By Ramin Setoodeh
Whoa. So it's really true: Kris Allen is the new American Idol. Really. Seriously? This is the biggest upset—well, ever, in the show's eight seasons. Even more than when Chris Daughtry was voted out or when Ruben Studdard beat Clay Aiken. It wasn't just that Adam was pimped out by the judges more than any Idol contestant this season—Paula practically crowned him the winner when he sang "Black or White" 11 weeks ago—it's that he really was the best vocalist we've ever seen on Idol. Simon Cowell has even said that he thinks Adam's going to be an international star.
So what went wrong? Here are the top seven reasons why Adam Lambert lost American Idol.
1. Blame the judges. Just like it's now bad karma to be the front runner in the Oscar race (as Frost/Nixon can tell you) or the presidential election (as Hillary Clinton can tell you), it also doesn't help if you're the foregone winner of Idol long before the season is over. And here is where the judges didn't help Adam's case. Week after week, they didn't just praise him; they declared him The. Greatest. Singer. Ever. In. All. Of. History. Yes, he's a rock god, but when there's a preconceived notion that you've got the Idol crown in the bag, it makes your fans lazy and you lose votes. Kris Allen, on the other hand, consistently delivered solid performances and received mildly positive reviews from the judges. His fans felt like they had to fight harder to keep him in the contest.
2. But you should especially blame Kara DioGuardi. The new judge hasn't been getting much love from the blogosphere—especially after her gaffes involving "Studio 57" (she meant "Studio 54") and "Saturday Night Live" (she meant "Saturday Night Fever")—but she really proved to be the Joe Biden of Idol after she co-wrote the worst coronation song ever, "No Boundaries." The last song is usually how Simon manipulates America into voting for his favorite contestant, by unleashing a parade of superlatives. Not this year. "No Boundaries" was such a train wreck that neither of the contestants could pull it off. It literally left all the judges speechless, including Kara, who said she wasn't going to judge Kris based on her own song. Huh? In the end, the confusion was good for Kris. The judges weren't able to make one big last push for Adam.
3. Did we mention that Adam is a rock god? Idol has always favored syrupy balladeers or pop singers. It doesn't matter how well you can rock out—ask Chris Daughtry or Bo Bice or Carly Smithson or even Allison Iraheta. Rockers don't win American Idol.
4. The Christian factor. Last week, I wrote about how Adam (who hasn't spoken about his religious beliefs on the show) might be hurt by the fact that he was going up against two devout Christian finalists, Kris and Danny Gokey. Most of Gokey's fans probably ended up voting for Kris over Adam, giving him the boost he needed to win. You could say—as many of you have in the comments—that religion is an irrelevant criterion for judging a singing competition. But the fact remains that Idol is one of TV's most family-friendly shows, and it draws a large number of Christian viewers. Five out of seven of the past Idol winners have been very vocal about their Christian faith. Kris Allen had the edge here.
5. The gay factor. Adam Lambert hasn't talked about his sexuality publicly, but TV Guide reported that he was "openly gay," Perez Hilton reported on his (alleged) boyfriend and there are photos circulating online of someone who looks like him kissing another guy. This shouldn't be an issue in 2009. But if you've read any of online chatter about Idol this year, you know that sadly, there's still plenty of hate out there. Adam has millions of fans, and it looked like he could strike an emphatic blow against homophobia, much the same way that Obama broke through the race barrier when he became the country's first black president. But his ambiguous sexuality still cost Adam votes.
6. The youth vote. Remember last week, when they played footage of Kris and Adam visiting their hometowns? Both were met with adoring crowds, but only one was greeted by wailing tween girls who looked like they were in the presence of a long-lost Jonas brother. Kris was the heartthrob who covered Kayne West and dressed like Chace Crawford. Lambert was the Broadway kid who sang Aerosmith and wore eyeliner. The girl vote went to Kris, an important victory—tween girls are the diehards who stay up for hours after the show texting and calling in their votes.
7. In the end, Adam was the better singer, but Kris might have been the more unique artist, despite what the judges said. Don't believe me? Prior to the finale, here are the Adam performances I most remember: "Black and White," "Tracks of My Tears," "Mad World," "If I Can't Have You." Here's Kris's list: "Ain't No Sunshine," "Falling Slowly," "She Works Hard for Her Money," "Heartless." Which songs are you more likely to have on your iPod? Kris beats Adam on mine. They're both terrific guys who have great careers ahead of them. But maybe Kris is the more deserving American Idol after all.