The endless analysis of this season’s “American Idol” just won’t taper. A mere three days after the Season 8 finale, the country is still rapt with curiosity as to why the innocuous Kris Allen won the title over offbeat Adam Lambert. Much of the press (including this guilty writer) has focused their attention on cultural differences between the two contestants. There was Allen, the bland banana who leads church worship and Lambert, the phenomenal voice with vampiric style. In both cases, their offscreen personas took precedent over their preening performances.
In today’s NY Times, Jon Caramanica takes the discussion a step further and deftly analyzes each singer’s gift (or lack thereof) in a conclusive statement on this season’s ‘Idol.’ In addition to calling Allen’s singing “harmless” and “indefensible,” as well as describing the season finale as “the most anemic final competition in the show’s history,” Caramanica brilliantly realizes that the power of Lambert’s voice has drowned out criticism of his artistry. What Lambert lacks isn’t singing talent, he writes, it’s emotional depth. And although Allen may have been the ideological conservative on the show, Lambert’s talent, Caramanica says, is also conservative: He may be a fantastic singer but he is limited as a musician.
Mr. Jackson once suggested that Mr. Lambert could make a record like one by the operatic emo band My Chemical Romance, but that presumes an emotional depth that he never displayed. Performative fireworks aside, Mr. Lambert does not seem to be a deep thinker, and his best appearances this season were also his most straightforward, his exceptional voice notwithstanding. (There’s no way, and little reason, to cover up an instrument so fascinating and dexterous.)
Instead the theatrically trained Mr. Lambert was often saddled by muddled, conflicting signifiers. His reference points came in flurries: David Bowie and Freddie Mercury and Led Zeppelin, glam and goth and Broadway. His hairstyle changed by the week. His rock moves were vivid, but rarely completely convincing, the results-night performance with Kiss a notable exception. He only truly hit his stride toward the end of the season, leaving bizarre versions of “Ring of Fire” and “Play That Funky Music” and more in his wake. Those songs got him noticed, but they were too odd to sustain him.
That he shined on softer material — “Mad World,” “Feeling Good,” “One” — demonstrates a little-acknowledged truth about Mr. Lambert. Histrionics aside, he’s just an old-fashioned song-and-dance man, without the dancing. A lifetime in and around musical theater will do that to you. “Idol” wanted him to be something more, and he may well have wanted that for himself. So if he was hiding something, it wasn’t his sexual preference, it was his conservatism. If only he had let America see the real him.
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