Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Polemics of American Idol

I've been regular viewer of American Idol since season three. (It just wrapped up season eight.) I'm moderately "into" the show. I've never had an inkling to vote for a contestant; I don't pay too much attention to all the latest gossip; and I don't own the official Idol pajamas (and wouldn't, even if they did carry them in my size). But I watch the show each week, gripe about all the time wasted on "filler," criticize inane comments made by inane "judges," and often ponder why a country of 300 million can't field a little more talent. This is what passes for entertainment in the Freeven household.

So it's not surprising that two recent Townhall columns, one by Floyd and Mary Brown, the other by S.E. Cupp, caught my attention. The columns contrast the personalities and lifestyles of the show's final two contestants and speculate about whether the outcome was heavily influenced by the biases of Christian viewers--towards a wholesome, traditional American image on the one hand, and against a flamboyant, sexually-ambiguous performer on the other.

So there's a bit of political football being played over this, most of which I'm too uninterested in too comment on. However, a few of the columnists' perceptions struck me as egregious enough to merit comment.

The Browns' is the tamer, and more banal, of the two articles. It's pure pablum really, observing that Americans preferred the angelic Kris, who has the "humbleness of a lamb," to the high-pitched screams of the gothic Adam. Fair enough. Opinions make the show go around. But this passage (emphasis mine) steps beyond mere opinion into cluelessness:
This has caused some pundits to postulate that [Adam] Lambert's presumed homosexuality may have led to his demise. Photos of him French kissing with different men, and in drag, made the rounds on the Internet. Another reason he may have lost is his strutting over-confidence and conceit, something that usually doesn't play well with Americans.
Anyone who watched Idol with any consistency this year has to immediately balk at this mischaracterization of Lambert. While it's true that his performances are theatrical and edgy, his demeanor once the music stops is a stark contrast. Throughout the season, members of our household expressed frequent amazement at just how humble and gracious this young man was during interviews and when accepting comments from the judges. It was remarkably refreshing to see the stereotype of a narcissistic, high-octane rocker so thoroughly broken. Even judge Simon Cowell, not known for gratuitous compliments, made a point of commending both finalists on being great people as well as performers.

There is more to take issue with in the Cupp column. It begins:
This week Kris Allen, who during the American Idol season prompted unabashed praise from Simon Cowell and the rest of the judges, was voted America’s favorite over Adam Lambert, his theatrical and inconsistent competitor.
I can only conclude that Cupp didn't catch much of Idol this season, or wasn't paying very close attention, for she has it exactly backwards. It was Kris Allen who was inconsistent and often drew disappointing reviews from the judges. That's why his victory was deemed an upset by so many. Whille Simon Cowell did offer Allen praise during the final pairing, it was in the context of Allen's having staged a comeback after Cowell had written him off as a contender. The truth is that Allen came on late, after suffering from confidence issues and spotty performances thoughout most of the season. That's why the Brown's correctly describe him as a "dark horse" in their article.

Lambert, on the other hand, was a model of consistency. Like his style or not, he delivered every time he stepped on stage, and the judges repeatedly said as much. I've spent many years studying, performing, and teaching music, and I can say without hesitation that Lambert is one of the most talented and consistent contestants in the show's history, not just as a singer, but as a total performer. I'm not a fan of his genre, but when it comes to quality and consistency only Melinda Doolittle (a humble, wholesome, Christian performer who didn't win, by the way) stands out as clearly superior. (I'd give David Archuleta an honorable mention.)

Cupp goes on to build up Allen and undercut Lambert further down in the story. She is obviously pushing back against outspoken liberals who claim that Lambert was the victim of gay-hating Christians or some such phenomenon. Without doing the research, I'd guess her criticisms are valid--an awful lot of drama gets squeezed out of these types of things--but who knows.

As I said, I'm not all that interested in all the manufactured social controversy being hung on the shows outcome. I just think that Lambert did a fine job this season, and got an unfair shake from these columnists. Both he and Allen have a lot to be proud of.

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