MAY 21 — Welcome to America in the 21st Century. Huge strides, but you can’t ignore the pitfalls waiting for you on both sides, and dead centre.
It has come far enough to say a gay person is worthy of all things, it just won’t give him or her, these things they apparently “are worthy of”.
Cue: “American Idol’ Season 8, and its controversial winner, Kris Allen. The controversy is more aptly about the rival he ousted to the title — Adam Lambert — than his talent. Lambert had been for months the judges’ firm favourite; however in the last few weeks there has been reluctant admission from them that most of America would not crown the San Diego native as the next American Idol.
And sure enough, Allen of Arkansas won, irrespective of his gulf of talent with the glam rocker.
The first words from Allen were “Adam deserves this” and that underlines why the debate on the eventual winner will rage on, for a long time.
The curious indicators: Despite a 7 per cent drop in overall viewing in America’s top-rated programme this season, “Idol” managed to rake in close to a 100 million votes — its highest voting number ever. The immediate diagnosis was, many irregulars — non-Idol fans — voted in. The immediate gut feel was that these new votes were not for Lambert.
Second, at the end of the final performance show, unlike past years where iconic judge Simon Cowell gives his thoughts on who won the show, the panel went quiet. It was round one to Allen, round two to Lambert and then complete radio silence about round three. Disquieting was the common lack of enthusiasm for Allen’s final song delivery and half-hearted appeal by the judges to the overall qualities Allen had, as if to make sure their views don’t cross with America’s.
It was quite clear what the judges felt about both contestants, and what they ended up not saying, was a key indicator of how inevitable they felt Allen’s win was.
Which leads us to talk about Lambert.
There was this insightful segment months ago, when his parents talked about him. His dad’s “Adam was never into sports” was like a red flag and when compounded with his obsession to theatre and the performing arts, screamed “different”.
Gay suggestions grew, but Lambert refused to deny those claims, and maintained that he was always “true to himself”. It did not douse the speculation, and his outlandish performances reminiscent of a young Freddy Mercury were only adding fuel to public perception.
Whether Lambert is gay or not may not be established in years to come, but more importantly has no bearing on this discussion. What is; is the way America still looks at those they perceive to be off-centre.
Lamberts own pessimism about his chances was telling in the manner in which he moved to celebrate with Allen when his win was announced. He would not have been faulted to think of the win as his own, and begrudge Allen.
Lambert’s demeanour suggested he was half-ready to accept his defeat, long before result night.
Over the years, although “Idol” would deny, there has been a template of acceptable looking — both physical and lifestyle — dominating the show and winning it.
On the face of it, and especially in the opening rounds much fanfare is made over the “colourful and diverse” participants.
But in time, and when fans start to use the phone to vote and eliminate contestants, a trend forms — mainstream America is on display on “Idol” and those that don’t fit that, will struggle. Don’t fault the show, in many ways it became a window to America.
Flashback to Season 3 — at the final six stage —, the results revealed that the bottom three were made of the three remaining black contestants. Jenifer Hudson was sent packing, and while Latoya London and Fantasia Barrino escaped the cut. The furore intensified with Sir Elton John — that week’s designated mentor — showing his dismay openly. The producers, judges and hosts Ryan Seacrest spent time repeating and reaffirming that it was a singing competition.
Making it to the final is still a big break for Lambert and his talent will make him a successful recording artist. His trump-card is that he has a natural feel about what songs fits him and how to remake them to make them his own signature tunes.
Wrong music choices have often buried talent in their first three albums which either make or break them in the industry.
Many past winners and runner-ups, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Katherine McPhee have struggled to make their mark, and the fame in “Idol” will wane with passing years and albums. Not surprisingly non-finalists like Jenifer Hudson and Chris Daughtry have made great strides and have become household names.
“Idol” despite its mass appeal, perhaps due to its mass appeal, will keep producing pop artists while alienating a few talents. But it never set itself to redefine American music or what should a popular artist have. It is a mirror, and in being that it keeps its appeal.
Cowell leads the “just left but firm critic” of the contestants. Saying what is cruel but not foul of the sensibilities of American listeners.
Moving on, Season 9
The outcome is not all too bad for all involved, this time at least: victorious Allen, consoled by a viable career Lambert, “rating”stified producers, judges and sponsors.
But it will always sound hollow when season 9 kicks off, and the judges laud their search for America’s finest. Let’s not kid ourselves. They are looking for an idol, and idols tend to be pre-fabricated.