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American Idol

Live From
American Idol


A report from inside the Nokia Theatre on the last showdown between the small-town guy and the big (possibly) gay hope.

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 win.

Here's an eyewitness report of how his last chance to nail the title unfolded.

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 Atlas Shrugged 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.

"I don't really care," says Gay B. "I like them both."

"Krisssssss!" 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 American Idol !"

Next to me, Gay B is saying, "So I told them I'd send in my resume and my reel and -- "

"This ... is American Idol !": 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.

Round 1: 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 way of The Matrix 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.

Commercial break: 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.

Round 2: 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 person.

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 Adam.

Round 3: 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 fountains?

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 listless.

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.

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