouldn’t let her go. Here’s a bit of the Q&A that ensued:
Fan: Suzie, did you and Clay sing in the same studio, or were you in one studio while he was in another?
Suzie: No, it was the same studio, same day. (Another fan yells, “Let me touch you!”—she laughs.) You know I haven’t washed this hand that touched him since then. Yes, same studio—actually it was a house, you know studios these days are a bit different—you can turn a house into a studio—it’s not like the old days. So, yeah, I purposely showed up a bit later, because we didn’t know each other and I’m the last person someone needs going (she opened her eyes wide and resting her chin on her hand, batted her eyelashes)—he did most of his part before I showed up.
Suzie continued to give little tidbits of information and when asked, she gave out some info of her own about her upcoming solo CD. A song from the album has already hit the airwaves up in Canada and is causing quite a stir. She gave me more on this when I interviewed her a few days later for a feature article I’ll be writing on her. Stay tuned and keep an eye out for that.
I believe that Suzie McNeil is destined for superstardom and wouldn’t it make so much sense that a fellow by the name of Clay Aiken was placed in her path to be a lucky charm along her way?
The special guests certainly made the evening sparkle, but there were other reasons why this event was so spectacular. The hard work and dedication that went into the planning of it was apparent, and it was all accomplished by three Southern California ladies who also orchestrated the CD event for Clay’s Christmas album last year. They are: Sue O’Hearn, Shelley Flores, and Denise Trauger. Without these three dedicated women, Aiken fans would be hard pressed to have memorable CD events like the one these people managed on the 19th of September, 2006.
Last, but not least, it’s the fans themselves who also make the gatherings successful and special. Los Angeles fans are terrific—steadfast, positive, fun-loving, tenacious, if perhaps a bit quirky (but then, that’s what L.A. is all about, isn’t it?)—they have formed friendships through their love of Aiken’s music that will last a lifetime.
To top it off, the Los Angeles contingent of Clay fans raised $2,200 that night for The Bubel/Aiken Foundation. Not a bad figure I’d say for a few hours of fun celebrating a new album they’ve been anticipating for a long time.
I made a point of looking into faces when the crowd was leaving. It was getting late and all of them looked a little tired as they drifted out to the parking lot to go home, but there was a look of satisfaction about them as well.
Tucking their copies of A Thousand Different Ways into purses and bags, one couldn’t help but think they’d be popping that CD into their players just one more time that night before their heads hit the pillow. After all, what better way could there be than that to ensure a good night’s sleep with nothing but the sweetest of dreams?