It's not quite the
finale the media's been hungering for: Flagrant Christian
vs. Presumed Homosexual, otherwise known as Danny Gokey vs.
Adam Lambert. After Danny's surprise elimination last week,
the last two Idols standing are the affable Kris Allen -- a
more ignorably Christian guitar-strummer from Arkansas -- and
Adam, the operatic Californian "rocker" who forced
America to deal with his love of eyeliner.
I'm all for Adam
over Kris; let's clear that up right now. In the last few
weeks, however, Adam has chagrined me. Too much dependence on
his signature Maria Callas screech. Too little success in
establishing the crucial "emotional connection" that
has historically moved Americans, even obese ones, to vote
wildly for an Idol. Adam has seemed to disappear further into
an opaque theatricality, pissing me off. Because I want him to
eyewitness report of how his last chance to nail the title
Approaching the Nokia Theatre:
Two flustered, almost panicked, pear-shaped ladies are
jaywalking across six lanes of downtown L.A. traffic, clutching
signs that read "Delaware Loves Adam!" We follow
them, somewhat more dispassionately, to the theater entrance,
where a bossy sort brays at the converging mob: "No cell
phones inside! No cell phones!"
Can this many Los
Angelenos even survive without their iPhones apps? "Live
TV," my industry-insider friend Sandy says.
"Can't have all that ringing." Not to mention
furtive videotaping. After a quick sprint back to the
rent-a-Ford to stash our phones, we're free to enter.
Inside the lobby:
Amid the rampaging tweens I spot an elderly woman wearing a
cape with the words "Adam Lambert" written in rainbow
glitter-glue on the back. Keen Idol fans will recognize this as
an homage to the cape Katy Perry wore on last week's show.
The view from Seat 413:
Man, we have killer seats! About 40 feet from the stage! Only a
few rows behind mom of fourth-place finisher Allison Iraheta!
(Thanks, insider-industry friend, Sandy.) That said, I
can't stop thinking that my seat number, unlucky 413,
doesn't bode well for my Adam hopes.
The familiar TV set is
in place, its gigantic
globes threatening to fall on someone (as one nearly did a
couple weeks ago). On this particular night the interior of the
Nokia Theatre is all blue blinking techno-lighting; I feel like
I'm trapped inside a massive cell phone that's trying
to order itself a pizza. No cell phones allowed!
"Nineteen minutes to air!":
While Corey, the warm-up comic, attempts to further animate an
already keyed-up crowd to the strains of Lady GaGa, two young
guys take the seats to my right and immediately begin exploring
expressive ways to stroke each other's hands. I can't help
wondering if they're fans of Presumed Homosexual Adam. I
ask which Idol they idolize.
"I'm a Kris,"
says Gay A, perhaps overidentifying with his favorite.
really care," says Gay B. "I like them
hisses a nearby sibilant tween.
"Four minutes to air!":
The judges enter in what appears to be a highly negotiated
order: First, brazen newcomer Kara DioGuardi the Lowly; then
the pointless Randy Jackson; then the more cutely pointless
Paula Abdul; and finally King Simon Cowell. Each crosses the
stage with a personal bodyguard.
As my companions and I
regret Paula's decision to have her face spray-tanned a
curious cinnamon shade, Corey the dictatorial warm-up comic
commands the audience to "blow the roof off this
place" when Ryan Seacrest, who's popped up looking
tiny but potent, says, "This ... is
Next to me, Gay B is
saying, "So I told them I'd send in my
resume and my reel and -- "
"This ... is
The roof blows off. Ryan recites lines about how polarized the
finalists are, including "It's the Guy Next Door
[Kris] versus the Guyliner." You can tell they really
wanted Gokey, who was more neatly Adam's antithesis.
For their first song, the final two reprise a tune from earlier
in the season. Having lost a coin toss, Adam starts. Despite
the whole unlucky-seat-413 thing, I'm reassured by his
choice of "Mad World" (the dirge version). He sings
it flawlessly but falls short on the "emotional
connection" front. Perhaps because he's wearing a
calf-length coat that makes him look like Vlad the Impaler by
while wading through a swamp of dry-ice smoke in which some
poor cameraman has been forced to lie down. (So he can get a
really great shot of Adam's approaching boot?)
The judges yammer.
Simon casts aspersions. Oh-oh. Not good.
Kris sits down at a
piano and emotionally connects the hell out of "Ain't
No Sunshine." His neck veins throb persuasively. Though
he's spent most of the competition shuffling his feet in
"aw, shucks" fashion, it seems he's suddenly decided
to triumph. The judges agree.
I turn to my companions and share my presumptuous theory, which
amounts to "Adam is closeting himself, at least in the
context of this reality show. Ergo, he's suppressing some
essential aspect of himself. Ergo, he comes across as less
vulnerable/real than Kris." They scoff at me.
The finalists sing a song chosen by producer Simon Fuller.
Adam's up first with "A Change Is Gonna Come." In
the era of Obama and Prop. 8, and given all the "Is
America Ready for a Gay Idol?" headlines Adam's
inspired, the motives behind this selection seem open to
interpretation, especially for presumptuous theorists.
In any case, Adam
re-blows the roof off the place. He tears into the song,
breaking through the layers of theatricality that have been
obfuscating him. No more Vlad the Smoke Wader. This is a real
Next to me, the
previously noncommittal Gay B grabs my arm. "I'm an
Adam now!" The applause is deafening.
Kris follows, meekly,
with a nondescript version of Marvin Gaye's "What's
Going On?" It's kinda good, but, as Simon says
unmathematically, Round 2 goes "a million percent" to
The evening's final act is barely worth recounting because
both Idols have to sing this season's coronation anthem, a
wretched piece of schlock cowritten by Kara. It seems to be
about mountains and how terrific it is to climb one and prove
that you can't be defeated by a large geological formation.
Though I later discover that the song's last line goes
something like "there are no boundaries," I hear it
as "there are no fountains."
Which seems like a huge
rip-off. Get over the damn mountain and there's no damn
I digress. Adam tries
and fails to make the song listenable; Kris strains his voice
to no effect. Both look defeated. Both look like they wish they
could push Kara off a mountain into an empty concrete fountain.
The judges avoid saying anything, except for Kara, who
stubbornly pretends her song has touched her, and Simon, who
seems to give Adam the edge, reminding us that Idol's
raison d'etre is to find a phenomenal singer.
To Kris, Simon
essentially says: "You're less boring than you used to
be. Good for you!" But none of the judges predict a winner
as they have in past years, and the show ends on a muted,
indecisive note. Shuffling out of the Nokia, the tweens seem
Post-mortem at nearby restaurant:
Over pricey, picturesque Los Angeles food, my companions are
more willing than Simon to issue predictions. They think
America will give the nod to the safer, blander Kris. They
think Adam peaked too soon. They doubt change's readiness
to come. Over dessert, we wonder what got in its way.