Politics and American Idol

I am a greenhorn in the music world. If you gifted me an Ipod, I’d probably mistake it for a remote control. Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift are names I have heard, but faces I could not place. I can’t operate a CD player and have always thought of concert-going as an activity other people do.

Until now. American Idol contestant Adam Lambert seems to have awakened my long lost music gene. It happened on a Tuesday in March when I coasted by the family room TV on my way to nab cashews from the kitchen. This male Elvira had cool, black nail polish, a Clark Gable confidence, an androgynous sex appeal and the ability to emote like I’ve never seen.

Heck, this is a concert I could attend, I thought.

With an alluring combination of pure talent, charisma, unpredictability and eccentricity, Lambert will no doubt go down in history as a superstar, not to mention American Idol’s greatest success story.

Commentators call Lambert a polarizing figure: you love him or you hate him. Could this stem largely from the partisan divide in America?

Lambert is a blue state. He is Hollywood, glamour and bigger than life. Using struts, vocal acrobatics, and bizarre song renditions, he sticks it to “the man” and orthodoxy. He upsets society, chastising manners and mores, much the way Elvis Presley did on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. Lambert is a comic book hero for those with an anti-establishment bent, such as 70’s children like me who learned early on to distrust government and convention.

His competitor, Kris Allen, is a red state. He is good ole boy from Arkansas who attends church and married his longtime sweetheart. On stage, he is as placid as a lake, even against the raging waterfall, Lambert. Allen is humble, casual and could live in Pleasantville. Lambert would be the Picasso of Pleasantville, upsetting the status quo.

In many cases, Lambert clearly transcends the red-blue divide, as evidenced by the statistics presented on “Dial Idol” and other websites that estimate the percentage of votes each competitor receives by state. But I have to wonder if some of his angry detractors are those with a deep-seated dislike for all things liberal and idiosyncratic. .

The controversy surrounding Lambert’s sexuality also plays into this theory. Bill O’Reilly, for example, thought it newsworthy to ask his Fox News viewers if they thought the singer was gay. Successful same-sex marriage initiatives are sweeping this country, and opponents may see Lambert as a poster boy for alternate lifestyles and as a threat to conservative values.

Could an Adam Lambert victory represent a new level of acceptance for difference? Would a Kris Allen win reinforce communitarian values and the familiar? Some may see this season’s contest as a battle of hope and change pitted against tradition and custom.

Win or lose, Lambert will be a music icon. And win or lose, I guess I’d better figure out what those shapes on the CD player mean.

CHARLOTTE LAWS, Ph.D. is a Los Angeles TV host and the author of the book, Meet the Stars, which explains how to hobnob with the rich and famous.


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