If Adam Lambert doesn't win American Idol, it won't be because he's too theatrical. Or because it seems likely that he's gay -- though I'll talk more about that in a moment.
I'm convinced a Lambert loss may come simply because the show wants him to win so badly, disgusted fans may react by kicking him off.
Tuesday's show was one of the worst examples of Lambert cheerleading I've seen, with every judge predicting he would survive tonight's elimination episode to compete in the finale, and at least one judge already pronouncing him the show's winner. Lambert's such a favorite, he's already scored a cover on Entertainment Weekly and made headlines two weeks ago when he landed in the show's bottom two.
Good as he is, Lambert's performances last night were hardly a lock. Danny Gokey's gospelized "You Are So Beautiful" and Kris Allen's acoustic take on Kanye West's "Heartless" were both electrifying, raising the promise of an amazing finale battle next week, no matter who lands among the final two.
Smelling the creation of a new star, the show has leaned Lambert's way for awhile, getting rare permissions for him to sing songs by Led Zeppelin and U2 (of course, judge Simon Cowell couldn't resist telling how singer Bono personally called so Lambert could sing "One"), and allowing him grand production gestures such as his walk down the white staircase during Rat Pack week.
Lambert may also lose just because the teen girls who fill so much of Idol's voting ranks go for the puppy dog good looks of dark horse Allen, whose offhand manner and coolly compelling performances are a silent rebuke for judges drawn to more flamboyant contestants.
Though the only people who seem to care about Lambert's sexuality right now are pop culture columnists and EW's headline writers, it's not tough to imagine teenyboppers choosing to vote for the guy who seems more like date bait.
During much of Tuesday's show, I wound up wishing viewers could vote off the judges, who were left to kibitz with each other in increasingly distracting ways as the competitors piled up quality performances needing little criticism.
I think it's in the final weeks that the four-judge format feels flattest -- by this point in the competition, judges mostly offer flattery, so one more person on the panel adds nothing but more airtime-eating platitudes.
Even the Dial Idol Web site, which claims a 97 percent success rate in predicting ejection this season, says the contest is too close to call. But with ratings sliding this season, its easy to see why Idol needs a singular performer like Lambert to rebuild its cred as a star factory.
So we'll see tonight if all the praise and support pays off for Lambert, or fuels a backlash that cuts his Idol dreams short.