The opening moment of American Idol’s finale was dripping with irony.
Considering that this was the most culturally polarized competition in the show’s history, it was amusing that finalists Adam Lambert and Kris Allen were both dressed regally in white. This of course underscored the greatest irony of all: that Adam Lambert, whose devastating talent all but guaranteed his win, instead, lost the competition to Kris Allen, a sweet-faced, small-town folk singer. In what had to have been a disappointment to Idol’s four judges and to legions of Lambert fans across the country, the finale proved American Idol isn’t really about talent.
Actually, it felt more like a series of “Star Trek”. But here, the battle of good versus evil, dark versus light, played out in the context of a culture war. There’s Lambert, 27, the avant-garde rocker from San Diego with clear-eyed ambition for Hollywood fame; and Allen, 23, an evangelical Christian from Arkansas who plays acoustic guitar and does missionary work. In a pop contest starring these opposites, talent is secondary; who they are behind the scenes is much more important.
Lambert is the dark knight. He has raven hair, wears dark eyeliner, black nail polish and leather trench coats. His style recalls classic rock stars, school serial killers and vampires all at once. Beyond his trademark flamboyance, Lambert possesses a sexual ambiguity he’s hardly interested in dispelling: When photos of him dressed in drag and kissing other men leaked on the Internet, he responded with indifference: “I am who I am,” he said, and left his detractors to their own devices. And, if that wasn’t enough to jilt the evangelical crowd, Lambert is also Jewish.
Allen, by contrast, is clean-cut and pristine looking. He wears tshirts and jeans, sings sweetly and leads worship services at New Life Church back home. One look at him and you can imagine the hordes of teenage girls virtuously gathering their friends to call up and vote for him. Allen is the all-American boy, as inoffensive (and unexciting) as vanilla cream pie.
If it were about talent, Lambert might be the crowning glory of all eight seasons. But the majority of the 100 million votes that ended the Season 8 competition went inexplicably to Allen. Which left many ‘Idol’ fans dumbfounded at the end of last night’s competition. Before announcing the winner, host Ryan Seacrest’s face fell a little. Simon Cowell must have seen this coming, because two weeks ago he told Lambert, “If you are not in the final next week it will one of the biggest upsets on this show.” But Lambert’s loss didn’t seem to stop Cowell from looking crestfallen, a blow of defeat for the talent purist who insists that ‘Idol’ is about finding the brightest star.
Instead the nation’s conservatives changed the game by voting their conscience, not their common sense. And in the end, ‘Idol’ viewers proved that they’re not that interested in the best singer. They don’t even care about electing a star. All that matters is that they get to worship their Idol, the one who is just like them.
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