I’ve never been an American Idol fan. I think it caters to the worst elements of the American psyche, and even die-hard American Idol fans would have to admit that it’s often less about talent than popularity. It’s also hardly a fair competition, since you can vote as often as you like, and teen-aged girls do vote obsessively for whoever the latest season’s cutie is.
I don’t recall a single American Idol winner or finalist who made any sort of impression on me beyond that of being generic product (David Cook shows promise, but he’s yet to break free of his American Idol obligations, and could go either way). That’s my problem with American Idol. I recently told someone that it rewards capable banality. Later I realized that the phrase summed up every previous American Idol winner in my mind; capable banality.
What does that mean? Well, to me it means someone like Kris Allen. He’s a good looking guy. He sings well. He rarely misses a note. He’s very capable, in other words. The guy is obviously talented, but he’s painfully ordinary. Sure, he’s talented, but he’s just as talented as a thousand other people just like him. Talent is not the rarity that some people think. The thing with Kris Allen is that if you went into a club somewhere and he happened to be performing, after you left you’d have a hard time remembering his name, and within a few days you’d never think about him again. I’m sure that every performance he did would have been capable, but he just wouldn’t have made much of an impression in the real world.
For the last two seasons (which includes this one), I’ve been getting a first-hand taste of the American Idol experience by watching it with my girlfriend (her idea, not mine). Nothing I’ve seen has changed my general perception of American Idol as a gristmill for the types of music and performers that I can’t stand. Katy Perry, who performed last week, is a good example. She’s a living, breathing example of what I hate about contemporary popular music – she’s capably banal; just as talented as thousands of other young women, but unlikely to have made much of an impression had it not been for that one great song (which Perry didn’t write).
Enter Adam Lambert.
There have been a lot of contestants this year that I liked. Some of my favorites went home early (which was no surprise to me), including the most recent, Allison Iraheta. But I liked Adam Lambert from the beginning. I’ve only recently started pulling for him, because now that the competition is down to two people, Adam Lambert embodies the antithesis of everything that is American Idol. I hope he wins just because he’ll scare the shit out of white-bread America. He’ll shake things up a bit.
I summed it up to a friend by stating that the competition between Adam Lambert and Kris Allen is a bit like pitting Freddie Mercury against Sean Cassidy. If you’re young and don’t know who Sean Cassidy is, you’ve just made my point. If you don’t know who Freddie Mercury is, kill yourself now. You’re dead weight.
I realized afterward that the analogy was apt. If Freddie Mercury was to be brought forward in time and performed on American Idol, white-bread America wouldn’t be buzzing over his raw talent and charisma, but would be obsessing about his sexuality. Is he gay? Does he represent American values? Does he reflect the average American? Is he another example of the continued assault on the American family by gay activists? Is Satan working through him?
I’ve heard the same kind of chatter about Adam Lambert. Those who don’t like him don’t dislike him because of his lack of talent or charisma. They dislike him because when they look in the mirror in the mornings, what they see reminds them more of Kris Allen than Adam Lambert. And this is the critical flaw in the entire American Idol concept. When it all comes down to it, it’s not quite fair to say that it’s a talent competition when so many incredibly talented people were sent home early while so many safe, boring people got into the Top 10. As long as people’s criticism of Adam Lambert is based upon the way he dresses, or his possible sexual orientation, or his theatricality, their objections have nothing to do with his talent and everything to do with their own prejudices and insecurities.
If you’ve ever complained about how boring modern music is, you have to look no further than Kris Allen. He’s the living embodiment of the capable banality that permeates the music industry, and I’m sure he’ll generate safe, easily digestible music that no one will buy (but which will be played heavily on the radio). If, like me, you grew up listening to Freddie Mercury in Queen, or Led Zeppelin, or Aerosmith, or Pink Floyd, or any number of the incredible, influential artists that helped shaped rock and popular music for generations, you’ll be pulling for Adam Lambert. He’s the guy with that spark of danger that makes Rock ‘N’ Roll such a deliciously rebellious art form.
I’ve said all that I came to say. Right now, though, I keep thinking about Elvis Presley. Elvis scared the shit out of white-bread America, with raw talent and un-ashamed sexuality. Had there been an American Idol when he was getting started, he would have done well. Raw talent cannot be denied. But there would have been the same chatter. The haters would have worried about his sexuality. They would have debated about his eye-liner, and obsessed about his slick hair and baggy trousers. And in the end they would have supported that generation’s representation of white-bread America and cast their vote for Pat Boone.
- Adam Lambert vs Kris Allen
- Freddie Mercury vs Sean Cassidy
- Elvis Presley vs Pat Boone