TV OD: Breaking Down Lambert v. Allen Before the Finale
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 20, 2009
Well, credit America / the judges / Simon Fuller with this much–they got the final two right. Danny had as good a voice but was a little too vanilla, Allison had the talent but was still a bit raw, Lil Rounds peaked early, the blind guy was never really that good to begin wit and Anoop wasn’t quite funny enough to be a good consensus VoteForTheWorst selection. It’s been obvious for months now that these guys were the two best dudes in the competition, and it’s good to see them avoid getting upset by some unfortunate crowd favorite or less interesting virtuoso. Of course, as Clay Aiken, Kellie Pickler, Chris Daughtry and plenty of others have now proven, getting this far (or close to it) is now definitely good enough to build a career off of, and as Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and Taylor Hicks have proven, winning isn’t really good enough to ensure any kind of long-term pop success. So the question isn’t just who’s going to win tonight, but which of the two has the better prospects for the prop world.
There’s no question, to me at least, that Adam is the deserving winner here. Admittedly I’ve seen only one full other season and bits and pieces of the others, but I’ve never seen a talent as electric as Adam’s on the show before. Watching him do “Black or White” during the Michael Jackson week a few months ago was the first time I’ve actually been somewhat stunned watching the show, where I actually stopped what I was doing and went “Wow, who is that guy?” There were no nerves, no sense of trying to find his voice or personality, no cheap rock star imitations as he pranced around the stage and nailed impossibly high notes–he was already there, fully-formed and magnificent. It was like watching Vince Carter at the 2000 Slam Dunk contest, where you can sense the rest of the contestants sort of looking at each other and saying among themselves, “Well yeah, I guess we still get to go too, but…is there a point?” He hasn’t disappointed since, taking whatever challenge the show’s given him (soul, pop, ballad, whatever) and nailing it. He turns Randy into a gushing fanboy, he gets Kara apoplectic, he makes Paula speak in tongues. Even Simon can’t find anything bad to say about him except occasionally criticizing his outfits.
On a lesser season, however, Kris might’ve just as easily been a clear victor. Kris’s talent is far less captivating but no less apparent–give the man a guitar, put him behind a piano, and he’ll do his thing every time, always sounding assured, in command and vocally spot-on. More impressively, he possesses an enviable ability to be able to locate the coffee house potential in any song, doing accoustic’d renditions of Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” and Kanye West’s “Heartless” that would have you absolutely convinced that they were written by guys named Mayer and Mraz if you didn’t already know better. If this hadn’t become a competition for second place back when there were still 13 contestants left, I’d be more than OK to have him as the season winner, but he seems to be resigned to his fate as runner-up–especially after the judges basically gave him a “Good effort, thanks for preventing this thing from at least being a total blowout” speech last night.
But here’s the thing. Even if Adam does win–and I’d be shocked if he didn’t, regardless of what any projection says right now–is he really in a better place to be a star coming out of the show? Moreover, has there ever been a star like Adam before? Vocally I guess he’s vaguely reminiscent of Steven Tyler and Freddie Mercury, but Tyler was never so feminized and Mercury was never so…emo, I guess. What’s his primary career track going to be? Lead singer of an arena rock band? Musical theater star? Torch singer balladeer? He could do any of them, probably, but it’s hard to say which he’d be best or most natural at, and pop music can be kind of unkind to people who seem unsure of their core musical identity. I think it was Paula who said last night that Adam would end up being “iconic,” and I think he’s got a chance at it, but it’s probably going to end up being all or nothing for Mr. Lambert. Is he going to be the golden-throated, make-up-wearing, stage-scorching rock/pop star of the 2010s? Or is he going to crash and burn and be a novelty act within months?
Meanwhile, Kris has the unbelievable career crutch of having one of the easiest-to-please, longest-lasting and most forgiving musical genres to just sort of slot himself into once his Idol tenure has finished–Adult Contemporary. There are any number of singer/songwriters or WGWPs (White Guys With Pianos) whose career Kris could pretty much just slot himself into at the moment, and while both contestants are unquestionably good-looking, Kris’s Jamie Walters-meets-adult-Jesse-McCartney dorm-heartthrob getup is probably much more marketable than Adam’s brooding, near-goth sort of sexual ambiguity. While Adam’s ceiling is unquestionably higher, and it’s unlikely that anyone will accuse Kris of approaching “iconic” anytime soon, for the short-term at least, I’d say that Kris’s chances of becoming a regular force on radio and MTV are probably better.
Much will be told by the first non-Idol single that both dudes release. In the meantime, though, I’ll definitely be tuning in for the last five minutes of the show tonight–if Kris does somehow pull off the upset, it’ll be a bigger tragedy than The Cougar.