Idol Thoughts — 05.20.09

Welcome to the American Idol “post-game show.” Yes, Idol IS sports. And the finale is it’s “Superbowl.” And there’s been “an upset” (presumably). So that’s even better–more stuff from “the game” to analyze. Let’s break this one down.

So why did Adam Lambert lose? That’s what a lot of people are asking this morning. Of course, that question doesn’t give Kris Allen the credit he deserves for having the most points at the end of the game. So in all fairness, why did Kris Allen win? It’s definitely easier to see the answers after the fact. Here are a few, in no particular order:

“NO-MENTUM” – Going into the finale, my feeling was that Kris needed to dominate the night in order to win. That was based on the hype that Adam was the front-runner. I now believe the opposite was true: Adam was the one who had to kill it, convincingly and decisively, Tuesday night. And Adam did not. Starting with his last song on final three night (Aerosmith’s, “Cryin'”), Adam was off his game during the finale. Not a lot. But it’s the biggest night of the competition. So a little IS a lot. Was Adam a little vocally strained or fatigued on Tuesday (the possible side effect from some of the screams and shrieks)? Maybe. But song choice didn’t help matters. One thing that was glaringly missing Tuesday was the “Oh Wow!” performance we got from him almost every night the rest of the season–those amazing and re-inventive performances, totally fresh takes on old songs, that everybody chatted about the next morning. The format of finale night was also no friend to Adam, cornering him into a somewhat ho-hum trio of songs. Here’s a crazy what if: what if the finalists could perform ANY three songs they wanted on finale night? As much as I love Idol, THAT’S an Idol I’d love even better! That would be the true “No Boundaries”!

KRIS KONNECTED – Kris clearly connected with a majority of voters in the home stretch. I say in two crucial ways. First, musically. Kris did a better job in recent performances of getting inside the songs, connecting personally with them, then skillfully sharing that connection with the audience. Adam has that side, too. It was best displayed when he kept things smaller and more intimate (“Tracks Of My Tears,” “Mad World”). That side was less-heard recently, as that big voice took over. And while I’m a huge Adam fan, I can see why some of his vocal quirks (the screams and shrieks) were polarizing to Idol voters. Not everybody liked ’em, plain and simple. We heard a lot of chatter about it (the Adam Lambert “backlash”). Especially the closer we got to the finale. Second, Kris was more accessible personally. Seems like a genuinely great guy, and very approachable. People like that. They want to root (and vote) for that. Adam was more mysterious and larger-than-life (by Idol standards). That can be seen as “aloof” by some people. And those people are less likely to give you their vote.

FRONT-RUNNER CURSE – Is there a curse on being the “front-runner” on American Idol? Yes, I believe so. Because people love to root for the underdog. It’s another of Idol’s many Catch-22’s. Being a front runner gets you the momentum you want. But that spotlight makes it clear who’s “Goliath.” And when you have a “David” as likable as Kris, the ingredients are there for the myth play itself out as written.

BUT WHO WAS THE REAL UNDERDOG? – Here’s a question: was Adam REALLY the front-runner going into the finale? One thing that frustrates me to no end is not knowing the vote totals. I finally figured out why Idol doesn’t reveal them. If they showed us the vote tallies, like we’re used to seeing from any other election we participate in, Idol ratings and viewer voting would drop. If we knew the tallies each week, results night would no longer be full of mystery. We could look at previous weeks’ numbers and make educated guesses about what will happen next. People might see that the competition’s a blow out, and not watch as much. Or see that their favorite was millions and millions of votes behind and give up voting for them. So we’ll never see the actual numbers. But occasionally, they give us clues. On final three results night, Ryan Seacrest pointed out that “only one million votes separated the top two.” I think most people assumed Adam had a million more votes than Kris. It’s just as possible that Kris went into the finale with a million vote win over Adam the previous week.

THE UNSPOKEN – Finally, did Adam’s (presumed) sexual orientation play a role in how things turned out? I’m sure it’s a discussion some people would prefer to avoid. It shouldn’t matter whatsoever. But it’s a relevant question. The fact that I can ask the question without hesitation makes me suspect that there’s something here. Pair that factor with Kris being the cute, straight guy, and the impact on certain voting blocks seems clear to me.

So, there you go. Whatta show last night, too. Loaded with surprises and massive stars. Best finale ever! I’m curious what you think. Let me know.

Greg Valentine
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