Saturday, May 23, 2009

American Idol & How People Vote

Immediately after the surprising win of Kris Allen over Adam Lambert in the finale of American Idol Wednesday night, speculation began as to whether questions concerning Lambert's sexuality cost him the victory. Early on in this season of Idol rumors began to swirl on the Internet about Lambert. He has chosen to remain silent on the issue and feels that his ambiguity on this issue likely cost him some votes.

While I'm sure that this issue affected Adam in the eyes of some viewers, I think it was far outweighed by his musical style. American Idol is and always has been a pop music contest. Those that have come from other genres have consistently struggled to find a spot among the finalists. Even those with immense talent like Chris Daughtry or Jennifer Hudson failed to advance to the final stage of the competition because their styles were rock and R&B, respectively.

It is evident that Adam has a lot of talent and will likely continue to find success in the entertainment field. His flair for the theatrical and his vocal range is admirable. But in my opinion, his singing style harkens back to the 80's hair bands like Cinderella, Ratt, or Warrant. I don't know about you, but I could totally see him singing with Stryper! Rockers generally have not received the same kind of votes that the pure pop-driven contestants have.

Kris Allen is good-looking, has a likable personality and although he doesn't bring a lot of energy to the stage, he is a talented singer and musician. And, yes, I think the fact that he is a Christian who is a worship leader at his church certainly helped him among evangelicals. Once Danny Gokey was voted off, I think it clinched it for Kris. He probably carried the Christian vote and likely received the bulk of the votes from the teenage girls that vote en masse for this show.

Although it bills itself as a singing competition, American Idol has never merely been about singing talent. Personality, likability, potential for radio stardom, etc. all play a role. If American popular music was only about singing talent, none of us would know who Madonna Ciccone was. But on a competition like Idol, other factors come into play and people are going to vote for not only who the think is the best singer, but also who they most identify with.

Do we really expect the friends and family of contestants to not vote for them if deep down they don't feel like they're the best singer? Is it not okay for people from a finalist's hometown or home state to vote for them merely because they grew up in the same place? Of course not! So if we are to fault those that didn't vote for Adam because they believe him to be gay, then we would also need to fault those in the gay community that voted for him simply because they think he is. On the other hand, could we also determine that many that voted for Adam voted for him because they didn't want to vote for a professing Christian like Kris? I don't think it's fair to assume that.

Ultimately, there a number of factors that contribute to who wins on Idol each year. It would be difficult to single out one factor as to whether that is what made the difference. And just because the media fawns over a certain singer doesn't mean that's who the American public will vote for. My prediction is that Kris will record a pop album or two with limited success and eventually find a place in the Contemporary Christian Music market. Adam, who is probably best suited for the stage and live performance, will star on Broadway and make some pretty cool videos for his first studio album. Both these guys are extremely talented and I wish them all the best.

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