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'American Idol' recap: Don't be afraid of the dark horse

Kris Allen thwarts Adam Lambert’s long-predicted season 8 coronation, but with a final two this awesome, did anyone really lose?

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Kiss, American Idol, ...
Kevin Winter/American Idol/Getty Images; Ray Mickshaw/Fox(3)

Five (and only five) words for you: ”Adam deserves this. I’m sorry.”

Yes, folks, the only thing more shocking than witnessing Kris Allen’s upset win over Adam Lambert during tonight’s season 8 finale of American Idol was hearing the unassuming (and yet in my estimation, completely worthy) victor utter those astonished words of apology. I mean, what’s next? Rachel Alexandra giving Mine That Bird some room on the rail to pass her in the Belmont stretch? Federer handing a Wimbledon title to Nadal? Coke and Pepsi swapping cola recipes?

In all seriousness, though, while I went into tonight’s finale completely ready to embrace either the terrific Kris or the fabulous Adam as my Idol, I also recognize that not everyone approached the telecast with such a Kumbaya attitude. Exhibit A: At 10:09 p.m., I literally had to talk my own Adam-obsessed mother through a crying spell punctuated by her first-ever ”I’m never watching this stupid show again!” outburst. (Welcome to the full Idol experience, Mom!) Exhibit B: The message boards for my Idol season-finale live-blog (which is excerpted at the end of this column) are uncomfortably crowded with the kind of nascent barbs that signify folks are getting worked up by something more than their feelings about who took a confetti shower at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles tonight. ”Kris is the least-worthy Idol winner ever!” ”The screecher went down in flames!” ”The Christians voted for Kris!” ”The homophobes voted against Adam!” (As if being Christian and being gay were somehow mutually exclusive, or as if any single contestant from this year’s top 13 had ever openly discussed his or her sexual orientation in a public forum! Okay, I’m being a little coy there, but I also speak the truth!)

But before we gather in the town square with our torches and brickbats, ready to descend on Fox and 19 Entertainment and whoever else should be held responsible for tonight’s somewhat unexpected results, let’s all take a deep and cleansing breath. Before we lob the words ”unfair” or ”untalented” or ”unforgivable” in the direction of a soft-spoken and by all accounts charming young gentleman from Arkansas, or before we sneer and jeer that the inevitable victory march of a certain cool cat from California fell a step short, let us check ourselves. Before we put smiles on the faces of the arms dealers who’d so love to see us turn our obsession with a televised talent competition into a full-blown culture war, let’s ask ourselves: In whose name are we fighting?

Oh, I know, vitriol and outrage and whining are important signposts on the Idol highway — without them, this column would crawl under a couch and turn to dust, and I’d be out of a job! — and yet every single thing I have seen this season about Kris Allen and Adam Lambert tells me they wouldn’t want us to take the bait at a moment like this. In Kris and Adam, we have a couple of telegenic, talented guys who reportedly showed their solidarity — set an example of how competitive rivals from different walks of life can still behave respectfully and dare I say lovingly — by the former painting his thumbnail black, and the other leaving his thumbnail unpainted. (If that not-sponsored-by-Maybelline anecdote made no sense to you, then please click for a more detailed explanation.) The point is, these guys clearly like and respect one another. These are the combatants who, when asked on Tuesday night who was going to take home the season 8 crown, promptly pointed at each other and said ”That guy!” So how exactly can anyone who loves Idol not be smiling right now? Well, unless, of course, you’re a fan of Scott MacIntyre, who actually managed to get less screen time tonight than Janice Freakin’ Dickinson! (More on that and other egregious snubs in just a moment.)

NEXT PAGE: Five good reasons we should all be happy about the season 8 finale

Anyhow, maybe it’s sleep deprivation, or maybe it’s the euphoria of knowing I can make plans on Tuesday and Wednesday nights for the next eight months, or maybe it’s the fact that over the last few weeks, I was finally won over by a season that had kept me at an emotional arm’s length, but allow me to present what I think are five very good reasons that all of us should be happy about the season 8 finale — regardless of who we were (or were not) rooting for.

1. For perhaps the first time in Idol history, there is a common enemy much more deserving of our loathing than any individual contestant ever could be. I speak, of course, of ”No Boundaries,” the Idol coronation song that rests at the bottom of the treacly song trash bin like the combined juices of so many discarded foodstuffs.

I hope the bad news I am bearing does not cause your breakfast to take leave of your stomach, but within the last couple of hours, I received an email from a publicist for iTunes that declared the following: American Idol season 8 winner Kris Allen, and runner-up Adam Lambert’s versions of their debut single ‘No Boundaries,’ is available at iTunes now.” To which I say ”WHAT?” I thought the consolation prize for this year’s runner-up was the assurance that they wouldn’t be forced into releasing a digital version of what I’m hoping will be Kara DioGuardi’s final defilement of the Idol franchise. It is in honor of her beast of a composition, then, that I write this week’s Idol-themed ditty. Set to the tune of Bobby McFerrin’s ”Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” it is called ”’No Boundaries, It’s Crappy.” Click here if you want a little musical accompaniment!

Here’s a song that Kara wrote
It suffers from bad lyrical bloat
”No Boundaries,” it’s crappy
She can’t quit yapping, she makes me hurl
She makes me long for Bikini Girl
”No Boundaries,” it’s crappy

In every season they choose some ballad
How come it’s always soft and pallid?
”No Boundaries,” it’s crappy
This song it stunk up the whole finale
Too bad it’s more up Danny’s alley
”No Boundaries,” it’s crappy

Kris and Adam they tried so hard
But they ended up all bruised and scarred
”No Boundaries,” it’s crappy
Did they say somethin’ ’bout hurricanes?
This non-melody causes stomach pains
”No Boundaries,” it’s crappy

But enough about ”No Boundaries”! Why focus on last night’s musical bowel movement when there’s a full spate of harmonious meals ahead of us all day! (That was, if you hadn’t caught on, my addled brain trying to bring us back to my five reasons to be happy about Idol finale.)

NEXT PAGE: Trust Miss Jody Watley: Kris Allen is a terrific Idol winner

2. Kris Allen is a terrific Idol winner. Those of you who want to stick to your limited ”Kris Allen is a mediocre singer!” scripts, feel free to skip this section. But then, of course, you’d also probably dismiss Karen Carpenter, John Lennon, and Jim Croce for not having big enough pipes. (Hat tip to Miss Jody Watley, whose recent blog about Idol made mention of those three artists, specifically their simple, distinctive, and totally praise-worthy voices.) And while you’re at it, let’s write off Bruce Springsteen, and Dusty Springfield, and Erykah Badu, too. My point being that just because someone’s voice isn’t huge, or octave-scaling, or range-y, doesn’t mean it can’t be fantastic.

And no, that’s not a dis against Adam Lambert. Nor is it my attempt to put Kris Allen on the same level as Carpenter or Lennon or Badu. It’s just an acknowledgement in the superlative-driven world of Idol discussion that there are all kinds of voices worth getting worked up about. And Kris, who hails from the less-is-more school of singing, has put down some stellar, show-stopping performances this season: ”Falling Slowly,” ”She Works Hard for the Money,” ”Heartless,” ”Ain’t No Sunshine,” ”To Make You Feel My Love,” and even ”Come Together.” If that’s not an Idol-worthy résumé, then my iPod has been badly duped, people! What’s more, Kris’ lovely duet tonight with Keith Urban, to the strains of ”Kiss a Girl,” show the kid’s got as much charisma, and as strong a voice, as one of the best-selling country stars of the decade.

3. Maybe a runner-up finish is the best thing that ever happened to Adam Lambert. If you’re still sniffling into a tissue (in sadness, not with allergies) or trembling with fury about Glambert’s runner-up status, please go directly to your iPod or the official American Idol site and treat yourself to a repeat performance of one of the following: ”Mad World,” ”Black or White,” ”Ring of Fire,” ”Tracks of My Tears,” ”Whole Lotta Love,” or ”Feeling Good.” (Yes, of course, the ”Slow Ride” duet with Allison is also more than acceptable.) Now riddle me this: Do you seriously think the likelihood of Adam Lambert becoming an international singing superstar will be affected in any way by his failure to attain a title that would’ve been bestowed on him by the head of Fox’s reality TV programming department?

The truth of the matter is, Adam’s voice is insane, over-the-top, unbridled, and not quite like anything residing on Billboard‘s charts today. His performance tonight with KISS drove home the fact that Adam could (and I think should) begin the movement to bring hair metal back to the mainstream after a too-too long absence. Of course, what’s most fascinating about Adam is he could also choose to use his powerhouse voice in a half dozen completely disparate musical genres — yet look and sound equally comfortably in each of ’em.

Glambert Nation cardholders: What’s important to remember as you curse American Idol tonight is that, without it, you probably would have no idea who Adam Lambert is, or what he sounds like. Your glam god would be a faceless session singer in a Los Angeles recording studio or a chorus member of a touring Broadway show, still looking for some uninspired, robotic record exec to take a chance on him. But now, thanks to his Idol run — one in which only he and Kris Allen got to perform for 11 consecutive Tuesdays — you’ll be lining up to buy his major-label debut album in about six months’ time. And perhaps, as a second-place finisher, he’ll get to cut a more daring debut than he might otherwise have. (See Blake Lewis’ sadly underappreciated Audio Day Dream as an example of where and how runners-up are allowed to roam creatively.) In my mind, Adam’s ”sound” will be eclectic, driven more by where his voice can take him than where his voice will be led by a team of hit-hungry producers. And without the weight of the Idol franchise’s hopes on his back, maybe he’ll be allowed to carry out that mission.

NEXT PAGE: Allison! Cyndi Lauper! OMG!!

4. Also, hello, ALLISON IRAHETA DUETING WITH CYNDI LAUPER! (End of fanboy rant.) (Until said rant gets picked back up in the excerpt from my liveblog below.) (Honestly, it’s taking a lot of self-restraint to stop myself from squeaking like a chew-toy about how lovely that ”Time After Time” performance really was.)

5. Maybe, just maybe, in a season of Idol in which its disparate and ridiculously talented contestants were forced time and time again to rescue the show from the hands of its maddening judges and ill-intentioned producers, we the viewers prevailed. American Idol, in my estimation, is our annual opportunity to right the wrongs of a record industry so hollow and so criminally out of touch that it thinks we (still) want to listen to records by Ashlee Simpson and Paris Hilton and people who need a vocoder to begin to sound human-like. And yet tonight at the Nokia Theater, we had Megan Joy and Michael Sarver, two of the most easily dismissed contestants this Idol season, delivering a rather lovely bluegrass duet with accompaniment from none other than Steve Martin!

And that’s why, when people try to make fun of me for my Idol obsession, they find that my Teflon force-field is impenetrable. What? You want to pit your Auto-Tuned R&B crooner against Anoop Desai? You think Katy Perry can hold her own against Allison Iraheta — without the help of a backing track? Not gonna happen. We may have to sit through Disco Night and Paula’s lucidity lapses and the same-old Norman Gentle shtick recycled for the fourth time with the same song and the same headband-glasses-sparkleshirt wrapping, but in the end, we always get to our happy places. It just so happens that for me, said destination involves Kris, Adam, and yeah, Allison, riding off into the sunset, and headed toward the studio to make some kick-ass hit records.

Oh, a quick quiz for you before we get to excerpts from last night’s live blog:

What was the most egregious snub during tonight’s season finale?
A. Fifth-place finisher Matt Giraud getting one tiny verse of Santana’s ”Smooth” (while co-sixth-placer Lil Rounds got an entire duet with Queen Latifah).
B. The total absence of Scott MacIntyre.
C. Fergie, Rod Stewart, and the Black Eyed Peas treating our beloved Idols like very temporary backup singers.
D. Co-sixth-place-finisher Anoop Desai splitting his solo with Alexis Grace and a not-entirely-engaged Jason Mraz on a song (”I’m Yours”) that earlier in season 8 served as a group number and Jackie Tohn’s audition ditty.

NEXT PAGE: Best of the live blog — got any Allison Red hair dye?

And now for a few highlights of last night’s live-blog. (Or read it in its entirety here.)

8:10 ”So What” by the top 13. (Wasn’t this just on the DWTS performance finale on Monday? I’d like to be getting the royalties checks on that!) And Allison RAPS!

8:11 Is this 100% live? Let’s check Jorge’s lips, because boyfriend cannot lip-synch to save his life.

8:12 Jasmine off-key. Yep this is live.

8:15 David Cook is here with ”Permanent.” How many singles is dude working simultaneously?

8:16 Oooh. I like hearing David’s voice on something stripped-down and melodic. But seriously, is he singing ”make it go away” about the Swaybots who are threatening to destroy his performance. DAMN THESE SWAYBOTS! Just when you think they’re gone, they come back, like rhythm-less fire ants.

8:24 Norman Gentle. Same joke. Bigger stage. Fewer laughs. And enjoy the perch and the power, because it’s gonna be gone in 5, 4, 3, 2…

8:33 ANOOP!

8:34 Anoop singing ”I’m Yours.” With ALEXIS. Happiness is an awesome duet. Let’s hope Jason Mraz gives these two underrated Idols their time at the mic.

8:35 Anoop, that’s a KILLER jacket, and I covet it. You better Tweet me what the brand is, sir!

8:38 Kris Allen and Nicole Kidman’s husband duet on ”Kiss A Girl.” How come I never think of Kris as country? Although I bet he’d sell a gugillion records if he went that route.

8:39 Note to Simon…Kris is showing you how to do the unbuttoned dress shirt thing, aiight? And note to Danny…Keith is showing you how to make eye-contact with your duet partner, just for future reference.

8:56 Now that Bikini Girl is singing, it’s just getting depressing.

8:57 Kara! You better hit those notes, fourth judge! You can’t suck at judging, songwriting, and singing all in the same week. Okay, not bad. OH! She was almost having a moment till the dress popped open. Now we’re back to depressing.

9:00 ALLISON IRAHETA! AND CYNDI LAUPER! Future legend + living legend = Me having heart palpitations.

9:01 OMG! ALLISON YOU SOUND A-MAH-ZING. AND I CAN’T STOP THIS ALL-CAPS BUSINESS. SORRY, GUYS.

9:03 Yep. Put this down in the top five moments of season 8.

9:06 Okay, I don’t say this to be bitchy, but I literally forgot about Danny till they brought him back out. Seems a little cold to saddle him with a David Cook anthem, but he sounds pretty good tonight. And cue Lionel Richie! Oh and what’s THIS they’re singing? Can we go back to ”Hello”? And can we bring Cookie and his gee-tar back out?

9:09 Literally, ”fiesta forever.”

9:16 WOW! Adam’s jacket looks like the glass-and-metal collection from the Mode magazine fashion show on a recent episode of Ugly Betty.

9:17 A KISS ballad. Eyeliner that looks like it’s made from shards of glass. And now we’ve got KISS themselves in full battle makeup. Clearly the warm and cozy voting portion of the competition has come to an end. And I gotta say, Adam sounds absolutely at home, and flawless.

9:18 I seriously think Adam can (and should) bring hair metal back to radio when he gets done with this show. This is all kinds of awesome. AND A GUITAR IS BEING SMASHED ON THE IDOL STAGE. Tongues out, beeotches. Fun for the whole family…at least at Casa Slezak.

9:31 Michael Sarver, Megan Joy, and Steve Martin doing bluegrass. Really about 76 times better than I’d expected.

9:39 Michael Sarver and Danny Gokey kicking off ”Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.” Oh boys, no, not even in the Godly way. (Yeah, I’m couldn’t resist referencing that hein MySpace video earlier in the week.)

9:40 Who wants to start a petition? No guest performers on Idol finales unless they’re directly dueting with/engaging at least one of the finalists!

9:52 WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS! Anyone who says Kris has a weak voice did not hear the opening bars of this song. Also: I’m loving being able to love these two guys loving each other.

10:00 RESULTS! SQUEAK.

10:01 The man from ”Telescope” declares a ”world record.” I don’t know what that means but he has a British accent so it must be true.

10:02 OH. MY. GOD.

10:03 Show of hands: Who just crapped their pants?

10:04 How cute is Allison pushing Adam to center stage. And how happy is Adam that at least he doesn’t have to sing ”No Boundaries.”

10:05 This song doesn’t sound quite as bad as it did last night. Kris falls off the platform. And cue the confetti shower!

10:06 Kris crying into his wife’s shoulder. Awfully cute.

10:07 Wait a second. I have to dye my hair tomorrow. Oh crap. I am gonna look so ridiculous with Iraheta red on my thinning locks.

Idolatry Encore! Allison Iraheta Visits: