Clearview group gains feat of Clay
Friday, December 03, 2004
By Shawn G. Menzies
www.nj.com - The Gloucester Times
Thirty members of the Clearview Regional High School Vocale Ensemble got the chance of a lifetime as they were asked to perform on stage with an "American Idol" Thursday.
Representatives for Clay Aiken, who performed his holiday show Thursday at the Commerce Bank Performing Arts Centre in Washington Township, called on the Harrison Township-based school district to select 30 of the group's 43 members to sing alongside the "American Idol" show runner-up.
"I think it is an honor to sing on the same stage as Clay Aiken," Jake Lessman, 18, of Mantua Township, said moments before the ensemble was to take part in a sound check. "We get a chance to sing with someone in the business. It's a great opportunity on our part."
But it has not been an easy last few days. Jack Hill, the ensemble's director, said they were notified Monday and didn't receive the music until Tuesday.
The 2,500-seat arts centre sold out in two hours back in October for Aiken's show, officials said. Aiken is touring the country in support of his new CD, "Merry Christmas with Love," which according to SoundScan is the best-selling CD in its debut week for a Christmas album.
"It's nice for Clay Aiken to choose a high school choir to sing with him," Joe Commisso, 18, of Mantua Township said. "It gives us an introduction to see what the business is like."
Hill said members of the ensemble had a very busy day leading up to the performance Thursday. They had to report to the arts centre at 115 p.m. for rehearsal. Then it was off to a performance in Glassboro and back to the stage by 230 p.m. for a sound check with Aiken and his 30-piece orchestra. A dinner break was set for 530 and the show started at 8 p.m., officials said.
Decked out in tuxedoes and gowns, the students were all smiles, with no one looking overly nervous.
"It feels surreal to get this opportunity," said Rebecca Roush, 18, of Mantua Township.
As the clocked counted down to showtime, it was still unclear for members of the ensemble and their director just how they were chosen.
"I really do not know," Hill said. "They called us and asked."
One school official said she believes that because the Clearview Regional High School Vocale Ensemble has a performance in California in February, information could have landed in the hands of Aiken's people.
"I think they are very excited, they do not know what to expect," Hill said. "We have been preparing for the past several days. They just found out that not only will they have to sing, they will also have movements and they will only have one, two-hour practice to learn it. I am sure it will be fine, but it is nerve-wracking."
From a post sent to www.gawker.com :
I sent the following email to everyone on my contact list yesterday. I teach English at Clearview Regional High School in Mullica Hill, NJ. It's a rural community in Gloucester County, South Jersey (about 15 mins. SE of Phila.). I initially shied away from sending this email to you because Clay Aiken threatened to make trouble for our district if we "called the newspaper." Since I've had a day to reflect, I've assumed a "f*** this little turd" attitude. Do whatever you want with this stuff...at the very least I thought you might get a mild chuckle out of Aiken pulling a musical Kathie Lee.
I have the privilege of working very closely with the exemplary kids in the Vocal Ensemble at the school where I teach. In addition to having many of them in class, I interact with them as an Ensemble chaperone and as the assistant director of the musical theater program. They are wildly talented, brilliant young people. They have performed at Carnegie Hall (and will again in May), the National Cathedral in DC, the Today Show, in a variety of venues on the East Coast and in Canada, and will be featured performers at a music educators' conference in LA in February. They are the "real deal."
Earlier this week, several members of the group were invited to perform with American Idol-also ran Clay Aiken in Washington Twp. The kids spent several hours in rehearsal and sound check for this last-minute "opportunity." In the course of the day, the following incidents took place
*Although the students were promised photos/autographs/a little bit of face-time with Aiken, he refused all of these after two excited Ensemble members tried to take photos when Aiken entered the theater. In fact, security threatened to have the students removed from the venue. The 50 CDs that the music program purchased for signing were essentially wasted.
* Aiken was extremely terse with the students, at times berating them for reasons that are still unclear.
*The road crew refused to turn down or turn off their music so the students could rehearse the music they had only received 2 days prior.
* Aiken's people promised to feed the kids at 530. Once that time came and went, and the kids were starting to really fade, Ensemble staff bought pizza for the kids with out-of-pocket funds. At about 7 pm, Aiken's staff showed up with ...get ready...McDonald's Happy Meals.
* When an Ensemble staff member expressed her discontentment with the way the kids had been treated, Aiken engaged the woman in a verbal altercation. This resulted in mini-diva Aiken barring the staff member from the venue, and security escorting this very distinguished educator (a recent NJ State Teacher of the Year) from the theater.
* When the offer to sing was extended to the Ensemble, Aiken's people promised a decently-sized donation to the Ensemble. A relatively ostentatious show was made of the presentation of a check to a choir member. Later, when the student opened the envelope...it was empty.
Now folks, I have never sent anything to every single person on my contact list until now. Of the thirty kids who performed last night, I saw around 20 of them in classes today. One particularly reflective young man complained, "You know, I'd say I felt like a prostitute, but even a whore would've gotten paid. It was more like we got raped." Hyperbolic, perhaps, but still an apt analogy. Aiken got credit for including local "Claymates" on stage. The kids got a whole lotta grief and not much else.
Speaking out on Clay-gate earns a teacher a timeout
By Monica Yant Kinney
Inquirer Columnist - Philadelphia Inquirer
At last count, more than 150 Clay Aiken fans have called and written in disgust over Thursday's column.
A teacher at Clearview Regional High School in Mullica Hill has been suspended for a week for speaking out about the American Idol star.
And students seem puzzled about why a grown-up who teaches them to think critically has been punished for doing it herself.
All of this, over Aiken's stiffing some students of $500, reneging on promised face time, and pulling an ego trip on one of their teachers who dared to stand up for them?
With all this drama here in Gloucester County, who needs The O.C.?
The general consensus from the Claymates is that I'm an instrument of evil bent on destroying a man sent from God to sing and sell collectable Christmas ornaments for $12.99.
(Better order soon if you're giving them as a holiday gift. And why not spring for some Clay Aiken wrapping paper for just $15 more?)
To the Claymates, it simply isn't conceivable that Aiken, or anyone in his professional posse, could have been the slightest bit rude to members of the school's Vocal Ensemble who backed him up at a recent show in Washington Township.
The Clay they know isn't like that.
Clay loves kids.
Not to disappoint Aiken's fans twice in one week, but I did not invent the incident in a pathetic attempt to ruin his rep and steal his spotlight.
I have no secret "Idol" ambitions.
Anyone who's heard me warble "The Gambler" on karaoke night at Les & Doreen's Happy Tap in Fishtown can attest to that.
Now the kids in Clearview's Vocal Ensemble, they make joyful noise.
And after their less-than-harmonious experience with Aiken last week, one of their teachers was so steamed that she had to tell someone.
This being an electronic age, Susan Barry sat down at her computer, typed out a tirade, cc'd everyone she knows, and hit "send."
Barry being an English teacher, she used some choice words and phrases to describe the slights and snubs her students endured.
In a fatal move, she forwarded the rant to the gossipy blog www.gawker.com.
You know what happened next.
Administrators at Clearview got wind of Barry's e-mail. So did I.
By the time my column hit front porches Thursday, Barry had already been placed on a week's paid suspension by Clearview's superintendent.
By week's end, even the teachers' union was still trying to determine the exact nature of Barry's offense.
"I've never heard of anything quite like this," said Steve Wollmer, of the New Jersey Education Association.
Life lessons in B-flat
Carolyn Frassenei is in Barry's 11th-grade honors English class. Her mom, Christine, teaches elementary school in nearby Washington Township.
Unlike her colleagues at Clearview, Christine Frassenei doesn't hesitate to howl over the musical mess.
"I'm flabbergasted," she said between classes yesterday. "[Barry's] a fabulous teacher who's showing the kids to think for themselves and when they write, to dig deeper."
And yet, Barry got benched for doing just that - if a bit gratuitously.
"It's an infringement on her freedom of speech," said Carolyn Frassenei, 17.
Not to mention stalling the serious students' schedule.
They're slogging through The Catcher in the Rye, and now find themselves without their trusted literary tour guide right before the long holiday break.
In a move that might surprise grown-ups who loved to torture substitute teachers, one student started a petition seeking to bring Barry back.
Mik Matusek, 16, thinks a day or two at home is plenty. The longer Barry is banished, "it's the students getting punished."
So far, he's got 40 signatures, including Carolyn Frassenei's.
She wants to be a teacher. Just like her American Idols: her parents.