RALEIGH, N.C. – Clay Aiken has fond memories of holidays at home — driving with a fake Christmas tree sticking through the back windows of his packed Honda Accord because his family waited too late to buy a real tree.
"Most of America is accustomed to things going wrong" around the holidays, Aiken says. "Those are the memories I think are the funniest." But one thing the self-described "skinny, redheaded, geeky little dork from the South" hopes goes off without a hitch this holiday season is his 21-city "Joyful Noise" tour.
The tour, which begins Sunday in Pasadena, Calif., and ends the day before Christmas in Detroit, aims to be less crass, more class than Aiken's previous U.S. tours — "a few less signs and a few less people screaming, 'Clay, I love you!'" he said.
"This is a different kind of concert," Aiken said. "It's not meant to be a show where fans bring signs and scream. The goal is to be more intimate, almost semiformal. The crew will be dressed up in their Sunday best and I hope the audiences will do the same."
It will be the fourth tour in the last 18 months for the "American Idol" singer. Along with a conductor and 20-piece orchestra, Aiken will perform a holiday-only repertoire from his "Merry Christmas With Love" album, which features standards like "Winter Wonderland" and "Silent Night." Each show will also feature local philharmonics, symphonies and choirs.
Aiken said fans shouldn't show up expecting to hear orchestral versions of his hits "Invisible" or "The Way."
Aiken has also been named spokesman for the 2004 U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign, so Marines will be collecting toys at each stop on the tour.
In addition to hitting the stage, Aiken is starring in his own NBC-TV special "A Clay Aiken Christmas," which airs Dec. 8. The show will feature songs from the album and guests who include Barry Manilow and "Will & Grace" star Megan Mullally. The special will go straight from TV to DVD — arriving on store shelves Dec. 14.
Completing the Clay onslaught this holiday season is the "American Idol" runner-up's book "Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life," written with Allison Glock. The volume features a collection of essays about life lessons, including Aiken's relationship with his stepfather.
Most of all, Aiken said, being home for the holidays will mean a chance to make more memories — like going out for dinner on Christmas Eve with his family, and being told by his stepfather that they were headed home to open presents — followed by a three-hour detour to look at Christmas lights that included getting lost.
"I was really pumped and ready [to open presents]," Aiken said. "My brother and I had to pretend to be excited. We couldn't say, 'Cut this crap out.'"