From Zero to... Second Place? Idol's Kris Allen

Adam Lambert may have all the buzz, but there's just something about underdog 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.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

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It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

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​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

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"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

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There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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