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'Claymates' cheer Aiken show

Clay Aiken: Joyful Noise 2005, 8 p.m. tonight at Ruth Eckerd Hall. $55, $62.50 and $85. (727) 791-7400 or

Published December 30, 2005

CLEARWATER - It was late in the year for a Christmas concert. But for the Claymates - the oddly fanatical followers of engaging young singer Clay Aiken - the timing and the topic couldn't have mattered less. They would probably have hooted, hollered and swooned just as enthusiastically if their idol had sung a list of area codes.

All but the back few rows of Ruth Eckerd Hall were filled Thursday night for Clay Aiken: Joyful Noise 2005, a bizarre combination of a concert and a play.

The crowd was about 95 percent female, but it was chronologically diverse. Preteens, baby boomers and retirees were about equally represented.

Before Aiken took to the stage, many looked lovingly through the souvenir programs they had bought in the lobby. Others compared notes about shows they had seen on Aiken's current national tour, rattling off the cities where they had caught his act.

The Claymates loved every second of the shows. Even the ones who had already seen it laughed uproariously at lame jokes they had heard before, and screamed approval after his pleasant but bland renditions of familiar holiday songs.

For people who weren't already disciples, though, there was nothing in the show or the performance that would spur a conversion.

Aiken came on stage in a white suit only a shade paler than his skin. He wandered around the stage stiffly, singing and smiling, as actors played out a series of vignettes (written at least partly by Aiken) about an aging woman who rediscovers the joys of Christmas. In the second act, the show morphs into a Christmas pageant in the woman's neighborhood.

Aiken's signing is decent; he wields a soothing tenor voice that complements his demeanor.

But there was almost no emotional dynamic in his singing. Almost every song was delivered with the same amiable interpretation. His limitations were pointed up during a few powerful solos by his excellent backing singers. The nonmusical segments of the evening were witlessly written and amateurishly staged, reminiscent of the production numbers on the Lawrence Welk Show, with silly concepts, inane dialogue and sappy choreography.

Aiken fans went wild, screaming approval of every scene and song and ignoring Aiken's preshow plea to refrain from flash photography.

They gave a similarly enthusiastic reception to the opening act, pianist Michael Joseph, whose 20-minute set featured some fiery technique but lacked any real musical personality. The high point was a ferocious piece called Asturias from his debut CD. The low point was a horrid version of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir.

[Last modified December 30, 2005, 00:56:10]

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