We’ve got a guilty pleasure to admit: we’re American Idol fans. And with former Wicked triple-threat Adam Lambert representing theater on the famed AI stage with real-deal pipes, presence and panache on a weekly basis, we’ve been positively glued to the screen. With that confession in mind, we tracked the progress of our personal Idol favorite over the show's 11-week run, keeping you up-to-date with his performances, backstory and, most importantly, how he fared on the country’s most famous talent show.
WEEK 11: Final Elimination Night
May 20, 2009
Is it the biggest upset in American Idol history? Maybe. Maybe not.
Over 624 million votes were cast during the course of season eight, with a record-breaking “just under 100 million” coming in after the live May 19 vocal showdown to crown the newest winner. And no matter how feverish the buzz around Adam Lambert was, no matter how certain some fans and pundits were, “dark horse” Kris Allen was the last one standing.
The crowning of Allen was the icing on the bizarre slice of live music madness that was the Idol season finale. It included performances by a near-naked Fergie and the Black Eyed Peas, judge Kara DioGuardi flashing a bikini bod at the end of her own musical performance, comedian Steve Martin playing banjo, the public mockery of failed auditioners with social disorders, and the single most unsexy performance of “If You Think I’m Sexy” in the history of procreation.
The episode also showcased its finalists with celeb-studded duets: Allen strumming alongside Grammy winner Keith Urban while a fully glammed-out Lambert rocked with iconic band Kiss. We have to admit our open jaws literally slammed into our Macbook keypads when Lambert appeared onstage wearing a pair of studded, wrought iron shoulder wings and a full row of shining black bindis under his lower lashes, a get-up so obscenely over the top even we weren’t prepared. Thankfully, the arrival of Gene Simmons and his platform-booted Kiss gang in full regalia justified it all.
The final collaboration of the evening featured Lambert and Allen singing, “We Are the Champions” with the remaining members of Queen, the Adam-Lambert-as-new-Freddie-Mercury comparisons coming to fruition. Mercury probably flashed the “rock on” metal sign from the grave. But when the confetti came down just minutes later, there was no more “we”; Allen was the sole champ.
The winner himself seemed almost hurt by his own win. “Adam deserves this,” he said, stunned. “I’m sorry.”
So is it an upset? Sort of. Humble, sweet southern boy Allen, seemingly plucked direct from an American Eagle ad, has the sort of affable, widespread appeal that was bound to attract voters whose own wholesome heroes, especially third-placer Danny Gokey, had departed the competition. These fans could hardly be expected to abandon their more traditional sensibilities for the edgy, dramatic deliveries that are Lambert’s trademark. The singer gave solid but frequently flamboyant performances. He wore eyeliner and makeup, decked himself out with black nail polish and fashion rock accessories and dodged near constant speculation about his sexuality. Call him the antidote to the down-home, clean-cut persona that has dominated the winners’ circle for the better part of a decade. In other words, he just might be everything that makes the majority of middle America—and Idol voters—uncomfortable even if we love every minute of his antics.
While fans bemoan the fall of the reign of Glambert, remember that last night was no swan song. Instead it was the single biggest live audition of the year, one that showed off Lambert’s effortless vocals and on-camera ease. He held his own with some of the biggest names in the recording industry and drew casting agents, managers, talent scouts, producers, award-winning artists and VIPs to their televisions like a midsummer nights’ swarm of mosquitoes to a back yard bug zapper in the process.
Grammy winner Chris Daughtry and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, chart-topper Clay Aiken, Broadway’s own Tony-nominated Constantine Maroulis—all have proven winning the show isn’t necessary for success, while, conversely, Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks have shown the title doesn’t automatically equal platinum record sales. Coming in second on Idol can actually allow the runner-up some wiggle room to do, well, whatever the hell he or she wants—a radio-friendly, pop-infused album in their loosely associated genre isn’t mandated the way it is for the winner.
The media speculation for what’s next has only begun for Lambert, so expect to see plenty of the singer in the coming months. He’s a juicy story. Already, directly following his loss, Entertainment Weekly asked one of the most obvious questions on viewers’ minds:
I want to just get this question out of the way first, something that's been dangling a bit over you for the whole season: Would you like to put to rest all the speculation about your sexuality?
It's not dangling over my head. [Laughing] It may be dangling over yours, but it's not over mine. Yeah, I think speculation keeps things really interesting.
So you don't want to say anything one way or the other?
Like I said, I think speculation keeps things very, very interesting. [Laughs]
The win was never a sure thing. But Lambert keeping things interesting? That is.
Rock on, Adam. We’re proud.
WEEK 11: Final Two
May 19, 2009
After 11 weeks, dozens of performances, hundreds of media debates, millions upon millions of votes and enough Twitter tweets to practically crash the blogosphere, season eight of American Idol displayed its final two contestants on May 19: Kris Allen and Adam Lambert. It was the dark horse versus the judges’ favorite, the acoustic crooner versus the glam rocker, the “guy next door versus the guy-liner” thank you for that one, Ryan Seacrest, or, as The New York Daily News overstated, “the red states versus the blue.” Let the games begin.
In a slapdash evening of song, Idol seemed hell-bent on cramming as much as they could into the live hour-long episode. They shoehorned in segments from the finalists’ parents and inexplicably added on a performance by former Idol winner and country all-star Carrie Underwood during the final credits. But at the end of the day, it’s not about production values or the faces of the fallen contestants in the audience or even how brutally awful this year’s radio-ready finale single, “No Boundaries,” is though we’re going to mention it, anyway—it is, as the judges drove home over the course of their critiques, “about the singing.” Well, mostly.
For the last night of live competition, Lambert and Allen each took the Nokia Theatre stage for three songs: one of their own choosing, one picked by show creator Simon Fuller, and the aforementioned cringe-worthy finale number, co-written by judge Kara DioGuardi. Seacrest announced that the running order for the night had been selected via coin toss, with Lambert singing first and toss winner Allen perhaps unwisely following.
Round One: Contestants’ Choice
The last of the show’s slickly produced, “random info about your Idol” video segments featured the contestants’ parents talking about the musical roots of their offspring—editing emphasized that Lambert has always been a banshee and Allen has always been a sweet, all-American boy.
“When Adam was an infant he didn’t sleep through the night until he was 18 months, he would just scream. I still think that’s where he got his voice, because he would yell for an hour every night,” Poppa Lambert said on the opposite end of the spectrum fell Allen, who, according to mom, was afraid to sing in front of his family for years.
Lambert chose to revisit one of his strongest deliveries from the season, returning to Tears for Fears’ “Mad World.” Descending the Adam Lambert National Staircase as a silhouette in full emo regalia, black trench coat billowing in the studio-made fog, fingerless gloves gripping the mic, he gave a decidedly dark and dramatic performance, tinged with pensive stares and longing glances. It was a little like Jack the Pumpkin King from Nightmare Before Christmas, but consistent and on-pitch. Remember: it’s a singing competition!
“This is it, we’re down to the wire,” Randy Jackson said afterward. “I love that you’re showing your sensitive side to start off this battle. I’m gonna give that one an A+!”
“You changed the game up for every contestant and made them think about what they were going to sing and how they were going to sing them to go up against you,” DioGuardi commented next, also giving the number top marks.
Paula Abdul predictably following suit: “I can’t tell you how unbelievably proud I am to see you up on that stage... bask in it, this is your moment. You gave a theatrical taste of what we’re going to get to see.” Simon Cowell picked up on the histrionics, however.
“I always thought this was your best performance through the shows,” Cowell noted of the song. “But it was a little bit over theatrical. It reminded me a little of Phantom of the Opera.”
Kris Allen countered with “Ain’t No Sunshine,” the antithesis of Lambert in a t-shirt and jeans while seated at a piano. The judges loved him as well, with Cowell ultimately admitting the performance validated America’s choice to bring him to the finals one he had originally disagreed with before calling round one in his favor.
Score: Lambert–0, Allen–1
Round Two: Producer’s Pick
Lambert returned like a silvery specter after the commercial break, suited up and scaled back for producer Simon Fuller’s choice, the civil rights anthem “A Change is Gonna Come.” A moody jump-off went from standard bluesy-blue to boiling, rolling deep-hued cobalt, as Lambert wrung every soulful drop from Sam Cooke's R&B classic. He counteracted his opening restraint with a hot finish and some thickly belted high notes that even grande dame Aretha Franklin would envy that left the audience in a frenzy and Paula Abdul with a case of the vapors. Biases totally aside, we think he might have actually sang his face off.
“What you just did there is show that you can sing your face off,” Jackson said. Wait. Did Randy Jackson just agree with us verbatim? Does this mean we’ll start opening conversations with the word “yo” from now on? And is Jackson-speak curable? Ahem. “That was unbelievable.”
“That may have been your best performance and interpretation of a song since the beginning of the competition,” DioGuardi echoed.
“That was the best I’ve EVER heard you sing, EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER!” Abdul cooed. She then stood, you know, to emphasize this point. “Whatever happens with this Idol journey, I know you’re going to be iconic.”
“All I would say after that is you are 100% back in the game,” Cowell finished.
Allen came back with another Jason-Mraz-meets-Jamie-Walters performance, strumming his version of Marvin Gaye's "What’s Goin’ On” on acoustic guitar with a trio of mellow back-up musicians. The laid-back, jam-band feel seemed to cool the judges when matched against Lambert’s showing, with Cowell mentioning it may as well have been a bunch of college musicians playing in their dorm room.
Score one for Lambert, evening up the running tally to a tie.
Round Three: Mandatory Idol Finale Number
We won’t waste endless space commenting on season eight’s unhummable, Kraft-American-cheeselike single, which both contestants were required to sing and record, for you iTunes junkies out there. Suffice to say that after the line, “With every step, you climb another mountain/with every breath, it’s harder to believe,” we’re cringing for lyricists everywhere.
Lambert tried his damnedest to rock out the pop cookie cutter ditty, and he did the best he could with what he was given.
“I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Dude, you can sing anything, dude you can sing the phonebook, but that was just okay for me, “ Jackson summed up, giving us a final “It was a little pitchy for me” before the season ended.
DioGuardi couldn’t say anything bad because she helped write the melody-less monstrosity. “I’m in awe,” she told Lambert. “You can sing whatever you want to sing and I’ll be a fan, front line.”
“I...I—” Cowell stuttered, almost laughing. Clearly, he loved the song as much as we did. “I’m not gonna judge that song; I’m going to judge you. Over the entire season, you’ve been one of the best, most original contestants we’ve ever had on the show. The hope and whole idea of a show like this is to find a worldwide star, and I truly believe we’ve found that in you.”
If Lambert was a little pitchy, Allen was, unfortunately, a near train wreck, falling on and off the tracks again and again as his final performance struggled to find its way. The judges attributed the underwhelming number to the song being “just too high” no one on the entire Idol team can take a song down a key? Really?, with all four asking that he be judged based on the entire season, Cowell going out of his way to restate that Allen deserved to be in the final two.
So there you have it. If we’re going by finale night scoring alone, it’s Lambert–2, Allen–1.
But we’re not going by finale night scoring, or even entire season scoring. The reality is that Idol is as influenced by popularity as a high school student council election—the results made a million times more unpredictable by the fact that viewers pick the winner. You never know what millions of power-crazy voters, many of whom have watched their favorites fall by the wayside over the course of a heated season, are going to do once the phone is in their hands.
No one is a lock this time around. But regardless of whether he wins or not, our pick, Mr. Lambert, will not go quietly into that dark night… He’ll go screaming, wailing and rocking, with a recording contract and who knows how many other offers in hand and the same can probably be said for Mr. Allen. The live May 20 telecast will crown the official winner. We’ll be watching.
WEEK 10: Elimination Night
May 13, 2009
Adam Lambert. Danny Gokey. Kris Allen. 88 million votes. Oh God, the tension is just killing us.
We singled out competitor Lambert, a stage vet with a logic-defying set of pipes, easy onstage charisma and the uncanny ability to get away with wearing whatever the hell he wants over 10 weeks ago. That was back when the Idol pack was still thick with wannabes and the judges frequently made cracks about the singer’s “Broadway” roots. It was validating enough that Lambert blew past preliminary labels and became one of the top choices for the 2009 title, but following May 12’s three-way vocal brawl for the remaining two spots, we, and an unnervingly substantial portion of America that watches the show, were watching and wondering as he inched ever closer to the top two.
With just over one million votes separating the top two, any one of the three could have been sent packing. And with the help of Idol’s inventive producers, viewers were treated to a behind-the-scenes look of where the castaway would be sent packing—sending the finalists home to offer fans a glimpse at their demigods’ hometowns. Or, more specifically, montages of screaming local fans mixed in with a few touching reunions.
Adam headed to his stomping grounds in San Diego, CA, where it all began. Cameras followed as he made his local morning news debut, showed anchors how to put on eyeliner, hit up a nearby radio station for interviews, was groped by fans and spent time at MET, the musical theater program where he got his start. He also visited alma mater, Mt. Carmel High School, taking a lap around the field before having Adam Lambert Day declared in his honor by the mayor. Very “a star is born,” but with a rockish edge.
Performances by former Idol winner Jordin Sparks and pop pinup princess Katy Perry, who wore a white Elivs cape with "ADAM LAMBERT" written on the back PS: we're wondering if the producers were totally freaking out about that one, or if they themselves encouraged that piece of subliminal suggestion, also helped fill the hour-long telecast before getting to the thirty seconds of information viewers actually care about.
When the results were finally announced, Kris Allen was the first to make the cut, leaving Lambert side by side with first-time bottom-dweller Danny Gokey, who’d never even been to the bottom three before the big night.
But ultimately, it was Lambert who emerged from the hot seat with a slot in the finals, meaning he and Allen will go head to head in a battle of vastly differing styles for the title.
“This could be a big ding-dong next week,” Simon said as credits rolled. “That means good.”
The two-part Idol showdown finale begins May 19. We don’t want to say we told you Lambert would be part of it, but...
WEEK 10: The Final Three
May 12, 2009
You know you’re never going to be a chorus boy again when Simon Cowell personally calls up U2’s Bono to get the go-ahead for you to sing a U2 song on live TV. That is precisely what happened to American Idol’s Adam Lambert on May 12 the same week he also turned up on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. The three remaining idolaters, Lambert, Kris Allen and Danny Gokey, spent the first half of the night’s double-performance episode at the judges’ mercy, performing songs selected by the panel. Simon, never one for subtlety, made it clear that he’d gone out of his way to pick a doozy for frontrunner Lambert, selecting the hit “One” with a little help from the band itself.
“It’s one of my favorite songs in the world. I had to get permission from the band because they personally clear it. I literally had a call on Saturday from Bono saying it would be their pleasure for Adam to sing this song,” he told host Ryan Seacrest before the performance.
Hey, no pressure.
If Lambert’s cover of Led Zepplin “Whole Lotta Love” last week was a daunting vocal challenge loaded with potentially disastrous landmines—he escaped unscathed after a shredding display of high octave acrobatics—then “One” was a step further into the minefield. Singing a beloved song by one of the world’s foremost rock tenors is the sort of task that’s taken down many an Idol-wannabe in the past. But Lambert didn’t falter. His soft, earnest maybe a little too earnest, but let's not waste time with criticisms. At this point, you either love him or hate him, and there won’t be any Arlen Specter switching of teams this late in the game intro led into a the kind of defining, kinetic vocal trapeze act Lambert’s been showcasing all season, one that wisely diverted from the original while displaying what this competitor has been all about. Song purists probably bristled a bit, but the judges lapped it up.
“Yo, Adam. Yo. Adam. Dude,” Randy Jackson began we wish we could say that was his whole review, but there was more. “Let me just say this, listen: You’re definitely still in the zone, man. You’re one of the hottest three in this competition.” [Note: Um, obviously, since it’s the Top Three, but moving right along] “You’ve been hot since day one. I lost the song a little bit, I’m just sayin’. But it is a great song and you’re really, really talented.”
Kara DioGuardi came next. “You’re a strategist, an amazing strategist, and you just proved that you can take a song and do it in a completely different way—change up the melodies, change up the instrument and make it unbelievable. Unbelievable! You didn’t just sing it the way U2 or Bono did; you did your own version.”
Paula Abdul again expressed her faith that Lambert would take the whole competition, saying, “It was one brilliant song, one superb performance and one American Idol that I’m staring at right now.”
“It may sound a little bit biased, but I thought that was a brilliant song choice,” Cowell finished. “This is the point I was trying to make earlier on. You find a great artist, you find a great song, you worked out what you wanted to do with it, it was a brilliant; brilliant performance and I have to say here and now, if you are not in the final next week, it will be one of the biggest upsets.”
That was all after the first performance. The second half of the night, featuring songs picked by the contestants themselves, was still to follow. Gokey kicked off the second round with an underwhelming, safe cover of Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” that drew raves from the judges. Allen came next, faring better with his acoustic, Jason Mraz-esque cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless,” which may be the song that pushes him into the Top Two, if voting goes…well, the way it should.
The finale of the night, and of the final evening of competition before the ultimate sing-off, belonged to Lambert, who again placed himself in the company of the most notable rock vocalists of the last 20 years with a spot-on performance. Yeah, we said it: The last 20 years. Maybe more. Like his interpretations or not, hate or covet the “glam” style, there’s no arguing the kid can match or out-wail just about any rocker alive today and a few no longer with us, and do it all without the help of Autotune. To emphasize our point, Lambert covered Aerosmith’s “Cryin',” proving his pipes and range are basically inhuman by taking frontman Steven Tyler’s famous midsong breakdown a bringing it higher up the scale than even the scarf-adorned Tyler did during his “Dream On” heyday. PS: for examples of what happens when Aerosmith covers go horribly awry, consider finalist Gokey’s brutal cover of the aforementioned “Dream On” from last week. Then film your own reaction to the final note for posterity, or email to email@example.com for our enjoyment Though some notes may have been audible only to dogs, the ones that resonated throughout the Idol theater and into tens of millions of homes should have been enough to place Lambert firmly in the Top Two.
“You’re one of the best that we’ve ever had on this stage! One of the most charismatic, one of the biggest, brightest stars, and you should make a rock album. I love this even more than ‘One’ for you because you should be a rock star, that’s what you are, baby!” Jackson crowed post-performance.
For once, DiGuardi echoed our sentiments: “How do you hit those notes and still talk the next day? Who hits those notes?” “Adam Lambert does,” Jackson quickly inserted.
Abdul agreed. “If Steven Tyler was the mentor, I don’t think he’d have anything to say. You’ve set the bar so high in the sky, and I hope you’re collecting frequent flyer miles, you’re going to be flying for free, everywhere. Adam, as I’ve said from the beginning, we’ll be seeing you next week and many years after that.”
We hope so. But Cowell gave the sobering reminder that Idol’s voting frequently takes unexpected turns in the final days of competition—longtime fans grow lazy, bitter groupies whose choices didn’t make the cut go AWOL or vote against the best remaining singers. And sometimes America just doesn’t like the guy or girl who’s best at singing, which is what the competition is about. Nothing is certain.
“Adam, I’m not going to suck up quite as much as the other three,” Cowell began. “It’s very easy to assume that you’re going to sail through to the final next week. So, let me just take us back to tonight: The show is about finding a star who has earned the right to be in the final and I want everyone not to assume you’re going to be there, but to vote for you because you deserve it based on talent.” The comment triggered a chorus of “vote!” from the other judges.
“I think Kris and Danny did really well tonight. I was watching backstage—they’re incredible. They’re both so talented, so it’s an honor to be in their presence, to be in their company, and you know, we’ll see what happens,” Adam responded.
And we will see, during May 13’s live telecast.
WEEK 9: Elimination Night
May 6, 2009
A Gwen Stefani-fronted No Doubt took the Idol stage on May 6’s elimination telecast to perform their old very old hit single “Just a Girl.” It was a bizarre reunion, as the group hasn’t produced an album together in years and made no announcement of intentions to do so. The song choice could be construed as dramatic foreshadowing, considering 64 million voters sent home the talent competition’s last female contestant shortly afterward.
Yes, the fiery teenager Allison Iraheta, with whom Adam Lambert sang a duet the night before, said farewell to the show for good last night. This means Lambert and fellow Get it? Fellow? ‘Cuz they’re all guys? Phew, tough crowd… competitors Danny Gokey and Kris Allen are left to duke it out during the Top Three showdown next week. As predicted, following Lambert’s glass-shattering, legitimately rocking rendition of Led Zepplin’s “Whole Lotta Love” last night, the singer wasn’t even in the running for the plane ticket home this week.
Well, actually, that’s a lie. He will be going home this week, but only because the show is dragging their camera crews around all three finalists’ hometowns for a little visit to air during Idol’s telecast May 12.
The point is Lambert is on his way to the winners’ circle. The final two nights of live competition are usually an all-out brawl—either between the competitors, the judges, millions of audience members or a combination of all three. So tune in for front row seats to what’s either going to be a set-up for the inevitable Lambert vs. Allen in the final two or an epic upset Lambert takes a surprise dive, leaving an anti-climactic season closer.
WEEK 9: The Final Four
May 5, 2009
Oh, for the love of rock gods, this could have been a catastrophe. The Idol Final Four took on the misleadingly difficult genre of rock if you’re questioning the possible pitfalls of the swagger-heavy category, just check in on the painful musical stylings of every Steve Perry or Axl Rose wannabe at your nearest karaoke bar for their May 5 showdown. Speaking of Axl Rose, former Guns 'n' Roses guitarist Slash was the competitors’ mentor for the week, edging up the competition by bringing the contestants out of the rehearsal studio and onto Los Angeles’ storied Sunset Strip for a “real” rock ‘n’ roll schooling. Frontrunner Adam Lambert was justifiably chomping at the bit this week, with his stratospheric range and glam-rocker look finally finding a genre in which to shriek, wail and provoke. But his decision to cover Led Zepplin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” easily among the best known and most vocally challenging rock classics around, could have been a hot karaoke mess note: re-watch Daney Gokey’s brutalizing of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” for an example of when rock goes wrong, especially considering he landed in the bottom two for the first time last week.
Slash supported the singer whole-heartedly, however. “Adam’s got some pipes, you know? He’s got so much range and it comes to him so easy, it’s like effortless.” And the mentor did what no other guest has done thus far, at least on camera: offer the contestant usable advice during rehearsal. “The only thing I would say is maybe just don’t improvise so much in the high register, you know, because when you hit the lower registers, it sounds really cool.”
Adam wasn’t opposed to constructive criticism. “That’s a rock god, right there, so I’m all ears. This is by far my favorite of all the theme weeks and I want to go out there and kill it,” he told producers.
And he did. He killed it. Adorned head-to-toe in signature “Glambert” style, which includes the sort of studded and distressed accoutrements favored by singers like Pete Wentz and the cast of, say, Mad Max, Lambert slammed one booted foot onstage and proceeded to deliver a public flogging of his naysayers, shredding up and down each brutal interval with ease. And even with the hefty weight of Led Zepplin’s original on his shoulders, the singer still managed a pitch-perfect and ultimately believable performance—one that showed off his own vocal dexterity without messing with the perfection of the original song. By the frenzied end, you could almost see Simon Cowell getting ready to flash the metal sign.
“Yo! All right, yo! So listen,” Randy Jackson began. “This is the Adam that I love, dude. Nobody is going to ever think about Broadway or any of that stuff right there, [because] you are a rock star tonight! You and Slash should make a record. That’s what I gotta say. That was hot!”
“Adam, you’re more than a rock star, you’re a rock god!” a worked-up Kara DioGuardi practically yelled into her mic. “The record you should be making is classic rock from the ‘70s, glam rock from the ‘80s, Nine Inch Nails—no one’s doing it, nobody else has it, it’s your thing, kill it!” Without a beer can to smash against her forehead, she then pounded the table for emphasis.
Paula Abdul delivered the cheesiest review of the night, but the sentiment was no less glowing. “The song [was] ‘Whole Lotta Love;’ I say you’re a whole lot of perfect!”
It was Cowell, however, who—as per usual—gave the most dead-on assessment of the performance. “This could have been an absolute disaster, taking on one of the best rock songs of all time but it was actually one of my favorite performances you’ve ever done. The only problem is nobody can top that now!” he said.
“I love Zeppelin!” Lambert, usually silent after adjudication, replied. “When I found out we can do this song tonight, it was a happy day.”
It was a less happy day for the rest of the contestants, who, like Cowell predicted, struggled to rise to Lambert’s standard not to be forgotten by the end of the show, Adam, who performed first, followed up by nailing his duet of “Slow Ride” with fellow competitor Allison Iraheta later in the night.
The rock gods will deliver their verdict during the May 6 live telecast, but this week we’re not worried.
WEEK 8: Elimination Night
April 29, 2009
Well, that was a rough night.
Following the Rat Pack-themed battle among the remaining Top Five, which judge Simon Cowell declared the best collective quintet of performances in the show’s history, Adam Lambert found himself in unfamiliar territory: the bottom two.
The first time fall from grace well, OK, maybe just from the top, but we love a little dramatic effect was a shocker but not wholly unexpected. Many a shoe-in for first place has been cast out from Idol’s warm glow as the field narrows from five—Melinda Doolittle, Chris Daughtry and even season one’s Tamyra Gray are prime examples. Was Adam’s trip to the bottom a backlash to the ubiquitous “he’s unbeatable” buzz? Maybe. But more than likely it was a wake-up call for the fan favorite. No one failed miserably during April 28’s evening of performances, meaning voters had more difficult choices to make. The departure of two contestants last week may have also played a role—who knows which way jilted Anoop Desai and Lil Rounds groupies will dial now that their picks have departed, especially when Lambert’s own rocker-meets-crooner-meets-banshee vibe is so stylistically far from what the ousted competitors delivered. Factor in the general fan complacency that typically sets in during the no man’s land that is the homestretch, and its seems obvious that if Lambert were going to take a dive, it would be this week or next.
The rocky evening was accented by a little extra awkwardness. We say extra because the lame, pre-recorded cake-fight broadcast later in the night was already painful enough to sit through. Host Ryan Seacrest divided the singers—pre-voting results—into two pairs obvious bottom-dwellers Kris Allen and Matt Giraud, and the clearly safe Danny Gokey and Allison Iraheta before asking Lambert which group he’d like to join. “Based on last night, probably that group,” the contestant admitted, and began to walk toward Danny and Allison. Not so fast. Seacrest stopped Adam’s victory lap and lead him to the bottom three. Ouch!
After performances from Broadway alum and Idol winner Taylor Hicks, class-act Natalie Cole and guest mentor Jamie Foxx, the verdict was delivered: Lambert is safe. Instead it was Matt Giraud, voted out by audiences two weeks ago but saved by the judges, who finally met his demise. This is especially good for Lambert, since the Top Four’s coming “Rock and/or Roll” theme seems to have been tailor-made for the finalist.
With his position as obvious winner now in question, this week’s battle of the belters promises to turn into an all-out war as the competitors eye the winners circle. At least if it turns out to be Lambert’s final moment in the Idol spotlight, he’ll be going out in his preferred style.
WEEK 8: The Top Five
April 28, 2009
Idol combined the potentially treacherous music of the Rat Pack honestly, how do you follow an act like Frank Sinatra, especially with a songbook of numbers already recorded by around 1,000 additional artists? with the presence of Academy Award-winning guest coach Jamie Foxx as the Top Five headed down the pike toward the Final Four. Foxx has nothing to do with the Rat Pack, by the way—aside from potentially campaigning for the role of Sammy Davis Jr. in whatever biopic will next spew from Hollywood—but we digress. With contestants navigating well-worn classics like “My Funny Valentine” and “Come Rain or Come Shine,” Lambert tackled what has traditionally been a man-eater of a song on the show, the moody standard ”Feeling Good,” which has been covered famously by artists from Nina Simone to Michael Buble over the course of the last 40 years. The choice was an interesting one for Lambert, who has tried to position himself outside of the so-called Broadway box, since it was penned for the 1965 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of The Crowd.
“The version I’m doing has a rock edge,” Lambert explained unsurprisingly to producers pre-performance. Cut to the singer wailing at the piano in the rehearsal studio for mentor Foxx, who admittedly had no on-camera advice for the contestant. “Yo, my man, absolutely incredible,” Foxx offered, shaking Lambert’s hand. “You don’t care about who I am at all!” he quipped.
“That’s even funnier to me, because in all honesty I was closing my eyes for most of the song because I was like, ‘Wow. Jamie Foxx is three feet in front my face right now—I’m freakin’ out!” Lambert laughed.
“The way he’s doing the song right now? He’s gonna knock everyone’s head off,” Foxx, who is also a Grammy-nominated recording artist, predicted after rehearsal. “He can sing with the best of them, and it’s gonna be great.”
Descending a neon pink staircase in a white sateen suit with full swagger, Lambert began the performance with a silky smooth traditional intro, milking each word of the famous “Birds flyin’ high/you know how I feel” lead-in before taking center stage for his promised rock-tinged crescendo. With the lights flashing and bland blaring, Lambert literally ended the night his was the last performance of the evening on a signature high note, channeling the “Glambert” edge into a dramatic Freddy-Mercury-meets-Vegas-heyday finale that no contestant would have wanted to follow anyway.
“It’s like watching the Olympics and you’re our Michael Phelps,” judge Paula Abdul told him as the panel’s predictably positive feedback began. The only criticism came from Randy Jackson, who admitted the delivery was “a little too Broadway” unrelated theater plug from the audience: “Adam is Wicked cool!” one fan’s sign read.
They typically acerbic Simon Cowell dismissed this complaint, however. “Randy talking about you being theatrical is like complaining that a cow moos,” he said before breaking down the appeal of Idol this season. “I’ll tell you what I love about the competition this year: normally every year we have people bleating on about how winning isn’t important etcetera, etcetera, but winning is important. And what I get from you is the feeling that you want to win and you want to prove a point every week, and you want to entertain. By the way, best entrance we’ve had of the year so far.”
Entrance aside, Lambert’s singing alone will most likely keep him from exiting the show, especially after a night of mixed reviews for the remaining four contestants. And love or hate him, there’s no arguing his current hot-streak: From The New York Daily News to Entertainment Weekly to millions of tweeting texters on Twitter where the singer’s name was one of the top “trending” topics on the blogosphere—second only to “swine flu”, it seems like everyone is commenting on the inevitability of Lambert’s win in the hours following his latest performance. The only way to see if he’ll fly high to the finish line is to tune in for eliminations on April 29, so set your TiVos, kids.
WEEK 7: Elimination Night
April 22, 2009
Following last week’s surprise use of the newly instated “judges save” vote which rescued competitor Matt Giraud, all eyes were trained on FOX’s live April 22 telecast to see which two contestants would be ousted after the show’s Top Seven: Part Two night of disco played out on April 21.
Adam Lambert, who again seduced judges with his balladic reworking of the Bee Gee’s “If I Can’t Have You,” was predictably safe, gliding easily into the Top Five. No surprise there, especially following a very pro-Lambert media week where everyone from Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong “That kid that’s on [Idol]—Adam Lambert—hitting those high notes? Pretty baddass, man,” the rocker told Spinner.com in an interview to The New York Times was plugging the singer as the talent show’s heavy favorite.
After 45 million votes, soulstress Lil Rounds and vocalist Anoop Desai, who’s been dangling by a thread for weeks now, were ultimately sacrificed by Idolators, leaving Lambert, Allison Iraheta, Kris Allen, Danny Gokey and last week’s saved Matt Giraud as the Final Ffive. Tune in April 28 to see what Lambert will do next—and who will be the next to go.
WEEK 7: The Top Seven Again!
April 21, 2009
Idol’s Top Seven telecast on April 21 brought us that most perilous, heartburn-inducing of genres: disco. Fortunately, the surprisingly digestible night of performances largely steered clear of bell-bottoms and spinning mirror balls while simultaneously upping Broadway.com favorite Adam Lambert’s musical stock.
Backtracking to the accolade-winning style of his Motown “Tracks of My Tears” performance, a pompadoured Lambert took the stage in a black satin suit holding to his emo-meets-mod-rocker edge with a gigantic snake ring on one hand and countered the potential disco campiness with a toned down, emotional interpretation of the Bee Gee’s “If I Can’t Have You.” Bathed in blue light which the Idol creative team seems to use as a subliminal indicator of who’s “safe”: Blue lighting? Everything’s fine. Red lighting? Prepare for a skewering from the judges. Just flash back to Lambert’s “Ring of Fire” or a collection of fellow contestant and bottom-dweller Anoop Desai’s performances if you don’t believe us., Lambert delivered the heartbreaking ballad with sincerity before ascending vocally off the musical scale and somewhere into the smoggy atmosphere over Los Angeles for the number’s big crescendo. Though the song was decidedly un-disco in style, the choice continued to separate the already heavily-favored performer from the remaining pack of seven, again winning over the quartet of judges, who seem to gush over his performances like ‘tweens at a Jonas Brothers concert.
“You have it majorly going on,” the ever-articulate Randy Jackson began.
“You chose a disco song and didn’t make it a cliché, and I felt the pain in your performance,” uber-fan Paula Abdul told Lambert.
“This was the most memorable performance we’ve heard from you,” Kara DioGuardi continued. “The way you connect to the song is inspiring.”
“I almost placed a bet that you were going to pick a Donna Summer song,” Simon Cowell admitted three other competitors did, by the way. “You did something we weren’t expecting [by choosing a different artist]. The performance was memorable and the vocals were immaculate.”
While there’s no arguing over Lambert’s flawless singing and connected interpretation of the song, it’s clear none of the enamored judges caught Broadway’s Saturday Night Fever especially not DioGuardi, who confused the original film of the same title with TV sketch-comedy show Saturday Night Live during her critique. Well done, Kara., which delivered the same number with even more earnest emotional gusto and fierce vocals by Tony Award nominee Orfeh about, oh, 10 years ago. But we digress.
With the judges’ “get out of jail free” vote having been used last week, two Idol hopefuls will be sent packing during tomorrow’s April 22 results telecast. And while it’s unlikely Lambert will be at the bottom of the pack, if he is forgotten by voters, there’s no one who can save him now.
WEEK 6: Elimination Night
April 15, 2009
The Idol populace has spoken, and after another ratings topping night of primetime competition, Adam Lambert is safe.
Aaaaaand so is everyone else.
As the voting results rolled out Lambert was fine, frequent bottom-dweller Anoop Desai, soul singer Lil Rounds and the crooning Matt Giraud found themselves in the bottom three, Giraud trotting in dead last. With only two weeks left before the show's newly instated "save" vote expired, and with frontrunners like Lambert making it through each round without any of the voting flukes that inspired the new rule to begin with, the judges decided to cash in the get out of jail free card. They "deliberated" read: the other three judges forced Simon Cowell to play along during Giraud's SAVE ME performance of "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman."
The judges may not have entirely loved Giraud, but they did rescue him anyway—meaning that all audience votes from this point forward are permanent, and that two Idols will take the long walk home next week instead of just one.
Beware: next week brings a full lineup of disco, so brace yourselves—if the past is any indicator, there're rough and kitschy waters ahead.
WEEK 6: The Top Seven
April 14, 2009
Following up last week’s generally ambiguous musical theme “Songs from the Year You Were Born” was the equally broad blanket assignment “Songs from Movies.” Gee, that narrows it down. Thanks, Idol! This week drummed up a pretty predictable selection of movie soundtrack samples from the show’s Top Seven Adam, we love you, but “Born to Be Wild?” Really? You’re better than that.
Mentoring the competitors this week was frenetic film director Quentin Tarantino, a former guest judge and one of the quirkiest and technically under-qualified stand-in music coaches the show’s ever selected though the man definitely knows how to score a movie, so we give points for legitimacy there. The director and self-admitted music junkie, who’s helmed flicks like Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bill series, had obviously seen Lambert’s work over the previous weeks.
“I gotta say, one of the things that’s a little fun about you on this show is I look forward to what your version of the song is going to be,” Tarantino told the contestant during their one-on-one rehearsal. “Me too,” Adam joked.
“This is a competition looking for rock stars. He’s the real deal,” the director told producers about the star after their practice time. “I just got a taste [of what he’s going to do], but I really enjoyed the taste. So I’m really interested to see the whole thing.”
We were less than thrilled with the karaoke-bar standard Lambert chose as his song the tune was famously featured in the Dennis Hopper/Peter Fonda chopper film Easy Rider, for the record. On the other hand, the crash of LCD lightning across the Idol big-screen and confident seizing of the stage by Lambert did wake us and, likely, the judges from the near-coma induced by previous competitor Anoop Desai’s easy listening hit “Everything I Do I Do It For You.” The performance that followed the dramatic entrance was more live rock concert than typical, stationary Idol submission, with a growling, leather-clad Lambert strutting across stage to work the thrashing band, back-up singers and fans in the front row. The signature banshee scream made its way out of the singer mid-song, amping up the audience before Lambert ended on a literal high note like, three octaves up.
To counter last week’s “we’re out of time and this is a live show” fiasco, only two judges gave feedback on this outright rock performance: Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell.
“Adam, the reason—” Abdul began before being interrupted momentarily by audience cheers, “that you’re shaking up this whole competition is that you dare to dance in the path of greatness. You do. I’m going to tell you, fortune rewards the brave and you’re one of the bravest contestants I’ve ever witnessed, ever. I thought you were fantastic.”
Simon was more specific. “Listen, I think, vocally? [It was] incredible. Downside to that performance, for me, was it was a little like watching the Rocky Horror musical, in parts.” “I love that musical!” Lambert admitted in return. “It is one of the biggest rock songs of all time. So [while] there’s going to be a huge proportion of the audience who would have loved that, there’s also going to be another side who will absolutely despise it. I don’t think that performance will be as popular as your one last week. Last week was more original, more current.”
We’re going to have to agree with Simon on this one, though we’re not overly concerned about our boy. Tune in April 15 to see how he humbly accepts another pass through toward the title.
WEEK 5: Elimination Night
April 8, 2009
Anticlimactic update of the week: Adam Lambert is… safe. Of course!
During a night bizarrely comprised of poorly curated honestly, who put this lineup together?, performances—featuring the Top Eight singing such numbers as Kylie Minogue’s 2002 dance hit “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” former Idol competitor Kelly Pickler’s rocky reveal of new single “Best Days of Your Life” and thugged-out club-banger Flo Rida delivering a borderline obscene “Right Round” during Fox’s family friendly primetime—the only thing that did make sense was the news Lambert would be returning for another week.
Also unsurprising was the fate of piano man Scott MacIntyre, who, following several weak weeks, bid the Idol stage adieu after proving his search for stardom was over with an uninspiring cover of Survivor’s “The Search Is Over.”
Down to the Top Seven. More on the quest for the Idol title when the competition resumes April 14.
Week 5: The Top Eight
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Idol's musically ambiguous "Songs From the Year They Were Born" theme made its return on April 7, and with the show creeping closer to the Top 5 and beyond, all eyes were trained on current frontrunner Adam Lambert to see what he’d pull from 1982’s expansive song catalogue P.S.: the blogosphere, which attacked the performer earlier in the competition after his polarizing performance of "Ring of Fire," has been noticeably abuzz with Lambert-love over the last few weeks, with pundits like Howard Stern and average show-viewers alike jumping on the bandwagon to proclaim him “the one to beat”.
With no celebrity "mentor" to shepherd the singers through their song choices for our viewing pleasure this week, Idol subjected its contestants to video montages of their childhood and stories from those who know them best, which for Lambert included the factoid that he "loved to play dress-up" as a kid cue the snapshots of the then middle-school aged singer dressed as the title star from The Phantom of the Opera. Yes, seriously..
“From an early age it was pretty clear that I wanted to be a performer. I think I found my calling pretty early on,” he said.
There was no explanation why Lambert, back to rocking his modern duds and asymmetrical bangs after a more conservatively attired two weeks, chose the '80s group Tears for Fears to cover for this round of competition, but he pulled out a gentle, melodic version of the band’s "Mad World" to represent 1982. Lambert showed greater restraint than we’ve seen from him thus far on the show, pulling back softly into his upper register during an understated, seated introduction before rising to his feet for a dramatic, octave-hopping finale it was also the show finale, with Adam closing out the night’s performances.
With time running out for the live filming, usually acerbic judge Simon Cowell got right to the point. "The bad news is we’re running out of time; the good news is I’m the only one who’s going to be talking. I think words are unnecessary, but I am going to give you a standing ovation," Cowell quipped, letting the gesture which the other judges and audience members quickly followed speak for itself.
When it gets to the point where the judges don’t even review Lambert, they just stand and clap, do you need to tune if for the results show on April 8? Well, given America’s track record, probably. But Adam can rest easy knowing that even if the country screws up their voting this week, the judges will likely use their newly minted "save" vote to keep him around anyway.
Week 4: Elimination Night
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
These updates are starting to sound a bit redundant, but hey, we’re just reporting the facts. With that in mind, the ruling on Adam Lambert and his funk-rock revival of Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music”? Safe. Of course.
Side note: How long before Lambert’s own covers of songs like last week’s “Tracks of My Tears” start topping the iTunes Top 100 chart themselves?
Less fortunate than Lambert was polarizing competitor Megan Joy Corkrey, the tattooed, flaxen-haired single mother whose cover of “Turn the Lights Down Low” turned the judges and the American voting public off. Her departure from the agonizingly slow results show with just enough snark to wake up viewers—when asked by host Secrest how she felt about judge Simon Cowell’s scathing review of her performance, the blonde replied simply, “I love you, Simon, but I didn’t really care.” The ever stoic Cowell took the comment to heart, throwing barbs back at Corkrey before her final save-me performance for the judges. “With the greatest respect,” he said, “when you said that you don’t care, nor do we. So I’m not going to pretend that we’re even going to contemplate saving you. This is your swan song. Enjoy it.”
Another competitor down. Be prepared for another dose of Lambert during the Top Eight performances, airing April 7.
Week 4: The Top Nine
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The Top Nine took on the top hits of the iTunes download charts in the continuing quest for Idol fame this week, with Adam Lambert coming off a high from last week’s show-stopping and show-topping performance of the Motown classic “Tracks of My Tears.”
“Last week I did a song that was really stripped down and subtle. This week my aim is to kind of go in the complete opposite direction,” Lambert told producers. He selected Wild Cherry’s house party favorite “Play That Funky Music,” taking care to add signature Lambert flair to the groovin' 1976 disco funk hit.
“I’m hoping to turn it around a little bit, change it up, make it fresh and original and something that could exist on a current pop album,” he said before hitting the stage.
The live performance of the song was a complete departure from last week’s tender, acoustic number except the slicked-back hairstyle, which returned for a second week, favoring thundering bass and electric guitar lines and Lambert’s growling rock delivery over the more laidback, hand-clapping rhythms of the original. The rising star, who clearly seemed to be enjoying himself, worked in the gritty wails, vocal gymnastics and camera charisma that have made him an Idol frontrunner, prompting yet another standing ovation from the audience.
The high-octane spectacle literally drove judge Paula Abdul wild, triggering her most philosophical review to date. “True genius does not fulfill expectations; true genius it shatters it,” she proclaimed after Lambert’s song ended. “There are artists who have longevity in this business because of their unique performances—I’ll name a few: Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler and Adam Lambert.”
Abdul’s foil, Simon Cowell, was more subdued in his assessment. “That was very brave, Adam. I gotta hand it to you, at least we got rid of some of this karaoke nonsense we’ve seen tonight,” the judge quipped. “It was original. I don’t think it’s going to make you as popular as last week, but I don’t think that matters with you now. You had a great time.”
“When I first heard you were doing the song I thought, ‘Oh my God, this could be a little corny,’” Randy Jackson admitted. “But you know what man, you’ve got that voice, you worked it out there. You are definitely in the star zone, baby.”
“I just wanted to say this wouldn’t have been what it was without Ricky Minor and the band,” Lambert replied, turning to give props to the Idol musicians. “They hooked me up with a great arrangement.”
Kara DioGuardi capped the judge’s across-the-board positive reaction with a sentiment even Lambert’s critics could agree with: “Every week I cannot wait to get to the show and see what you’re going to do next.”
Did Lambert funk it up enough to pass through to the Top Eight? You know the drill by now: tune in tomorrow to find out.
Week 3: Elimination Night
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The following may be the most unnecessary news update, um, ever, but for the sake of history, here goes: Adam Lambert is safe. What does this mean? It means Lambert and his many fans were able to watch guest performers Smokey Robinson, Joss Stone and Stevie Wonder remind everyone why they’re brilliant without Ryan Seacrest interrupting to build Idol tension. In other news, the show logged a record-breaking 36 million votes the previous night, the highest ever for the Top 10.
Michael Sarver, on the other hand, was not so lucky, nor did he enjoy enough of those 36 million votes. The oil-field worker got the boot, paring the field of competitors down to nine as American Idol inches closer to the finish line. Tune in next week to see what Lambert—and the rest of the competitors—will tackle next.
Week 3: The Top 10
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
American Idol dropped its newly cemented Top 10 in smooth, sexy Motown on March 25, and thankfully left last week’s Grand Ole Opry behind by pairing singing-songwriting legend Smokey Robinson with a lineup of competitors that still includes Broadway.com favorite Adam Lambert.
“Coming in today with a track written by our mentor was definitely intimidating,” said Lambert before beginning pre-show rehearsals with Robinson. The singer took a decided step back from last week’s wild, Freddy Mercury-tinged reinvention of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and the heat that came with it from the judges, opting to croon Robinson's “Tracks of My Tears” as a tender, earnest ballad.
“I’ve never heard “Tracks of my Tears” sung that way before, [and] I’ve heard it by a lot of people. I was very, very proud of Adam’s interpretation,” Robinson told producers after working with the artist.
“This song is written so beautifully, my goal is just to do it justice,” Lambert explained.
Accompanied minimally by acoustic guitar and percussion, Lambert delivered an unplugged, stripped down performance even the clothes were understated, with the singer trading his signature rock duds for a conservative gray suit and slicked back hair a la classic Elvis. The performance pulled back from last week’s dramatics without sacrificing the vocal dexterity that has made him a frontrunner in the competition, garnering a standing ovation from the audience, including Robinson, who waved a thumbs-up of approval before the judges weighed in.
"I don’t stand up a lot—but I gotta stand up for that. One of the best performances of the night," raved Kara DioGuardi. "You showed true artistry up on that stage."
"Adam, I’m going to have to disagree with Kara," began Simon Cowell, milking the set-up, "because it was the best performance of the night. You were able there to sum up everything we were trying to say about originality, choosing a great song, being a relevant recording artist... You tonight have really emerged to me as a star."
Unsurprisingly, Paula Abdul agreed. "You have that gut instinct to have the element of surprise—and, by the way, I did take a good look at your face and I love the clean look! No nail polish tonight? The hair? Very handsome and very classy—but it’s amazing to me how there is an element of surprise that’s just an extension of who you are as an artist," she said. "That’s what makes it so exciting and you are exciting. You are it!"
Randy Jackson rounded out the unanimous reviews, placing Lambert distinctly at the front of the pack. "From day one when I saw you I was like, ‘This guy has the range, he can do anything.’ Tonight, you showed you’re not only the cool, indie rocker, but you can pull it down, you can straighten it up [while] still using your falsetto and everything in your arsenal," he said. "Unbelievably hot!"
If Lambert’s goal this week was to do the song justice and win over the judges with an unquestionable display of versatility, we’d consider it mission accomplished. While we're not overly concerned for his safety, anything can happen on Idol elimination night, so tune in tomorrow night to see who gets the boot and who is one step closer to Idolatry.
Week 2: Elimination Night
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
All right Lambertians, good news: Idol competitor Adam made it out of the “Ring of Fire” unscathed on Elimination Night, guaranteeing the performer a position in the show’s Top 10 and a coveted spot on AI’s annual sell-out national tour this summer. Lambert took some heat the previous evening during judging, with Simon Cowell going so far as to ask, “What the hell was that?” in response to the artist’s Middle-Eastern remix of a Johnny Cash country classic when asked after Adam’s advancement whether he had changed his opinion of the performance, Cowell coolly replied that he “absolutely” had not. Lambert took the criticism in stride, laughing it off—and laughing himself one step closer to the Idol winners' circle.
Week 2: The Top 11
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
OK, fans—we knew this week would get interesting. After a rocking and universally well-received Top 13 rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White,” Broadway.com favorite and American Idol Top 11-er Adam Lambert headed into dangerous territory: country music.
This week Lambert worked with straight-laced, Grammy Award-winning star Randy Travis, a multi-platinum country artist with hits like “On the Other Hand” insert joke about Travis’ on-camera discomfort with Lambert’s black nail polish here and “Forever and Ever, Amen” to his credit. “He was a complete gentleman,” Lambert said of his unlikely collaborator, who didn’t exactly know what to make of the rock-styled, manicured, asymmetrically coiffed Lambert as he entered rehearsal with his trademark spin on a familiar song ready to go: a Middle-Eastern-infused arrangement of the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire.”
“I’m speechless,” Travis told producers in reaction to Lambert. “I don’t even know what to say about this boy.” Thrown or not, Travis helped the singer put together his addition to the week’s Grand Ole Opry theme, a genre that even Lambert admitted wasn’t a favorite.
“I don’t see myself as a country artist,” he laughed. “And obviously [Randy Travis] doesn’t either.”
Suitably, Lambert’s final interpretation was the most non-country performance of the evening—and possibly the most non-country delivery of a “country” song ever, period. The sitar might have been an inspired addition to the traditional country band’s guitar/bass/drum combo, but Lambert’s bedroom-eyes working of the camera, fingerless gloves and soaring, screaming vocal break may have actually woken music-minimalist Cash from the dead. The performance prompted a standing ovation from the singer’s numerous in-the-room supporters including fellow stage alum and Lambert pal Alisan Porter, as well as the usual Paula Abdul enthusiasm.
“I find this amazing about you: you really stand out as someone who is true to who you are as an artist,” Abdul gushed during her critique. “The choice of song was great, I loved the sitar sounds and it sounded a little like ‘Kashmir’ Led Zepplin to me. You’re either a quick study or a born natural, and I kind of think that you’re both. You’re raising your own bar each week and we’re going to keep expecting more and more great things from you.”
Simon Cowell, generally an antidote to Abdul, was more blunt: “What the hell was that?” he asked. “I mean, sorry, but I would never go to Nashville if I were you, because I think there are a lot of people throwing their television sets out the window at this point [cue the chorus of “nos” from both Abdul and the audience]. I thought it was absolute, indulgent rubbish. Really, really horrific,” he added.
Judge Randy Jackson quickly jumped to Lambert’s defense, saying, “I think the great thing about it is if you can imagine Nine Inch Nails doing a country song, that’s what it [would sound like]. It’s current, it’s young, it’s fresh, it’s hot!”
Bickering aside, we think final judge Kara DioGuardi put it best: “It left me confused and sort of happy.”
Was America won over by Lambert’s “Fire,” or is our boy going to get burned? The results of the voting will be announced live on March 19.
Week 1: Elimination Night
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Following the traditional Brady Bunch-style Elimination Night group number, this time a medley of Jackson Five songs, American Idol got down to the messy business of narrowing the field by two more hopeful contestants. When our pick, Adam Lambert, was called for judgment, the audience reaction screaming, yelling, possibly crying was overwhelming as the verdict was read. Unsurprisingly, Lambert sailed right through, mouthing a humble thank you in response before rejoining the group. Fellow competitors Jorge Munoz and Jasmine Murray were not so lucky, ending their run as the show’s field narrowed to 11. Up next week? Lambert and company take on the musical theme “Grand Ole Opry,” so expect a little country.
Week 1: The Top 13
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
“When I found out I was coming [for the Hollywood Week portion of the competition], my first thought was, ‘OK. So I’m going to go back home,’” singer Lambert, a theater alum with credits such as the Los Angeles’ casts of Wicked and The 10 Commandments on his resume, told American Idol producers in an interview several weeks ago, back when the 8th season of the hit Fox talent competition was just heating up. Lambert, however, didn’t go home—in fact, he soared through Hollywood Week, making it down to the show’s Top 36 before becoming part of the elite Top 13, which took the stage March 10 in pursuit of the coveted American Idol title.
This week, arguably the contestants’ first of serious solo competition, Lambert who previously wowed audiences but split the judges during the Top 36’s competition with an updated cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” rose to the front of the pack, covering Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” and earning the support of the judges during an evening of the King of Pop’s music Lambert notably sold the song line “I told them about equality and it’s true you’re either wrong or you’re right,” possibly in response to tabloid speculation and commentary about his personal life.
While the singer has occasionally been accused in recent weeks of being too “musical theater” in his performances, Lambert used his stage presence to his advantage, connecting with the audience and playing to the front and back rows with a combination of high-octane energy and unexpected rock star grit. If the artist’s register-shattering vocals and the subsequent dancing done by judge Paula Abdul weren’t a solid enough indicator of how things were going, here’s a little recap of the glowing reviews that followed Lambert’s performance:
Paula Abdul: “Wow! OK, never in the history of American Idol, all seven seasons leading up to now, have we ever—and I believe this truthfully—seen someone so comfortable, seasoned on that stage. I don’t even notice the stage, because I’m transfixed on you! Your innate ability to know who you are as an artist and marry fashion with music—you do that. You’ve got the whole package going on. And I believe with all my heart we’ll be seeing you run all the way to the end.”
Simon Cowell: “Look, that was, to me, in a totally different league from everything else we’ve seen and heard tonight. Whether it’s your stage experience from before [note: a judge finally giving props to the theatrical background, thankyouverymuch!], you were comfortable, and to make Michael Jackson work you’ve got to be over the top and be comfortable with it. It was an original version of [the song], the vocals were terrific and most importantly, it’s something we’re going to talk about.”
Randy Jackson: “Since day one when we saw you, you were the most current, the most RIGHT NOW. I’m telling you, dude, right now, listen, you could make a record [and] sail straight to the top of the charts. I love who you are, I love what you do. Once again, if you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and, baby, you’ve got it.”
Kara Dioguardi: “What can I say that they haven’t already said? You hit notes I didn’t even know existed. It’s just all the way up! And I hope Michael Jackson is watching tonight.”
The performer himself played it humble throughout, tearing up during the feedback. When interviewed by host Ryan Seacrest shortly thereafter, Lambert kept it short and sweet, explaining, “It took a lot of rehearsal to get it just how I wanted it, so thank you.”
“I’m just mind-boggled that you haven’t been snatched up as an artist already [in] the last five years,” Adbul called out in response.
With fashion and hair habitually becoming a part of the AI experience will anyone ever forget the Sanjaya “pony-hawk” hair-do of Season 6?, we would be remiss to leave out Lambert’s own additions to the show’s visual package, especially since the singer is known by colleagues and fans alike for his meticulous personal style. “I’ve never seen him with the same hair twice, or without cutting edge style,” close friend and former 10 Commandments castmate Allison Porter told Broadway.com. This week, Lambert styled it cool in reliable rocker-chic standbys: dark wash bootcut jeans complete with obligatory accent chain, low-cut graphic tee, fitted leather blazer an updated homage to Jackson’s own famous leather overlays of his heyday, maybe? and emo-inspired nail polish, all in shades of cobalt blue, a continuation of his rock-meets-runway look.
Two contestants will be voted off the show during March’s 11 live broadcast of the series, narrowing the field to eleven American Idol hopefuls. The next live night of competition will be presented March 17.