As the confetti fell atop a crowd on its feet inside the Nokia Theater, Simon Cowell wasn't standing. Kris Allen was blushing gratefully, yet barely coherent. Adam Lambert, however, was bear-hugging semi-finalist Allison Iraheta and sporting the same I-so-belong-up-here grin he's been beaming since the competition began. Why wouldn't he? American Idol needed Adam to triumph more than Adam needed to hear Ryan Seacrest call out his name. As arguably -- and I will happily take on all comers here -- the most talented contestant the number one series has presented in eight seasons, Idol could have used a win by Adam to bolster both its talent-vaulting validity as well as prove a crosses-all-demographics appeal. Instead, the show can place Adam on the roster headed up by Jennifer Hudson and Chris Daughtry as one of the off-center ones that got away, and it can add Kris to the growing list of Southerners (six out of eight) who have crossed the finish line in first.
So, could the black and glistening guyliner, the crystal cage shoulder pads, the inky Kelly Osborne bangs, the shiny Dolce Gabbana and Just Cavalli suits, the black Versace shirt and fingernails, the Congregation of Forgotten Saints necklaces, the multiple bike chains under the floor length Sweeney Todd walking cloak and the endless parade of python and Romper Stomper boots been a factor?
The immutable fact is that the TV's most-watched competition is not named Rock 'n' Roll Idol, So, You Think You Can Sing, or David Bowie's Apprentice. On the contrary, the victor is supposed to be someone as American as.... (Fill in the blank). Of course, there are stadiums full of young Americans wearing similar, if less theatrical, versions of Adam Lambert's onstage wardrobe. Except, evidently, they're not watching. And they're not voting. The viewers who do and then dial, however, most likely live down the street from a real sweetheart of a guy who looks -- maybe not sounds -- but probably dresses just like Kris Allen.
As one girlfriend squealed to me one Wednesday morning-after an early-in-the-elimination singathon. "I could just eat him with a spoon." Taking nothing away from Allen's surprisingly soulful talent (he would rightfully have bested a final against Jordan Sparks, Taylor Hicks, Ruben Studdard and possibly even David Cook, and his taken on Kanye West's "Heartless" was sensational), Allen's adorable modesty was most often cloaked in clothes that could conceivably have come right from his closet via the local mall. It's hard to imagine him eager to strip off the Calvin Klein white T's, Reiss and Joe's jeans, PF Flyers and Converse sneakers, INC and H&M shirts, or J. Lindeberg suit (Lindeberg also designs Justin Timberlake's William Rast clothing line) that he flung his guitar strap over once he walked offstage. In fact, when Simon criticized one of Allen's performances as coming off as if he was the guy in the dorm room down the hall crooning on his guitar, he unwittingly nailed the source of the singer's appeal and success. Because, unlike Simon, Kara, Paula and Randy, the rest of us judging American Idol, aren't sitting in a theater. We're curled up at home, in our den, bed or living rooms. Which one -- Adam or Kris -- do you think most people would feel more comfortable inviting over to hang out?
It's to Lambert's credit that, having admitted to watching the show every season, the deliberate plotting of his performance trajectory went only as far as an occasional use of makeup remover, donning of suit and tie, or brushing his hair back into a classic pompadour (which revealed a startling matinee idol handsomeness), but no further. If Lambert really wanted to have played the game "their" way, he might have been better off in mid-season reverting to his natural blonde hair and freckled complexion. But why yield completely when the final verdict no longer matters that much to a career? By remaining raven-haired, nailed and cloaked, Lambert garnered an Entertainment Weekly cover, websites almost crashing in blogolades, and what will now, in retaliation; likely evolve into a gleefully rabid fan base. Guess what color they'll wear to his first solo tour?
As for Kris Allen, he is without doubt, as Rosie O'Donnell would say "a cutie-patootie" as well as, according to Idol's stylist Michael Siggins, "a basic jeans and T-shirt kind of guy". And whether Simon likes it or not, that's what most of us in America have on when we're right down the hall, or just down the street, plugged into our iPods, listening to music, and having a great time.
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