Monday, April 12, 2004

Just after performing the hula for Clay Aiken backstage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, a group of nine fans had the chance to take a photograph with their American Idol. In the front row are Michelle Waits, left, Patricia Holmberg, Krissy Wannomae, Lynne Bautista, Cynde Fernandes, Heather Galano and Shirley Ho. Next to Aiken are Bev Robinson, left, and Chris Manzano.

Idol worship

Hawaii fans get chance
to sway for Clay

The instructions were clear as nine of us -- eight women from Hawaii and one from Washington -- found ourselves in line to meet our "American Idol," Clay Aiken. We were escorted backstage with the rest of the "meet and greet" people and put in a room where we received a stern, terse list of rules: "Single file, NO TOUCHING, write name on paper for autograph, you may only talk for as long as it takes him to sign the autograph and then KEEP MOVING!"

I wasn't about to break the rules and jeopardize my one opportunity to meet Aiken. This was the moment I had been waiting for since a throng of ardent fans met at the CD release party for "Measure of a Man" last October.

There's nothing like a common interest, or maybe I should say passion, to bring people together, and the nine of us found ourselves in Southern California to see Clay perform in Anaheim April 3 and Los Angeles April 5.

Although we knew it was a long shot, we were hoping to present him with a gift of aloha -- a hula created to "Measure of a Man," the title song from his debut CD.

All of us continue to be fans of "American Idol," rooting for the Hawaii finalists, but feel this year's crop of contestants isn't likely to produce a breakout star like Aiken, who won our hearts last season.

The slogan, "Idol found -- game over," has appeared on signs throughout the Kelly Clarkson/Clay Aiken tour, and was spotted in the audience when Aiken recently performed on "American Idol."

"No one this season has the charisma or the vocal consistency that marked Clay's appearances during last year's competition," said Heather Galano of Gig Harbor, Wash.

"It's still entertaining, but I'm not invested in anyone the way I was last season," added Bev Robinson of Kaneohe. "I was on pins and needles every week, fearing that the voters would make a mistake and Clay would be voted off or that his fans would be so sure of his abilities that they wouldn't bother voting."

BEFORE the group arrived in California, Cynde Fernandes of Ewa had already attended Aiken's San Diego concert, and knew she had a good chance of meeting her idol. She'd read an interview with Aiken in the Orange Country Register a few days before, where she discovered he was looking for her. Fernandes had been sending fresh leis to every venue on the Clarkson/Aiken "Independent Tour."

In the interview, when asked about things fans do to get his attention, Aiken said, "There is one lady who actually shipped me a homemade lei from Hawaii to every venue I was at the first two or three weeks on this tour. And then she stopped doing it. I'm a little disappointed. I hope she's OK.

"If I get another one from her that tells me what her seat numbers are (at a coming show), she'll be backstage."

Aiken made good on his promise at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, inviting Fernandes to the backstage "meet and greet" after the show. Fernandes was only able to bring one friend, and I was the lucky one. The other women were thrilled for us, but crestfallen, having come so close, only to miss an opportunity to meet the man who has become such an important part of their lives.

Intentionally positioned to be last in line, Fernandes was finally greeted by Aiken, who announced, "Here's the lady who's been sending me the homemade leis!"

Fernandes had to break the news that the leis came from a shop. "I wanted to give credit to the right people," she said later. "Cindy's Lei & Flower Shoppe actually made all the beautiful leis and they shipped them off for me. I just had the arduously pleasant task of choosing each one.

"Even Kelly thought it was pretty cool. Clay thanked me later and I was able to bestow his lei on him the traditional Hawaiian way."

Although he's a North Carolina native, Aiken is no stranger to aloha spirit. When I told him that the gifts from Fernandes came from the rest of the Hawaii fans' hula group who had not been able to come backstage, he said, "Oh no! We're working on that for Monday."

He directed me to his publicist, who said our group would be able to dance for Aiken at Staples Center on Monday night.

After posing for a picture with Aiken and Clarkson, the two of us left to tell the rest of the group the good news.

We had a day of waiting and anticipation to fill, but we met another wonderful person who offered an exciting diversion. Fred Bronson of Billboard magazine, who has been a strong supporter of Aiken, had been in touch with group member Shirl Ho of Temple Valley, and offered our group tickets for the Shrine Auditorium taping of "Motown 45," a TV special celebrating the 45th anniversary of Motown Records, temporarily taking our minds off Aiken.

Finally, on Monday afternoon, we received the call we'd been waiting for. "You guys are dancing for Clay backstage after the concert tonight," Aiken's publicist said. That's when we took to the streets, scouring L.A. for fresh orchid blossoms to wear behind our ears.

After another crowd-pleasing performance by Aiken, we were escorted backstage, where we danced for our idol and his guests, including Bronson.

The proper way to hula is to look at your hands while they are telling a story. I believe that the trained hula dancers among us may have done that, but the rest of us confirmed we did not take our eyes off Clay. When Patricia Holmberg in the front row blocked my view, I took a bigger or a smaller step to keep him in my line of sight.

When we finished, Aiken jumped up and came toward us with open arms and one by one asked each person's name, thanked and hugged her, then said something special to her. To one woman he said, "Thank you SO much. It was SO beautiful." To another, he said, "It meant so much to me."

As Clay wrapped up his time with us I was standing near him. I reached over and, breaking the No Touching! rule, squeezed his hands and said the dorkiest thing yet, in a singsong voice like a little student to her teacher, "Thank you, Mr. Aiken!"

He smiled and replied, "No, thank you."

"The aloha spirit is the spirit of giving. We wanted to give something special back to Clay, who has given his fans so much and so enriched our lives this past year," said Ho. "It's a simple gift, but it comes from the heart, like Clay's gift of song."

We discovered that fairy tales can come true if you carry aloha in your heart.

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