Last Night: Clay Aiken At Jones Hall

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Clay Aiken Jones Hall February 14, 2011

Ask, and thou shalt receive. Our commenters requested a Clay Aiken slideshow, so here it is.

While most people celebrated Valentine's Day last night, we headed to Jones Hall to see former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken. While it wasn't necessarily our ideal way to spend the most romantic of all holidays, we'd by lying if we said we weren't a little curious how this Valentine's Day-themed performance would map out.

Aiken is currently touring in support of his fifth album Tried and True, a tribute to the singer's favorite songs of the 1950's and '60s, including his take on songs by such artists as Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong.

Aiken's backing band took the stage first, delving into a medley overture as a bright light dramatically shone on a solitary mike stand in the stage's empty center. Aiken joined his band, his familiar baby-faced profile slowly illuminated by the light as the crowd cheered, some even standing, to offer the singer a warm Houston welcome.

Those audience members clutching their complementary Houston Symphony programs were likely confused at first, as Aiken's dapper suit-and-tie promo photo in the magazine was a bit misleading; the singer strolled onstage looking like the same 25-year-old kid we met on American Idol. Unlike his snazzy Rat Pack press photo, Aiken sported jeans and worn-in boots as he walked onto the spacious Jones Hall stage.

He appeared stiff and awkward right off the bat, beginning his set with the odd opening choice of the Love Story theme, a slow, moody song that only added to the singer's evidently discomfited stage presence.

Luckily, he abandoned his mike after two songs; the Frankie Valli classic "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" also livened the mood considerably, as he sauntered the stage, appearing more comfortable as the set progressed.

Acknowledging the high number of men in the audience, Aiken joked, "How many gentlemen were either threatened or bribed to be here tonight?" Thankfully, the singer was beginning to temper his choice of slow grooves with some stabs at humor.

Aiken approached a poster-toting fan seated in the front row; she and her mother had traveled from Abilene to see his performance and she was beside herself with excitement as the singer kneeled down to introduce himself and joke with her, even taking her cell phone's video camera and recording himself wishing her a "Happy Valentine's Day."

The audience seemed to appreciate Aiken's between-song banter, but unfortunately the songs would have fit all too comfortably in a cruise-ship lounge. "Moon River," "Suspicious Minds," and Aiken's several awkward attempts at mid-song humor were stale - for example, Aiken's messy pop medley of Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time," the New Kids on the Block's "The Right Stuff," the Footloose theme, and his own "Invisible."

Charleston-based vocalist and fellow former American Idol contestant Quiana Parler joined Aiken onstage for songs like The Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup" and Connie Francis' "Who's Sorry Now," for which Aiken asked the audience to suggest a style in which they'd perform the song. He settled on the suggested styles of calypso and grunge, each of which produced bouts of laughter from the crowd.

Parler added a welcome dose of sass to the show; her energy was infectious, as she danced and clapped her way through each song. The singers' duet of the Roy Orbison masterpiece "Crying" was a poignant crowd-pleaser, Parler's strong vocals complimenting Aiken's soulful tenor voice.

But the evening's certain highlight was Aiken's cover of the Righteous Brothers classic "Unchained Melody." The song, already immeasurably moving to begin with, was tastefully arranged and showcased Aiken's wide vocal range.

As he sang, the naturally romantic magic of the song charmed the crowd: Aftermath noticed couples entwining hands, scooting closer to one another as they listened. Many seasoned couples endearingly sang along with the words.

To say it was unfortunate that this wasn't the singer's choice of closing song is an understatement, as it was surely the highlight of his set. Instead, Aiken trekked on, adding his covers of the beloved Beatles classic "In My Life" and closer, the Carpenters tune "Solitaire," which Aiken covered on his 2003's Measure of a Man.

After admitting his choice of closer was "extremely inappropriate" for Valentine's Day, the lights turned on, and the singer was gone, without a "thank you" or "good-bye," but the crowd didn't seem to mind - many even rose from their seats and saluted the singer with a standing ovation.

Aftermath always hopes to take away some piece of wisdom from shows. Last night, as we admittedly wondered about Aiken's appeal, we learned that he is an Old Soul; he sings these classics with emotion and has a clear personal passion for each song. Evidently, there is a market for that, as many audience members exited the theater with beaming smiles.

Clay Aiken is not for everyone; but he's clearly found a crowd-pleasing calling in Golden Age classics.

Personal Bias: Aiken's set could have benefited from a simple reworking of the set list order.

The Crowd: twentysomething American Idol fans in the front row and sweet fiftysomething couples celebrating Valentine's Day.

Overheard In the Crowd: Not a word during the show - a nice change from our frequent coverage of rock shows.

Random Notebook Dump: I still hear only Al Hibbler's voice when hearing "Unchained Melody..." but while simultaneously recalling sensual pottery-making a la Ghost.

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