Tuned In

Idol Watch: Daughtry'd?

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Frank Micelotta / FOX

Frank Micelotta / FOX

Spoilers for last night’s American Idol elimination after the jump:

It is time to begin entertaining a thought: Adam Lambert may not be a lock to win this thing after all. 

Not to overlook the fate of Matt Giraud (although how many times has he been eliminated by now? six? seven?), but the big news last night was Adam’s landing not just in the bottom three but the bottom two. (I think. Come to think of it, I don’t actually recall if Seacrest explicitly said “bottom two,” and I wouldn’t put it past Idol to have had Adam finish third but put him in the two for drama.) 

For all the oddsmakers heavily favoring Adam as the champeen, and critics like myself having written as if this was all over but the falsetto shouting, it is not clear after all that Adam is America’s runaway favorite. Besides last night’s results, we have the dialidol.com phone-call measurement tool; it has not been flawless this season, but a look at recent weeks shows that Adam has by no means been at the top of the voting every week.

(Compare that with, say, Taylor Hicks’ runaway in season 5. And by the way, who’d have thought Idol would willingly relive that nightmare by inviting him back last night? To this point, he’d practically been airbrushed out of official Idol history like a disgraced Soviet commissar removed from the state photos.)

Adam may have the most raw talent of the bunch. He is certainly the most interesting, and the one who makes an otherwise dull season worth watching in hope of seeing what he will do next. But he and his theatrical style may well be a big turn-off to a lot of the voting public. 

Mind you, I am not using “theatrical” here as a euphemism for “gay or maybe gay.” I’m not sure that’s the issue, except maybe as it tangentially attaches to larger general aesthetic issues of his musical style. I certainly know that homophobia is out there, even if more Americans support gay marriage.

But I suspect that more relevant to the Idol vote is that Adam embraces an over-the-top weirdness to his performances, and that—where Idol audiences usually like to support earnest, nice-guy-or-gal singers—Adam’s style brings a deliberate artifice, staginess and irony to his performances. Some people love that, but we have to wonder now if it’s enough to build a winning Idol coalition. I’d still bet on him to make the final, but in a two-way vote—I don’t know. 

If so, it could be that, having devised the entire “judges’ save” scheme ostensibly to avoid the voting off of another Chris Daughtry, we may have a Daughtry situation on our hands after all. (As for Matt—he seems like a sweet guy, he’s talented and a fellow Michigander, but does anyone think the extra couple weeks have enhanced his career prospects one way or another?) 

The irony with Chris Daughtry, of course, was that being voted off Idol when he was may have been the best thing that could have happened to him, since it only undermined his rocker cred. If Adam goes home fourth, or third—or even loses a final—does that help him?

I don’t think so, though it doesn’t kill his career either. Daughtry performed in a genre and with a persona—the rock guy—that demands the appearance of authenticity. Adam is in a way an anti-Daughtry, in that his pastiche style (with elements of everything from Broadway to glitter rock to hair-band metal) is built on a measure of deliberate inauthenticity; I don’t mean that as an insult, but just to say that his game is about artifice and stagecraft. (OK, he does have a touch of emo in him, but with him it’s less about the heart-on-the-sleeve guilelessness and more about the Pete Wentz hair.) He is, like Daughtry, different from the typical Idol frontrunner. But where winning Idol may have made Daughtry seem to fans as if he’d been co-opted by the pop system, Adam would instead appear to have beaten it, or at least mastered it. 

For now, though, he was spared—and more important, the producers were, since using the save on Matt would have looked really ridiculous if Adam had gone home over him. Who’s your frontrunner now?