Are you excited for tonight? I know I am. While I would have definitely preferred an Adam-Allison finale, I think Kris is not only a talented contestant, but he is also a valid threat to an Adam Lambert win. This is definitely strange coming from me, the person who, when Kris somehow came out of frickin’ nowhere only to easily win his round in the semi-finals, prompting me to get pissed that he was only voted through over more worthy contestants because of his cuteness factor. Describing him as “bland but cute,” I said the following:
“I’m not as mad at the final selection [as] I was Thursday night, but I still think that both Kris Allen from this week and Michael Sarver from week 1 should not be in the Top 12.”
And yet, here we are, and I have nothing but respect for the man. He’s shaken up the competition in a way almost entirely heretofore unprecedented on Idol (save for the vastly less talented but interesting Blake Lewis) by being an incredible builder of songs, performances and themes first and being a singer second. It feels strange to put him on a pedestal over Danny Gokey, who I will always admit had a good voice, but just wasn’t cutting it for me.
It was the end of the line for Gokey, for sure. Yes, he sang “You Are So Beautiful” quite well, but it was a cheap song choice. I thought it was a cheap song choice when Taylor Hicks did it, and I was a big fan of the Silver Fox, so don’t think that I’m just being hard on Gokey. Going back on my notes, I realize I was actually fairly sick of Gokey by the time semifinals rolled around, that he hadn’t risen above his sob story to be a performer, and week after week, I became less and less interested in his growl. While people may say that Lambert screams all of his songs (which isn’t true if you actually watched all of his damn performances), Gokey has this ability to look pissed at everybody and everything even while singing the most beautiful of songs. And that turned me off above all else. Yes, I broke my own rule when it comes to contestant, which I call “pulling a Simon.” And yes, it’s a positive thing. It’s averting your eyes from the performance so you can simply listen, which is technically what this competition is all about. And when I pull a Simon with Gokey, he seems to work. But not nearly as much as the other two.
Adam, let’s be honest, has lost a good deal of his ability to surprise. By now, we’re expecting him to be wild, to be different, to be triumphant. But he also has this uncanny ability to take a horrible decision and make it work for him. And man, did he make two bad decisions. #1. “Play That Funky Music” on a non-disco week. #2. “Born to Be Wild.” And while his unicorn-raping version of “Ring of Fire” might have ill-advised, it definitely made him a complete character for the show. But you see, the fact that he can make something great out of something suck is a skill few have, and that’s why I want him to win. He’s that good. He makes you like Wild Cherry. And he survived the curse of performing “Feeling Good.” We’re a rapt audience for this man.
As for Kris, I still don’t think he has that great of a voice, but oh man is he interesting. While you can’t give him all the credit for basically finding other versions of assigned songs (see my response to his cover of Adele’s version of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” during country week saying it’s a Garth Brooks song), he started to make it work for him by being honest and being fascinating. From “Ain’t No Sunshine” onward, he’s proven what any good Idol viewers know, that this is a performance showcase, and you’d better be a helluva performer. That’s why Lil Rounds ain’t around no more. That’s why Michael Sarver isn’t around anymore. They weren’t performers. They were just singers with passable voices. But no personality.
And yes, Kris somehow managed to take a rap song and turn it into something quite interesting and downloadable. While covering “Heartless” as a Jason Mraz-type song doesn’t eliminate the fact that nobody has seemed to notice that the song seems to have only seven notes in the entire thing and barely jumps out of its octave. It’s not really a singer’s song. But it is one ripe for rearrangement. YouTube doesn’t seem to be working right now (or if so, it’s moving verrrrrrry slowly), otherwise I’d show you Mia Carruthers’ own performance of “Heartless” on the damned addictive MTV show Taking The Stage, just to show that maybe from a different perspective, you too might realize that the song kind of sucks no matter how good the singer is. (And yes, Mia is great. Just find any of her original songs.) My problem with the song is that, since Kanye has somehow fashioned himself as a singer, he’s been writing these nonsense pop songs that could be done by anybody. Hell, I think you could replace Kanye with Britney Spears on “Heartless,” and it’d be about the same.
My point? Kris can also rise above weird choices, and yet at the same time is defined by them. But give him a guitar and a worthy beat, and he performs the shit out of it. And that’s another thing we don’t get often enough on this show.
Adam and Kris prove that this isn’t just a karaoke competition. It’s a competition for stars, for great performers, and potentially for those who can actually alter the recording industry.
Does this year’s final two remind anyone of last year’s final two? We have a bona fide rocker going against someone cute, sweet and unassuming. While last year, that latter role was filled by a tiny child who best resembled a monchichi, this year it’s filled with an appealing (and married) boy next door, who, I think, is infinitely more listenable. I like Kris Allen a lot better than I did D’Archie the Monchichi, but I still need Adam Lambert to win. I think he’s much more of a showman than Kris Allen, although I would download a Kris Allen single or three, and for me, I like music and musicians that are very engaging and performative.
The soulful weight of his “Tracks of My Tears” haunted me for days, and he performed it honestly and openly. I said after that song that I would pay to see him in a revival of Jersey Boys, and that’s still true. I’d pay to see him in anything, because he understands lyrics, phrasing and performing a song. Because he’s an actor, he understands when and how much of himself to put into his songs. While Gokey had one look, Adam had many. Turning from swinging swagger to eye-ball raping edginess to straight-up rock n’roll energy whenever the song called for it. I believe that’s what you call versatility. He’s so versatile, in fact, that he can also tone it down and deliver a quieter performance with just as much passion and intensity. “Mad World”? I’ll never hear a better interpretation of a line on American Idol than when Adam Lambert pushed the “nervous” of “I went to school and I was very nervous” into a wavering falsetto, capturing the emotion and meaning of the song better than anyone. I’ll give Kris his due for his beautiful rendition of “Falling Slowly,” a song he truly seemed to understand and adore, but in the performance department, he’s no match for Lambert.
And besides, how could you not love Adam when he returned to his old theatre camp and that tiny little tot came up and asked him how he learned to sing and dance so good? Tears to my fucking eyes. I wish I could sing and dance that good, too, tiny boy.
Either finalist will make records. And they will make records that will make money. It’s really a win-win situation this year, which is an improvement over last years’ rocker vs. boy next door battle, in which one option was win and one was suck.