Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Culture Wars Come to American Idol

Too many people are spending too much time trying to read cultural significance into Kris Allen's upset win over Adam Lambert on American Idol.

Was it the revenge of the red states? Did it foreshadow the next elections? Did it show that America prefers down-home to down-low? Did it mean that America is not ready for a gay American idol?

Of course, the show is a cultural phenomenon. Yet, is it always necessary to show off how much critical theory one learned in college? Is it always necessary to find fault with America?

Ask yourself this: does it make sense that a nation that heaped fame and fortune on Michael Jackson always votes for the more manly performer.

Too many commentators were so blinded by Adam Lambert's guyliner, his stage presence, his preternatural ability to entertain, that they missed the most important cultural point.

That being... that Adam Lambert consistently showed himself to be of good character.

Some contestants talk back to the judges; some are divas-in-training. Adam Lambert was consistently courteous and humble while receiving extravagant praise. The judges were placing him in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. He came back with a polite and well-articulated response. And he was gracious and graceful in defeat. He seemed genuinely happy that his friend Kris had won.

In our celebrity-addled culture, where wanna-be stars will happily throw their mothers under the bus for a shot at the big time, Adam Lambert was a refreshing change of pace.

From the little that we know about how the contestants got along among themselves, it appears that Adam spend his time befriending the other contestants. He was like a big brother to Allison. As it became clearer and clearer that he was going to become a major star he seems to have become magnanimous toward his fellow contestants. He never tried to lord it over anyone; he always seemed to want to bond with the others.

So, Adam Lambert was not just exemplary for his singing and entertaining; he was exemplary for his good character.

But how did the best singer lose? How did someone that the Idol judges-- most of whom know popular music very, very well-- declared to be the best, come in second? How did someone who merited a standing ovation from Smokey Robinson-- for singing Tracks of My Tears-- not win it all?

Consider this: rumor has it that Kris Allen received a third of his votes-- that would be around 17,000,000 votes. I am not sure that we can chalk it all up to teenaged girls on a texting frenzy.

Perhaps the deeper meaning had to do with state pride. Perhaps the people of Arkansas had found someone who would reflect well on their state, who would raise their stature in the eyes of America.

Maybe it mattered to them that Kris Allen was clean cut. After all, this was the state that gave us Bill Clinton, a president who was not known for his wholesome personal habits.

Maybe the people of Arkansas saw Kris Allen as a way to overcome a stain on their reputations.

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