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American Excess

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<em>American</em> Excess

Last night’s American Idol finale was an exercise in excess, with award-show posturing complete with faux awards presented by host Ryan Seacrest and superstar guest performances, including Fergie—who awkwardly warbled through her hit “Big Girls Don’t Cry” before being joined by her fellow Black Eyed Peas for a performance of their latest single, “Boom Boom Pow,” a song that does the exact opposite of epitomizing a singing competition—and a seemingly dazed and confused Rod Stewart. The only thing missing was a dry-ice-and-fire-filled group performance of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” Oh, wait, there it is.

I stopped paying attention to the conveyor belt of alternately mediocre-but-smartly-packaged and quirky-but-completely-unmarketable talent that is Idol around the time that viewers gifted themselves with Taylor Hicks, but it’s clear the show is close to buckling under the weight of its over-bloated surfeit. In many ways, the finale was perfectly married to the season’s purported frontrunner, 27-year-old neo-glam rocker Adam Lambert—he of the man-polish, eyeliner, jet-black emo hairdo, and heavy-metal shriek. Lambert was joined on stage at one point by Kiss for an over-the-top spectacle of a duet that involved, yes, more dry ice and fire.

So it was poetic, perhaps even cosmically auto-corrective, when “dark horse” Kris Allen—he of the unthreatening, boy-next-door good looks and multi-instrumental skills—upset Lambert for the win. Allen’s Idol journey ended just as it began, with an endearing modesty and accessibility (even his reaction to winning was restrained, a striking contrast to Lambert’s theatrical bombast) and an understated performance style that’s focused on the music itself. And yet he held his own alongside country superstar Keith Urban during the finale, displaying a down-home authenticity that will likely be a hell of a lot more bankable in the real world than Lambert’s melodramatic, sexually ambiguous (at least to the tween girls who voted for him) glam show.

While there are some who are quick to point to the media’s apparently “coded” characterizations of Lambert to explain Allen’s “surprise” win (am I not allowed to use the word “theatrical” without fear of being labeled a homophobe?), 12-year-old girls are unlikely to be swayed by a bunch of bloggers…or Simon Cowell. If last night’s finale is any indication, the producers of Idol had been grooming the admittedly talented Lambert for the win, but America clearly had other ideas. Maybe now the show will take a cue and tone down the, uh, theatrics and get back to basics.

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.