Possession is Law: “Your” American Idol & Season 8 Finale Thoughts


“Your” American Idol & the Season 8 Finale

May 20th, 2009

I didn’t even bother watching tonight’s finale of American Idol – this is the least attentive I’ve been of the show all season, having only watched Tuesday’s performance show in its entirety and relying on EW’s great Idolatry for the remainder of my Idol-related coverage and analysis. I realized at a certain point that as a) a Canadian and b) someone who will not buy the album of pretty well any contestant coming out of the show, there really isn’t anything in the show for me other than snarky commentary and critical analysis of the entire process. And, realistically, all you need for the latter is to know who won, and to be able to follow the demographics.

What always fascinates me about Idol, however, is this idea of possession, which has grown more and more complicated as we’ve gone from season to season. Is Kelly Clarkson still “your” American Idol, or has she been usurpsed from her throne by every subsequent Idol? If she wasn’t, does this mean that Taylor Hicks is just as much “your” American Idol as Clarkson or Carrie Underwood or David Cook? And, where does Chris Daughtry sit within this paradigm: is he some sort of demi-Idol, or is he cut out of Idol worship altogether despite his success and his association with the show? Do all of these people belong to the Idol machine, and thus to the viewers at home who voted for them, or are they actually individuals capable of expressing themselves? And, if people didn’t vote, do they own them the same as someone who voted? Similarly, if someone voted for the person who didn’t win, do they still get to claim a piece of the winner like in elections where everyone’s stuck with the guy with the most votes whether they want them or not? Or, rather, are they capable of claiming that this isn’t “their” Idol, refusing possession in favour of sullen indifference or complete devotion to the false Idol who finished second, or fourth (I refuse to acknowledge anyone who idolizes the third place finisher), or didn’t even make it into the finals (that’d be the case for Idolatry’s producer, at the very least)?

I raise all of these points to say that anyone who is seriously outraged by the results of tonight’s American Idol finale needs to realize that even with perceived ownership, and the agency of having had a vote in a democratic process, their true vote will be with their wallet, or their credit card, as these artists make their way into the musical world. Even if they may not be “the” American Idol, something tells me that Simon Fuller has no power over the American public as to who they choose to worship.

If he does, god help us all – spoilers for tonight’s American Idol finale after the jump, be warned.

In the epic battle between Kris Allen and Adam Lambert, Kris Allen was sold as the underdog. This fascinated me: he had grown throughout the competition (slowly building more and more credibility with his arrangements), his brand of light folk rock combined with his prettiness makes him a perfect fit for all female viewers old and young, and he seems legitimately humble and free some any sort of ego for those who care about such a thing. Adam Lambert, meanwhile, surprised early with the balance of screechfests and soulful ballads but never really evolved beyond that point, fits into a polarizing genre of theatrical glam rock that isn’t a traditional Idol genre, and while in my opinion he was quite humble during interview segments his performance felt like one giant act, which isn’t traditionally a turn-on for the Idol audience.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Adam Lambert isn’t a “singular talent,” or a “global superstar,” or any other such nonsense the judges threw at him; I think he has a big future ahead of him and, while I couldn’t sit through a record of screeching and would simply dig into the ballads, he is going to make a successful record. However, he just didn’t fit into the Idol mold, and that isn’t something that you are able to overcome as easily as perhaps you should be able to. America’s demographics are such that certain kinds of singers will be favoured over others – while not quite the same, Blake Lewis was perhaps more “singular” or “talented” than Jordin Sparks, but as a beatboxing kid with a rather unremarkable voice he couldn’t compete with the plucky teenager with the big voice and the growth throughout the comepetition, even thought Jordin wasn’t leading all along the way.

So, inevitably, Kris Allen was victorious in what will be billed as an upset; heck, apparently, he even said himself that Adam “should have won.” However, I don’t think it’s fair to put an asterisk on Allen’s win to say that it was in any was undeserved: if he hadn’t been paired against Lambert no one would be complaining about his victory, as he is a strong singer, who made some good choice, and showed a level of artistry that trumps quite a few Idol winners. I don’t think it’s fair for this narrative to become about who got robbed or who got snubbed, because ultimately it was a democratic voting process and there isn’t anything that can be done.

Lambert was done in by the fact that Danny Gokey’s fans, with no one to vote for, were going to gravitate towards Allen, and it was entirely possible that Kris was already leading as of last week. He was not, meanwhile, done in because of the fact that he is gay, or even that he was flamboyant: I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of the Idol voting base, and the people who would be consciously making that decision, or even unconsciously making that decision, would not be doing so solely based on that. This is a subjective competition, and they may have found his theatricality offputting for an infinite number of reasons. I’m all about questioning the sanity of reality show judging trends, don’t get me wrong, but that feels like trying to turn this into some sort of conspiracy, which it really isn’t.

It was a tough situation to really call: on the one hand, Lambert is now free from having to record that single, and free to make a record he wants to make slightly removed from the Idol machine. On the other hand, many latched onto this as the chance for American Idol to become relevant again. You could feel the producers, and the judges, grasping onto Lambert and pimping him as much as possible so that, when they’re doing press after the season, they can talk about how Idol is growing and expanding and hip and cool and everything else in between. But let’s be honest: Idol isn’t going to change, just as America’s demographics aren’t going to change.

And so, this feels pretty much ideal to me: Lambert fans can follow him to the end of the earth without his vision being compromised, Allen fans can buy his inoffensive new CD and admire his purdy smile, and Idol will still be desperately flailing around trying to pretend the show is truly relevant despite ratings drops and a superfluous fourth judge muddling the proceedings, all without a triumphant narrative to end its season.

Cultural Observations

  • I didn’t realize until writing this post just how much watching Idolatry has informed me this season: props to Michael Slezak, the numerous guests (especially Kristen Baldwin sans glasses), and the producers).
  • Part of me is sad that I missed out on the various performances with big name stars during the show, but on the other hand that’s two hours of my life when I was doing something far more worthwhile: pretending to be in an epic rock band called “Minute Rice” while playing plastic instruments. I am perfectly happy with that life choice, honest.
  • I never really know to what degree my readership watches shows like Idol, so as always I’m curious to see what you all thought about the decision.


Filed under American Idol

6 responses to “Possession is Law: “Your” American Idol & Season 8 Finale Thoughts

  1. Jenn

    I’m a devoted Idol watcher, but my vote was for “not Danny Gokey” so I was fine with either winner. I will say, however, that I’m more likely to buy Kris Allen’s album just because I like the folksy, singer-songwriter-y genre. I definitely don’t think the show is relevant, just entertaining. The judges especially have become superfluous this season and I pretty much took to fast-forwarding through their “critiques”.

    And I LOVE Idolatry.

  2. youcantdoit

    Kris Allen is a likable, handsome, inoffensive performer. I have no problem with him winning. It was really his only chance to have any kind of career come out of this. Adam Lambert is over the top, theatrical, and polarizing. A lot of people loved him, but a lot of people hated him too. And those are the people that gave Kris Allen the win. They weren’t voting for Kris, they were voting against Adam. It didn’t help that Adam got most of the attention from the judges and the media. He was already on the cover of EW. I am sure that made some fans quite angry.

  3. Ms Comartin

    I think this is a fantastic assessment of the results for this season’s Idol. You hit it dead on.

    As much as I was rooting for Adam Lambert to win, he doesn’t fit the Idol “machine” and his theatrical performances (to say nothing of his nailpolish and eyeliner “emo/goth” look) were certainly more polarizing for the audience. People either loved him or hated him. I think there was very little middle ground.

    Kris Allen, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of safe, boy-next-door performer who meets the needs of prepubescent girls and soccer moms across America when it comes to “their” Idol.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter who won. Both Lambert and Allen will get record deals and both will sell many albums (and as you state, at least Lambert doesn’t have to record that travesty “No Boundaries” written by Kara DioGuardi).

    Thanks for your insights.

  4. gary

    I think the biggest reason for this upset is backlash against the judges.

  5. bdsr80

    I used to be the biggest fan of American Idol, but it lost something when Taylor Hicks won.

    Besides Adam and Kris are going to get record deals. It doesn’t matter who wins.

  6. Dave

    It seems to me that a Dewyze fan could change every “Adam” to “Crystal” and “Kris” to “Lee” and write exactly this same article.

    e.g. Recalling “I don’t think it’s fair for this narrative to become about who got robbed or who got snubbed, because ultimately it was a democratic voting process and there isn’t anything that can be done,” might have saved you the trouble of composing one of your May 2010 blogs.

    “He was not, meanwhile, done in because of the fact that he is gay, or even that he was flamboyant:”
    As a Canadian ex-pat living in the U.S., I must say this is a naive view of U.S. demographics and society. You’d be surprised how … different … the thinking of large segments of U.S. society is from what is considered perfectly acceptable in most of Canada. And also how violently those opinions are held. The anti-gay sentiment may not have been *dominant*, but it was certainly influential.

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