Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lambert vs. Allen: Who snatched the 'Idol' crown?

American Idoldelivered a shocker Wednesday, as voters chose Kris Allen for the title over Adam Lambert, who had been considered a prohibitive favorite for much of the show's eighth season.

Allen, 23, a college student from Conway, Ark., came into Idol's final week as a hardworking underdog. Even on the last night of competition, judges favored Lambert in two of three performances.

Though Allen visibly struggled with the coronation song, No Boundaries, written by judge Kara DioGuardi, viewers still sided with him over the flashier Lambert, whom judge Simon Cowell called a potential "worldwide star."

Tuesday's performance show drew 23.8 million viewers, a 12% drop from 2008's 27.1 million, but the singers' supporters at home cast a record number of votes for the two, just under 100 million.

Going into the finale, much of the media and many fans dwelled on their obvious differences. But ultimately, their similarities carried them to the finale. Both took musical cues from last year's winner, David Cook, frequently taking great liberties with their chosen material. That approach made them the season's most interesting contestants.

Lambert grabbed early attention when, vowing to "fearlessly just give 'em a show," he auditioned with Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Arguably Idol's most technically adept vocalist to date, Lambert offered risky, unpredictable performances weekly, drastically altering Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire and singing falsetto-laced versions of The Tracks of My Tears and Tears for Fears' Mad World.

Allen, on the other hand, got all of nine seconds of face time for his audition. But his semifinals performance of Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror impressed enough viewers to get him voted into the finals over more familiar hopefuls. As Idol progressed, he continued to bring an acoustic-rock sensibility to R&B hits like She Works Hard for the Money and Heartless.

Many observers considered Allen the safe option of the two, challenging few pop-culture conventions. But Idol fans have always liked dark horses and fast learners, and Allen blossomed from an unsure singer into a confident interpreter in front of their (and the judges') eyes. In the end, they rewarded him.

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