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Clay Aiken 

Tuesday, December 21, at the Palace Theatre.

Clay Aiken is a picture-perfect example of the adage that "winning isn't everything." Since he came in a close second on American Idol's 2003 finale, the self-described "skinny, redheaded, geeky little dork from the South" has done everything but lose.

His debut album, Measure of a Man, sold millions. His squeaky-clean image has inspired an international fan base composed of preteens, soccer moms, and grandmas alike. His inspirational new book, Learning to Sing, peaked at No. 2 (behind Jon Stewart's America) on The New York Times' bestseller list.

Just in time for the holidays, Aiken has released Merry Christmas With Love. A bland mix of straightforwardly delivered Christmas standards, it nonetheless jingled all the way to No. 4 on Billboard's pop chart. His yuletide-themed "Joyful Noise" tour, featuring a 20-piece orchestra complete with conductor, has been selling out venues across the nation. If you expect to hear his smash hit "Invisible," forget it; the singer will perform holiday repertoire only.

Time will tell whether Aiken is the next Barry Manilow. The question remains, can he write the songs that make the young girls cry, or merely sing them? If he keeps it up, he may even be the next Perry Como.

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