Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Adam Lambert, the Drive-Through Idol


As fast-food is to the national diet, so Adam Lambert is to American Idol. The likely winner of Season Eight is a prime piece of fast-food entertainment. Both show and singer would have us believe that Lambert is new heir to a long line of peacockish androgyne rock stars. The feminized sexual plumage of English glam-rock, Hollywood hair-metal, and the New York Dolls has been sanitized for safety by either the singer or the franchise or both, leaving Lambert neutered. Despite vocal flexibility reminiscent of, but not nearly so wrenching as that of Freddie Mercury, Lambert's packaging puts him closest to camp costume, to Elton John or to Liberace. His digestibility as a rock star puts him closest to a Big Mac.

Ever since Lambert snaked into Michael Jackson's "Black or White" in Week One, he has been careful to keep his sexuality netted away while trolling for rock credibility. When asked for his sexual orientation, he has been coy. His non-answer has further stoked the fire for truth so that finding that truth has become something of a national pastime. With hundreds of thousands of searches for "Is Adam Lambert gay?" being performed hourly, the public must be convinced that somewhere in the bowels of cyberspace, someone has the answer. That the public is seeking confirmation to such a wide-scale degree sounds ridiculous, but then again, this is the same public that kept after Clay Aiken well beyond any semblance of sanity. It's hardly damnable behavior, but it makes one wonder about the richness of intellectual life beyond such queries. If there is to be an answer (and you can be fairly sure there will not be), will it strike us like lightning and catapult us out of our beds?

Absolutely.

Like a boy with a Mr. Microphone and a mirror, Lambert has styled himself into a specious authenticity. He seems vivid against the likes of Jordin Sparks, and yet dismissed contestant Allison Iraheta was the more credible rock performer. There is something about his studied wardrobe and precision haircut that rings false, and yet it is that falseness that makes him perfect fodder for Idol. He is the ideal Idol because he is so ideally constructed, without a shred of creative anarchy. Lacking in artistic desperation, he becomes merely the carrier of sound rather than the sound itself.

This is a win-win for Idol. Lambert is unlike any other contestant in the show's history, and the show has carefully trained its camera not on his dramatic persona but on his theatrical singing, thereby denying what Hollywood calls "the whole package." By abjuring the native eroticism so evident in casual snapshots of the singer, Idol gets half the goods and yet understands that this is more than good enough for the music-buying public.

Lambert's many weeks on Idol show him to be devoid of cockiness, rage, or rebellion, all qualities that have heavily colored the rock genre. His showmanship is so calibrated as to seem the result of hours of practice; by Idol's lights he is the tidy antithesis of rock's bad boys and whatever inner demons or proclivities led them to Wagnerian levels of destruction.

All of this aside, Lambert is a technically proficient singer and supple performer whom one can imagine waltzing into other genres with as much ease, if not as much discussion, as he has into rock. The elastic eerieness of "Ring of Fire" could just as easily be applied to a jazz standard, and the swagger would not be lost on any Tom Jones standard. This is a compliment; it is this quality that separates him from the pack, even if we were not treated to it during the show's run. Doing away with the Broadway night was an error, as was eliminating Big Band night, both of which presumably held little interest and less awareness for the television public. By last week, Lambert was caterwauling, pushing his abilities into sonic scratching on U2's "One." Early hints of subtlety disappeared, and had Danny Gokey not scraped the last note of Aerosmith's "Dream On" as so many sharp fingernails on chalkboard, Lambert's weakness would have been that much more apparent: He nearly veered out of control while digging for gut emotion.

Lambert has knocked back Season Eight as speedily as you can knock back an Extra-Value Meal. You don't parse the meal in terms of gustatory integrity and you don't parse the singer in terms of indie cred. This is true of all Idol winners and runners-up; if one breaks from form it comes as a pleasant surprise (see: Iraheta). Lambert's lack of rock verisimilitude and his fitting, Johnny Bravo-like, into what Idol sees is the rock costume, makes him nearly analogous to Jordin Sparks, winner of Season Six. Although Sparks was a Cheez-Whiz low point for the franchise, Lambert is also identically processed. Both singers learned how to execute a formula and to do it exceptionally well, most of the time.

Idol is a highly commercial show in search of a highly sellable singer. These it has produced, in Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Chris Daughtry. It's cunning in its design. By convincing us that someone like Lambert is "different" and worthy of legendary rock iconography, Idol is proclaiming its hipness, vitality, and relevancy. It's a good move, but don't be fooled: Before they'd have let us dine out on the likes of Freddie Mercury, they'd have served up Davy Jones of the Monkees, with an apple pie for dessert.

4 comments:

Eyeliah SS said...

I kind of wish I got into it now he seems so cool. And also seems a shame he did not win.

CarMicSite said...

So you think you can write. So you think you can use big campy words and get noticed. What you can't do is think. Nor can you report with any credibility. You are a journalist who writes and extorts truth, all for yourself.

Adam has a great talent. It has been written about many times in the LA Times. Check out Ann Powers, Entertainment Editor columns. You, apparently do not do research and then report in any credible manner. You should be ashamed of yourself.

You are so desperate to be noticed in the Blog World that you choose to dwell on Adam's androgeny and not his incredible and perfected vocal skills. I am sure you did not recognize his ability to sing in any genre and to hit those high C's, D's and F's 2 octaves above middle C.

You may be right about Idol, but you are not right about Adam. He did what he had to do for exposure, just like you. To bad you don't even come close to the teenie bopper who bought the rotty hamberger in this article.

Ashley said...

It seems as though those big macs has clogged up your arteries enough for the blood to stop circulating through your brain.

At least be grateful you can roll faster than Adam can sprint. :)

Oh and your article?
If you looked up "fail" in the dictionary. Your so-called article would be right there.

Hope karma gets ya, bitch.

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