Truth And Courage Stars On Idol

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - June 03, 2009
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Adam Lambert (left) and Kris Allen before the May 20 American Idol final

I vowed to be myself as much as possible.”-Adam Lambert, American Idol Runner-Up

OK, I know. American Idol is so two weeks ago, and in the news biz that would normally mean it’s old, buried and gone. Americans have very short attention spans, but for some reason they just can’t let go of Idol. The somewhat goofy singing contest this year became a vessel for the passions and projections of millions of otherwise sensible people, a symbol for everything that divides us - gay vs. straight, red state vs. blue, Christianity versus ... well, you get the picture. Throw in the AT&T voting brouhaha and you’ve got a scandal that just won’t go away.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know all about Adam Lambert. He is the fiercely talented singer with the emo hair, kohlrimmed eyes and black-painted fingernails. He’s been compared to Elvis. And, oh yeah, he’s probably gay. I say “probably” because he has never actually come right out and said it. But more on that particular point later.

The guy who won, Kris Allen, is a sweet, wholesome boy from Arkansas. He has a decent voice, a creative musical mind and was consistently ignored by the wacky and annoying judges week after week. I’m told he grew as an artist over the course of the competition. (I wouldn’t know, because I didn’t actually watch anyone but Lambert.) And so although I was squarely in the “Glambert” camp (That voice! Those eyes! Those cool leather jackets!), I don’t begrudge Allen his win. He worked hard for it. He endured humiliation and criticism and downright neglect. He used his ingenuity, talent and grit to slip under the radar and tortoise his way to victory. That’s the American way, and I say good for him. You have to respect a guy who just never gives up and who seems so genuinely nice.

But ... the Idol story isn’t all about the “upset.” It’s about courage. And although you can make the case that every contestant shows courage in putting him or herself “out there” week after week, Lambert personifies it. I’m not talking about his performances, bold and risky as they were. I’m talking about his refusal to buckle under must have been enormous pressure to conform to what looks and behaves like the “ideal” Idol; the clean-cut, all-American - and straight - boy. In other words, Kris Allen. Even Lambert’s mother suggested, after he made it through the auditions, that perhaps he’d go farther if he’d tone it down a bit - lose the nail polish and guyliner, soften the image and make himself more palatable to conservative Middle America.

His answer to that was straightforward. He wanted to be truthful to himself - and to the public.

“I vowed from the get-go to try to be myself throughout this competition. And the fact that people have backed me on that really feels good, because that’s a hard thing to do - be yourself in front of America.” (Emphasis mine.)

Sadly, he’s right. For certain people, it’s still hard to be yourself in front of America. And what a shame that is.

But that statement illustrated why this almost epic conflict transcended the boundaries of pop culture. It’s also why I was so intrigued this year by a show I almost never watch. As I said, Lambert never actually came right out and said he was gay. And, really, why should he? There is a glaring double standard at work here. Did Allen or Gokey have to come out and declare their hetero-ness? Did the media hound them about who shares their beds?

When pictures of Lambert kissing a man surfaced on the Internet, his response was classic and brave. “I know who I am. I have nothing to hide.” In other words, it’s a non-issue, folks. Take a good long look, draw your own conclusions and then get over it.

I find that breezy, almost nonchalant attitude simply ... breathtaking. It’s as if Lambert was saying, “Grow up, America. This is 2009, not the Dark Ages.”

The fact that it’s still so difficult for an entire group of people to be themselves in the land of the free and the home of the brave says a lot about where we are as a nation.

But it says a lot more about where we should be.

Who knows whether Lambert’s sexuality cost him the Idol title? I’m sure that came into play, and anyone who actually took time to read some of the hateful and repulsive comments online would agree with me on that. But the real story is not that he lost - it’s that he refuses to see himself as a loser.

The most-touching aspect of the spectacle was that while millions of overexcited fans on both sides were and still are savaging each other over who should have won, Lambert and Allen are not among them. Instead, the glam Jewish rocker and the wholesome Christian crooner became fast friends. They were not, they insisted, competing with each, but rather with themselves. Lambert himself brushed off suggestions that Allen won because of red state bigotry.

“I think that Kris won because he’s a great artist and I was happy to be a runner up to that,” he said.

And here’s what Allen said: “Adam deserved this just as much as I do. He’s an amazing performer, a gifted guy - an amazing guy.”

Oh. So that’s what this whole thing is really about. It’s not about good vs. evil, or Elvis vs. Pat Boone, or gay vs. straight.

“If there’s anything that can come from this experience, and I hope that all the fans out there can pick up on, is that even if you’re really different there’s a way to get along with each other,” Lambert said. “And it’s not about ‘Oh, you beat me because of this,’ or ‘You, you’re different.’ It’s about finding the common stuff that makes it work.”

So according to them, it really is simple. It’s about seeing past our differences and finding common ground. If these two exemplary young men from two wildly different sides of our cultural divide are able to give us a glimpse into kind of future, it gives me great hope that we are, at last, headed in the right direction - one that allows all people the freedom to be themselves.

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Most Recent Comment(s):

Thank you Jade Moon for writing such an inspirational article about Season 8 of American Idol. Adam and Kris are both winners in my book.

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