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Why American Idol Matters

idol

Okay, it doesn’t.  Not really. But, every year as I get suckered into Idol madness just after the group dwindles to eight or less, I look for reasons that justify watching.   This year, it’s easier, since it’s become a Tuesday night treat that my daughter and I enjoy together, like a mother-daughter date night.  We tune out everything else to watch our favorites, gossiping about the judges, and critiquing wardrobe, hairstyles, and Ryan Seacrest during the boring parts.

But, this season, I found another rationalization for my Idol habit. The two finalists make for the best and most exciting match-up in years. There’s the favorite, Adam Lambert, who’s ever-fascinating with his soaring tenor pipes and theatrical appearance (complete with guyliner), against dark horse Kris Allen, a sweet-faced, self-effacing evangelical Christian from Arkansas with an acoustic guitar and a voice to match.

As musical and cultural symbols, the two couldn’t be more different – or more perfect. The Los Angeles Times likens Lambert to the late Freddie Mercury, while Allen is more like a John Mayer.  Put in more topical terms, it evokes Perez Hilton and Carrie Prejean.

Except that it doesn’t, because the two not only get along, but together they make this the best Idol season in years. Against the backdrop of media-fueled conflicts over faith, sexuality, and lifestyle, it’s heartening to see that people who differ dramatically in their musical and personal styles and attitudes can attract an enormous and eclectic following and even teach us something about musical – and cultural – harmony.

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