Last night was the final results show of season eight on American Idol, with the winner announced.
Who would win: the darkhorse or the front-runner?
Before I start: one caveat. In recent weeks, American Idol has been strict about removing unofficial high-quality video from the Internet, so I make no guarantees about the longevity of the links supplied for video below.
This was a two-hour show with plenty of entertainment value, with host Ryan Seacrest and the judges dressing up for the occasion, Ryan wearing a nice black suit. When he announced both finalists at the top of the show, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert, they were wearing white. It was the first of many costume changes for both the two finalists and for the Top 13.
Just under 100 million votes came in, Ryan said, which is a new record. The season total was a record-setting 624 million votes.
As he introduced the four judges, Ryan also set up funny video montages from throughout the season. Randy Jackson was wearing a big velvet maroon bow tie with a striped shirt and a navy suit. His video included clips of Randy saying either "for me" or "for you," such as "it was just all right for me."
Kara was in a strapless black dress with her hair in an up-do. Her video edited together clips of her calling people, "sweetie" during auditions week.)
Paula, wearing a champagne, sparkly strapless gown, was introduced as having the biggest vocabulary, with a video featuring her many multisyllabic words.
And Simon, in a simple black suit with a white button-down shirt and no tie, was introduced by Ryan as someone who "lets nothing pass him by," hearing every note and every word song. (The video, of course, cut together clips of him saying "what"?) The camera caught season four winner Carrie Underwood sitting in the audience.
Then, after Ryan attempted to interview both Kris and Adam while their mikes weren't working, he did a live check-in with fans in Kris's home town of Conway, Arkansas (hosted by season four finalist Mikalah Gordon), and Adam's home base of San Diego (hosted by season seven's Carly Smithson).
For their first group song of the evening, the Top 13 sang "So What?" They were all wearing white, as the finalists usually for the for Idol Gives Back charity show, which wasn't held this year. Overall, the song was fun, and the lyrics were appropriate, 'I am a rock star. I got my rock boots." But I found Jasmine Murray's solo to be painful.
David Cook took the stage next with his song, "Permanent." Bathed, in green light, he wore a white button-down shirt, skinny black tie, gray vest, and a black armband (in honor of his brother, who just died of cancer). The audience got into the song, waving their hands in time to the music. Afterwards, Ryan observed that it's been a rough couple of weeks for David, who said the song is to honor his brother and others who have suffered. Sales of the single will benefit ABC Squared, and organization striving to find a cure for cancer.
Asked about who should win, David said they're both great guys: "I don't think that America can get this wrong."
The camera showed season one runner-up Justin Guarini in the audience.
Then, in a faux awards tribute, Ryan presented the Golden Idol Award to the Outstanding Male, showing video of Nick Mitchell, a.k.a. Normund Gentle, along with some other auditioners. Normund Gentle, of course, took the prize and came up to the podium, wearing a black hoody. He said he didn't know he'd about the award and praised his comedic heroes, Steve Martin, Whoopee Goldberg, and Nathan Lane. "I wish I'd prepared something," he said, then took the mike and said, "Hit it," removing his clothes to reveal his famous costume of shiny shirt, khaki shorts, glasses and a red sweat band. During his performance, he got down on the stage and crawled, then hopped up on the second stage, proclaiming, "I want that perch. That is power." The cameras had to run to catch up. At the end, he declared, "Normund Gentle, '09, peace out" and strutted up the aisle. The camera came back to Ryan, wearing the glasses and the red hairband. "God, these are greasy," he declared as he removed the glasses. Definitely an entertaining performance.
For the first duet of the evening, Lil Rounds performed "Cue the Rain" with Queen Latifah, backed by a group of dancers. This is the sort of song she should have been doing throughout the competition. She still couldn't compete with Queen Latifah, though.
The next song, "I'm Yours" (song starts at -2:08) was started by Anoop Desai and Alexis Grace, whose voices were well-matched. They're a good pair. Jason Mraz then came down the stairs to join them, as well as the rest of the Top 13 (except Kris and Adam).
Then Ryan introduced a video showing the journey of Kris Allen over season eight. Afterwards, he performed "Kiss a Girl" with Keith Urban, both of them on guitar. They had a good chemistry on-stage, and Kris even picked up a little of Keith's twang.
The women took the stage next, all wearing either hot pants or short skirts, doing the song "Glamorous." Within short order, they were joined by Fergie, then by the Black-Eyed Peas, who took over the stage, along with dancers in black-and-white body suits. Megan seemed to be having fun dancing in the audience. I noticed that several seconds were lost, while an image of the American Idol sign was show (was this a satellite problem? Or because of language? Here's more from the Huffington Post)
Ryan announced another Golden Idol award, then, for attitude, featuring a bunch of also-rans along with Katrina "Bikini Girl" Darrell. She had, famously, worn a bikini to the auditions and had talked back to Kara, who tried to show her how a song should be sung. As she entered, wearing an even more revealing bikini and apparently more busty than every, Randy joked, "I was going to ask you what's new, but I think I know." She started singing "Vision of Love," and I thought she was tanking. Then Kara comes down the stairs and showed her how it's done. Go, girl! She had the pit cheering. If we'd seen this side of Kara earlier in the season, I think more people would have respected her viewpoints. Simon even gave her a standing ovation. At the end, she even opened her dress and revealed a bikini, though she covered up right away.
Ryan explained, about the bikini flash, "We bet Kara she wouldn't do that." Money will be going to charity, he said. A cutaway to David Cook in the audience, looking as if he was thinking, "Oh, boy. I can't believe this."
As Ryan announced the next performance, he walked down the aisle and tapped a man on the shoulder, "Hello, Dad," he said. Then, tapping the shoulder of the man in front of him, he said, "Hello, Paul." I'm guessing the first man was Ryan's dad. The other looks incredibly familiar, but I'm having trouble placing him. Maybe somebody reading this can figure out. It's at the beginning of the video for the next song.
For Allison's duet, she did a much more toned-down performance of "Time After Time" with Cyndi Lauper, who was seated next to her, playing a dulcimer. Cyndi is a seasoned pro and was conducting the performance with hand gestures to give cues to both Allison and the rest of the musicians. The performance was intimate and beautiful.
Then Ryan interviewed both sets of parents, both of whom were, of course, very proud and anxious to hear the results.
Danny Gokey sat on the steps to sing "Hello," joined afterwards by Lionel Richie for a duet. I thought it was amusing that, like Danny, Lionel also makes a lot of gestures, too, except that he makes it seems natural, probably from decades of performing. When they launched into "All Night Long," Paula got up to dance. Danny and Lionel walked out into the audience and got up on the second stage. The camera showed season two winner Ruben Studdard in the audience. At the conclusion of the performance, Danny and Lionel hugged. I would love to see Danny put out an album of pop songs similar to Lionel Richie's.
Ryan introduced a video of Adam's journey on Idol, which led into him singing with a really ornate costume, with cage-like sleeves that resembled wings, along with glitter eye makeup. It took me a while to realize he was singing "Beth." KISS! Sure enough, they descended on a moving platform with pyrotechnics, performing "Detroit Rock City" and then "Rock N Roll All Night" with Adam, who I then realized was also wearing big platform shoes. At the end of the song, Paul Stanley smashes his guitar on the stage (although it looked like a prop guitar made out of balsa wood; he'd probably made a switch while attention was riveted elsewhere). Adam hit a big, sustained last note. Gene and Paul both slapped him high fives.
Carlos Santana performed "Black Magic Woman" with Matt Giraud and the rest of the top 13 comes out, segueing into "Smooth." The group also had some fun choreography, such as Adam and Allison dancing together. Jorge Nunez also got a chance to show his stuff: the boy has moves! Carlos launched into a great solo at the end, while several of the finalists did air guitar. And did I spot actresses Heather Locklear and Camryn Manheim in the audience?
The final Ford music video was to the song "I Will Remember You," sung by Kris and Adam, including clips from the other commercials this season. At the end, last year's winner, David Cook, had a big surprise for Adam and Kris, presenting them with brand-new 2010 Ford Fusion hybrids, courtesy of the Ford Motor Company.
Ryan introduced the next guest as a "world-class comedic icon who loves music just as much." It was Steve Martin, along with several other musicians, to perform with Megan Joy and Michael Sarver, The song was called "Pretty Flowers" from Steve Martin's new album, "The Crow." Either Steve had a pained look on his face for part of the song or he's just not used to trying to appear serious on-stage.
When Ryan asked him the question he knew was coming, "Who do you think is going to win," Steve replied, ""I know it's a long shot, but I'm hoping I do."
The Top 13 guys said "If You Think I'm Sexy," joined on-stage with Rod Stewart, who proceeded to sing "Maggie" by himself to a very tinny accompaniment. I found myself wondering why he didn't perform with them. Maybe it was a contractual thing. I also found it amusing that he patted Kris on the head as he walked by him.
For the final Golden Idol award of the evening, Ryan gave the outstanding female award to Tatiana Nicole Del Toro. Then, as he tried to go to the break, she ran up and took the microphone, singing as security people tried to escort her off. I'm fairly certain, however, this was all rehearsed.
For the final guest performance of the evening, Kris and Adam sang "We Are the Champions" with Queen. Seeing them on-stage together was amazing. I always thought that Adam sounded like Freddie Mercury, but this performance sealed the deal. The Top 13 also come out, dressed in formal clothes. Adam and Kris were clearly having a great time. pyrotechnics, dry ice. At the end, the guitarist said, 'Thank you" to Adam. Already, rumors have Adam joining the band as their new singer, but he refuses to comment. I'd love to see that, but it would freeze Adam in time and essentially prevent him from making his own musical statement.
For final words before announcing the winner, Ryan turned to Simon, who said, "To both of you, and I don't normally mean this, I thought you were both brilliant and incredibly nice people. You should both be proud of what you achieved last night. The future's all yours."
An adjudicator for Telescope arrived with the envelope containing the certified results. As they waited for the news, the guys stood with their arms around each other, best buds to the end. Kris was announced the winner. On my TV, this was immediately interrupted by an emergency alert system message for a child abduction emergency, so I missed his initial reaction.
Kris received the new winner's trophy, which looks like a microphone. He said "Thank you," and Adam, who had already moved off to the wings, came over and grabbed his hands in congratulation. The camera showed the judges, three of them on their feet clapping while Simon was seated, looking stunned.
Kris seemed overwhelmed, at a loss for words. I wonder if he really expected to come in on top? Adam was ever professional, cheering on his buddy from the sidelines with what appeared to be genuine joy. Of course, Adam no doubt realizes that this is only the first stage of what is likely to be a prosperous career.
As Kris sang this year's single, "No Boundaries," Adam watched from the sidelines, hugging Allison and dancing along. One last shot of Justin Guarini. At the very end of the show, before the credits rolled, Kris's wife joined him, along with the rest of the finalists. She gave him a big hug, and he looked like he was crying into her shoulder because of all the emotion.
So why did Kris win American Idol? I think that in order to answer that question, you've got to take into account a number of factors. First, let's talk about what both of the finalists did right.
Kris grew throughout the season. Even though he had some ups and downs, he didn't have any massive failures. Some would argue one of his best performances took place during the finale, his reprise of "Ain't No Sunshine."
As Kara would say, Kris had the total package. In addition to pleasant vocals, he was an attractive guy who grew more and more comfortable on stage. He had a winning personality and never talked back to the judges. In addition, he got along well with his fellow contestants. As the "guy next door," it was easy for viewers to identify with him.
Adam had many of the same things going for him. He came out of the box fairly strong vocally but made improvements over the season, tackling different song choices with ease. A consummate performer, Adam was not boring, and many viewers looked forward to his performances from week to week. Like Kris, he was a pleasant person, infallibly polite and grateful for the opportunity the show presented. He was also widely considered to be an attractive guy.
As far as negative factors are concerned, Kris's detractors said that, while he is talented, he's not as talented as Adam. Many viewers felt he hadn't had a "wow" moment. Frankly, he didn't excite the viewers and the press as much, week to week. Throughout the season, however, he slowly attracted more followers, on top of his base.
Adam's detractors often pointed to what they called his "screeching" on high notes. He would often hit and sustain high notes, so-called power notes, which is typical for hard rock performers but not for pop music. It's important to keep in mind this is a pop music competition: not rock or country. While on occasion, people have won who show a strong preference for a different type of music, usually the winners appeal to a Top 40 crowd. Adam did not necessarily appeal to that crowd.
In addition to his vocals being unpalatable to some viewers, they were probably also uncomfortable with his image. He wore what's been referred to as "guyliner," which again is popular amongst rock and pop musicians (just look at a picture of Green Day for a great example), but for the mainstream looking for a pop sensation, that might have been off-putting. The same goes for his black fingernail polish and pseudo-Goth look.
There's also the unknown factor about the fact that Adam's sexuality was a subject of discussion throughout the season. This would probably not matter to the majority of Americans, but there is a small percentage to whom it does matter, and who might vote vigorously against a gay performer. I think, however, that this is a negligible number of voters. After all, when the subject came up on conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly's show (video), contrary to what's been reported about that segment, the ultimate conclusion reached by all members of the panel was that the contest should be judged on talent, and sexuality should not be a factor.
I think that a more likely factor in this very close contest was who received the bulk of the votes from the rest of the Top 5. Most of Allison's voters probably went to Adam, but she was in the bottom three several times before being voted off, so her voting bloc might not have been that large. However, voters who had been rooting for both Matt and Danny were more likely to go with Kris than with Adam. Danny, for example, who came in third, made a name for performing pop ballads. Who are those voters more likely to side with: the guy-next-door with the pleasant pop voice, or the theatrical rocker? I think most of them probably went to Kris. That probably made the bulk of the difference in this very narrow race.
When I heard fans discussing the results afterwards, those who were disappointed about the result were even more determined to buy Adam's album and support him. A similar phenomenon came in with Clay Aiken came in second to Ruben Studdard after being considered the front-runner. Clay ultimately sold many more records than Ruben, has appeared in Spamalot on Broadway and is a frequent guest appearance on TV shows. Ruben, however, after coasting on his initial success, slowed down and is considered to be one of the less successful Idol winners. I don't wish such a fate for Kris, but it's worth pointing out that finalists often do extremely well even when they don't win. Chris Daughtry, for example, has sold a lot more records with his rock band Daughtry than he probably would have with an album of mediocre pop songs.
One final note about this year's results: I should have seen it coming. Ever since I started watching this show, in season three, I've noticed that every other year, my favorite wins (Fantasia Barrino in season three, Taylor Hicks in season five, David Cook in season seven). If I'd had my way, Bo Bice would have won season four and Melinda Doolittle season six. This year, I was rooting for Adam. But since it was an even numbered season, this was not destined to be my year.
I've also noticed that America votes for slightly different types of singers from year to year. Kelly Clarkson was a great pop vocalist, while season two's Ruben was more of an R&B singer. Fantasia seemed to cross genres, although her albums have been firmly marketed as R&B. Season three's Carrie Underwood, of course, is a country sensation, while Taylor Hicks is a blues/soul singer who has suffered from not yet having a big hit. Season six winner Jordin Sparks is a pop princess who got off to a slow start due to some problems with her vocal chords that derailed her first tour. Last season's winner, David Cook, was promoted as a "rocker" and has recently released a modern rock album. Given that history, it was unlikely another "rocker" would win right away. Voters are always looking for something new.
I firmly believe that Kris has a great Top 40 voice and, along with his winning personality, has the potential to be one of the more successful Idol winners. Adam, I believe, will be one of the most successful runners-up. Hopefully, their friendship will continue to grow, and they'll have a lot of fun on this summer's tour, along with the rest of the Top 10.
You don't have to take first place to attract fans.