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"I'm Clay Aiken, and this is my Christmas special. As you can see, it's going to be a little bit different. While you sit back and enjoy the songs, we're going to show you how we made a show like this. It's going to be different and I hope you enjoy it. It's my special gift to you."
DVD ReviewI'll admit it, when American Idol's second season aired, I was rooting for Clay. Hey, I had to root for someone, and I just didn't think Reuben's heart could take the strain of winning. Or walking up the steps to the stage. So anyway, Clay lost, but millions of deranged teenage girls for whom Paul Anka is just too suave and cool made Clay the real breakout star. I, meanwhile, had no further use for him, nor his debut album (by the way, to the person who penned his lyric "If I was invisible/I could just watch you in your room..." Yeah, that's a little creepy, even for the guy on the cover of Non-threatening Boys Magazine), but now, those still "Aiken for Clay" (oh, you clever teenagers with your glitter-laden poster board signs) can relive the holiday magic with the smooth, syrupy vocals of the nation's favorite Broadway belter. Truly a white Christmas, if you know what I mean.
All the Clay standards are in effect throughout this nine-song special—the fluttering eyelids, the endless crooning, the overstated phrasing... These are all songs you've heard a million times, and Clay, though he sounds as clear and pleasant as ever, does nothing to make them interesting (I even found myself missing the overblown productions that characterized his late stage Idol appearances, like the one that made Bridge Over Troubled Water into a bombastic power ballad). Clay is constantly surrounded by bored-looking children and a polite group of parents who clap dutifully after each song, or when Clay stops singing to introduce a special guest, be it Barry "The Original Clay" Manilow or gospel singer Yolanda Adams, who, surprisingly, is not Caucasian (the mind boggles!), though I do seem to remember huge backing gospel choirs for some of Clay's more operatic Idol performances, so there's your precedent.
Throughout, the production values hover around the level of a PBS telethon. Clay says the special will be intercut with behind-the-scenes clips and production chatter as his "special gift" to viewers, but I think it's just an excuse to hide the shoddy staging and low budget. The "house" Clay is singing in looks about as good as the sets from my high school production of The Sound of Music (though the lighting isn't as good), and in every other shot you can see one of the other cameras or a monitor floating by distractingly in the background. The pacing is slow as molasses, and the soft lighting and languid vocals will slow your heart rate even further.
I've have to admit, I don't see what's so appealing about Clay outside of the reality show arena. He's got a great voice, but the kind of music and phrasing he seems to prefer is just a little too... unflavored for me. The guy makes Ned Flanders look like a rebel. But, two-million-plus albums sold, what do I know? Other than the fact that my opinion means nothing to thronging balls of hormones, and also some of their moms and more festive male relations, I mean.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Clay Aiken)
Happy Holidays/White Christmas (Barry Manilow)
Christmas Waltz (Clay Aiken)
O, Holy Night (Yolanda Adams)
Merry Christmas with Love (Clay Aiken)
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (Clay Aiken, Barry Manilow, Yolanda Adams)
Silver Bells (Clay Aiken, Quiana Parler)
Mary, Did You Know? (Clay Aiken)
Because It's Christmas (For All the Children) (Clay Aiken, Barry Manilow, Yolanda Adams)
As staid as that selection is, I'm just happy it doesn't include Walking in a Winter Wonderland or, especially, Sleigh Ride. I'll consider that my special gift, Aiken.
Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: Though shot in widescreen and anamorphically enhanced, A Clay Aiken Christmas still looks fairly spotty. Shot on video, the transfer is very fuzzy, with slightly smeary colors and murky contrast.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: There's not much difference between the stereo and DD 5.1 mixes. Both are very front heavy, though the latter beefs up the vocals through the center channel. Both sound clear and unremarkable.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Music/Song Access with 9 cues and remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: The only extra is an 11-minute loop of dull making-of footage (SEE the director talking to the extras! SEE the stagehands spraying fake snow on the windows!) that would be a lot more novel were not the entire program filmed with a behind-the-scenes framework. As it is, the reel plays like cut material even more boring than the production footage that actually made it into the special.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsA Clay Aiken Christmas is a fairly unimpressive production, but it's packed full of Clay's crooning, so it's no doubt an essential purchase for many who can't resist his lily-white charms. If you've yet to hop aboard the Clay train, though, this isn't your ticket. (Unless you absolutely need to hear the umpteenth version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.) (You don't.) Either way, I'm sure you'll get to hear it all next December, on an endless loop in the mall.
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