Ask yourself this question: Do you honestly believe that Kris Allen is a superior singer to Adam Lambert? (If you do not know either of these names, you can stop reading this right now.)
Most entertainment industry sages will confess, with or without waterboarding, that Adam Lambert, who spent the entirety of the season on American Idol continually blowing away the competition with gyroscopic, jaw-dropping, mercilessly versatile vocals, is better off not being the winner. He won’t be locked into that absurd contract; he won’t be forced to exemplify the wink-wink, squeaky clean, Pat Boone-esque nature of the Fox-backed cultural phenomenon. Here, too, is what we know: If American Idol is, as haughty and caustic judge Simon Cowell has repeatedly, emphatically and righteously declared, first and foremost a singing competition, winner Allen exemplifies the program’s dirty little secret: It is not, most fundamentally, a singing competition or a talent contest.
Indeed, though Cowell’s words represent the critical mantra AI‘s gurus would have Americans believe — that talent always wins out, that quality always bubbles to the surface — such mantras are folly, are diversions, are smokescreens. American Idol no more a talent contest than the Miss America pageant is a pure paean to beauty. It is a popularity contest, a marketing-and-packaging contest, a saleability contest, a looks contest. And this season in particular, the sharp edges of the program became even clearer: AI as a blue-state-vs.-red-state contest, as a heterosexual-vs.-homosexual contest, as a conformity-vs.-nonconformity contest.
In the let’s-not-deviate-from-the-norm world of Fox, it is not usually the standard, not the rule-bender, the status quo, not the insurgent, the establishment, not the upstart, that typically reigns supreme?
Is this sour grapes on my part? Well, sure — I predicted weeks ago that Lambert would be the inevitable winner of American Idol. And why? Because I am a theater critic by training, and I believe that Lambert possesses what no other contestant demonstrated this (or maybe any) season: stage presence. Really, it’s more than that — it’s an innate and highly combustible theatricality that doesn’t vacuum the energy in an auditorium so much as consciously redistribute it and inject it with a shot of shine and shimmer. That is why I know Lambert won’t suffer for his loss — he will enjoy offers galore. He’s going to be just fine.
What I’d like to know (and as I questioned in a previous essay, “If Adam Lambert Fails to Win American Idol, Is America Homophobic?”) is to what degree Allen’s win over Lambert was really driven by a bottom-line discomfort with Lambert’s flamboyance — his flirtation with glam-rock, his coyness about his sexual preference, his freewheeling and (arguably apparent) androgyny. Could there be any correlation between the growing movement toward legalizing gay marriage and certain sectors of the nation that might just be fed up with gay, gay, gay on the news? Could there be a yearning among those Americans untouched or uninterested in gay, gay, gay — or in the sexuality of anyone but themselves — to vote for someone, to get behind someone, who represents their version of “normal?” Could such Americans feel a need to reassert a smooth and wholesome primacy in its stars, whether real or Fox-manufactured?