From Zero to… Second Place? Idol’s Kris Allen

Channel Surfing readers: you owe me. I haven’t watched an entire American Idol results show in years, but last night I suffered through it in order to properly weigh in on next week’s Final Two showdown.

I hate the results shows. They represent everything loathsome about American Idol: excruciating chatter by the judges; shameless product placements for Ford and Coke; and Ryan Seacrest torturing the contestants by dragging out the two minutes we actually care about — who stays and who goes home.

But never have I had so much invested in the next American Idol. No I’m not talking about the debate over Adam Lambert’s sexuality or Danny Gokey’s personality flaws. I like Adam and dislike Danny but the contestant I really cared about this season was underdog Kris Allen.

Kris scored a true victory in snagging a Final Two spot that Danny seemed to have locked up months ago. Hopefully he sees it that way too, because he’s probably going to get creamed by Adam next week.

Adam is all about flash and mystery, black nail polish and flat-ironed hair. The reason he’s become such a sensation this season (other than all the brouhaha over his maybe being gay or bisexual) is that he’s the first American Idol contestant who is both versatile and talented enough to use those skills to his advantage.

Unlike Adam, Kris couldn’t sing the phone book (or one of Idol’s lackluster victory anthems) and make it work. As his lackluster cover of One Republic’s “Apologize” proved this week, Kris needs the right song to shine.

But there was a reason that I spent a recent Thursday frantically refreshing iTunes until I could purchase his cover of Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money”. He may not be the most gifted contestant, but Kris could go head to head with Adam any day of the week when it comes to knowing how to play the game.

Simon can stress that American Idol is a singing competition all he wants, but anyone paying attention knows that’s only part of it. If being able to sing was the most important thing, Lil Rounds would have fulfilled her early promise and made it to the finals. Megan Joy never would have made it out of the audition rounds.

Singing is almost beside the point, which is packaging. It’s all about whether a song could be a single and what that single would say about the artist’s entire album. Kris knows exactly what his limitations are and what kind of artists he wants to be. Week after week, he was smart enough to choose songs that not only fit the episode’s theme, but could also be twisted to fit his voice, flaws and all.

During any other season, that would be enough to win American Idol. For proof, look no further than Season 7 victor David Cook, who was a total nonentity until he started doing the exact same thing .

Kris is going to have to settle for second place in this year’s contest. But he may still have a win in him. Adam has done so many different things over the course of the season that I have no idea what kind of album he’ll make – and no idea if it’s something I’d buy or download. I know exactly what kind of album Kris will (should) make. I also know that I’d pay for it – and in a day and age when even ardent fans only want free music, that’s a pretty important advantage.