Screamer or strummer? It's down to two very different 'Idol' hopefuls

by David Hiltbrand

The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

20 May 2009


It’s said we get the “Idol” we deserve. So who’s it going to be, America? The glam screamer or the shy strummer? Adam Lambert or Kris Allen?

This week’s finale offers the most dramatic matchup in eight years of “Idol,” more pronounced than country gal Carrie Underwood vs. rocker Bo Bice in season four.

The soft-spoken Allen, 23, is the worship leader at his hometown church in Arkansas. Lambert, with his shockwave hair, raccoon eyes and black fingernail polish (a fashion statement that really threw “Idol” mentor Randy Travis), seems like an envoy from Sodom and Gomorrah.

You never want to underestimate the importance of the cute guy factor in determining “American Idol” results. Let’s face it, young girls can dial eight times, send six texts and check their hair in the time it takes the rest of us to locate our cells.

Advantage, Mr. Allen.

There’s no denying, however, that the 27-year-old Lambert’s charisma and flamboyance have reenergized the show. Plus, week after week, he’s had “Idol’s” judging panel pulling for him harder than an Olympic rowing team.

During a recent Oprah appearance, Simon Cowell preemptively declared Lambert the winner. A couple of weeks ago on the air, Kara DioGuardi declared him a “rock God.”

Who can compete with a deity? Game, set, match, Lambert. That is, as long as viewers follow the judges’ script.

Since he emerged as the front runner (with an exotic cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” in March), the big question has been: Is Adam gay?

Come on, people: he made it out of the Hollywood rounds singing Cher. Does he have to spell it out for you?

Lambert has maintained a coolly neutral stance when confronted with the issue, saying, “I know who I am. I’m an honest guy, and I’m just going to keep singing.”

It’s his vocal style, not his sexuality, that will determine his fate Wednesday night. People either respond to his stage flair and extraordinary range or they find him outrageously over the top.

No one would dispute that he’s one of a kind. When Lambert hits those freaky high notes, he makes Rush’s Geddy Lee sound like a baritone.

This week’s showdown caps off an often-bizarre season of “American Idol.”

With an average of 25 million viewers, the Fox singing contest remains the big dog in prime time, easily besting its nearest rival, “Dancing With the Stars.” But ratings were down again this year. According to Nielsen Media, “Idol’s” audience in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic shrank 13 percent this season and a full 34 percent since 2006, when Taylor Hicks won.

Yet Fox did all it could to rearrange the deck chairs on its aging flagship.

The biggest change was the addition of songwriter DioGuardi to the judges’ pool. Unfortunately, that meant that the commentary now lasted longer than the performances.

An unprecedented baker’s dozen made the finals after the judges gave Anoop Desai an unexpected reprieve. (Ten of those singers will take part in the “Idol” summer tour.)

For the first time this year, we had sing-offs in Hollywood. Remember the battle of the blue-collar bruisers, as Matt Breitzke took on Michael Sarver? Sumo singing.

Another innovation: the judges’ save, which allowed Simon and the gang to bring back one Top 10 singer from elimination. They exercised it on Matt Giraud when seven contestants were left. But he was sent packing again the following week.

We had the usual train wrecks (manic Tatiana Del Toro) and controversies (the overnight disqualification of Joanna Pacitti).

Mostly, though, season eight of “Idol” just seemed long. Crossing the country in the back of your parents’ station wagon long.

Was Jorge Nunez really one of the finalists? Why did we ever care about Megan Joy?

One way or the other, it ends Wednesday night.

Because the voting margin between Lambert and Allen is so slim (less than a million last week), it makes the final performances pivotal.

You’d think that pressure cooker scenario would favor Lambert, because all season long, he’s shown a knack for shining when the spotlight is brightest.

But Allen has been growing in confidence each week. And you suddenly have all these uncommitted Danny Gokey delegates floating around. (The Milwaukee balladeer was dismissed last week.) Those viewers may well provide the swing vote. And logically Danny’s fans would favor the gentler alternative (Allen) over the air-raid siren (Lambert).

Decisions, decisions.

Your call, America.

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