Thursday, May 21, 2009

Voting Coalitions and American Idol

Most people seem surprised by Kris Allen's win over Adam Lambert last night on the Idol finale. I'd argue that the result wasn't as unexpected as you might think.

My household voted for Kris (almost entirely on the strength of his cover of "Heartless," which was the best performance of the season), but I submit that Adam was, at nearly ever turn, the superior candidate. His final night performance was better, his body of work over the course of the season was better, and he's a more saleable commodity as a recording artist in the future. By nearly every metric, he should have won.

Except that there were some indications that Adam had somewhat polarized the voters. Late in the show he finished in the bottom three. And when the show went down to three contestants two weeks ago, it was Adam and two other, virtually indistinguishable, guys. At that moment, it appeared most clearly that there might be a substantial "Not Adam" vote that had been split in the later stages of the competition, but was slowly congealing. From there, it hardly mattered whether it Kris or Danny in the final. One of them would get the other one's vote as the "Not Adam" vote finally consolidated.

So why not Adam? Drudge was teasing this as a Red State-Blue State showdown, but I think that's not quite right. Adam is personally pretty appealing, but his two wheelhouses--glam rock and showtunes--are violently at odds with the musical norms of the series. And worse, when he let them mix, became something weirdly unsettling: American culture has, thankfully, closed the book on the rock opera.

Ultimately, I think that's what did Adam in.

Mind you, I suspect he'll ultimately have the more productive career. But these things are hard to project. I don't know that you could have predicted that Carrie Underwood would have, by far, the best post-Idol career. Or that Jennifer Hudson would win an Oscar.

And anyway, I still find David Cook the most interesting performer to come out of the show. It would be nice to see him break big.

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