I was so mad when Adam Lambert didn’t win American Idol (2009). It is just a TV show but it says a hell of a lot. He wears nail polish, eyeliner, some people say he is gay and he is called by the show a “glam rocker.” “Going into the finale, there was talk of “red state-blue state” politics at work, with Lambert’s painted fingernails, “guyliner,” and uncertain sexuality against Allen’s down-home, churchgoing sensibilities. Given the current political climate, that matchup appeared to favor Lambert, but a number of blue-state types may be “too cool” for Idol’s mass appeal, and unlikely to vote.”
In my book You Never Know: A Memoir I say; “Difference is something that most people avoid. Fitting in becomes a goal. Personally, I think difference is valuable. It is the “same” that irks me. Variation is not the same as inconsistency. One can be incredibly multi-tonal and consistent.” (Shiller, You Never Know: A Memoir, p. 23.) MTV.com said: “The judges dug Adam Lambert from the beginning. So did America — until the glam rocker went vocal-chord-to-vocal-chord with Southern boy-next-door Kris Allen and came out on the losing end.”
I’m usually disappointed by Idol, except for David Cook, “I think he’s done more to deserve it over the eleven weeks,” Cowell tells Blender magazine. “He’s taken more risks, he’s done things with certain songs that have been more interesting.”
My expectations are usually modified but this was too much to bear. Adam Lambert was simply fantastic. If there were an Olympics for singing he’d easily win. Do people really care about his sexuality? Whatever he might define himself as should not matter. As judge Randy said, he could sing ANYTHING. Sure he’ll get a contract and do very well but the politics on this show are overwhelming. Even a sage pop culture critic like me is in disbelief.
So, most people seem to like safe, familiar standards. Eyeliner and nail polish are for girls “naturally” and for a male to don items meant for the opposite gender is suspect. Most people regard this as a sign of gayness. I do not. I do not give a crap if he’s gay, it’s the readings of him that bug the hell out of me. “He returned to his rocker roots and it was nice to see that guy back. However, the guy liner and the nail polish have to go.”
It is so contentious to be ‘other.’ I believe that him performing with the band KISS in the finale, while fabulous, was a way of categorizing him, normalizing him. “Lambert started things off solo, wearing a studded, sorta-angelic ensemble (leather epaulet, with wings and all), performing a somber, falsetto'ed version of "Beth." Then as the pyro hit, Kiss themselves descended from the heavens and launched into a big-time take on another staple (from the same year, 1976), "Detroit Rock City." American Idol and the public needed a safe precedent. While KISS may be out there, they are familiar.
I can’t be the only one who thought, when Adam and Kris sang with Queen guy, that Adam was much better suited to the style. If asked, I believe he should fill in the void left by Freddie Mercury. Honestly.
It is far from surprising that Kris Allen won; it is more like throwing freezing water on your face. I kind of feel responsible for my pain (sorry Kris). I really didn’t have to watch. A comfort-zone has been sustained and my discomfort could have been avoided.
American Idol. Creator, Simon Fuller. Fremantle Media North America. 2002 - ?
Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online.