Media Let Culture Wars Cloud 'American Idol' Win

After the winner of “American Idol” is crowned, the appropriate action is to congratulate the newly crowned Idol on his success. Yet on May 21 media focus was clearly elsewhere. That day, reports on all three networks' morning broadcasts, marveled at how Kris Allen beat Adam Lambert and gave unusual attention to contestants who did not win, but are still successful, leaving little doubt that these hosts and reporters believe something wasn't right about Allen's victory.

Allen and Lambert are very different. Allen, a married twenty-three year old, is a college student from Arkansas. He grew throughout the season as a performer and was often labeled as humble. Lambert, on the hand, was an edgy performer who has become known for his “guyliner,” or extensive use of black eyeliner. Although he was a frontrunner and often praised by the judges, his sexuality was often questioned, especially after photos hit the Web in which he appeared to be kissing another man.

“American Idol” had a record number of votes cast – almost 100 million – on the May 20 season finale. There is no limit, however, on how many votes a viewer can cast. Maggie Rodriguez, of the CBS' “The Early Show” quipped that Allen won because his “mom must have voted 500, 000 times.” But clearly, a lot more than Allen's mom loved his singing.

On ABC's “Good Morning America,” Andrea Canning decided that Allen's winning was linked to Lambert's sexuality. “Was America not ready for it's first-perhaps- gay idol?” she asked. Her colleague Sam Champion at least congratulated Allen, and then went out to point out former Idol contestants such as Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, and Clay Aiken, didn't win but went on to enjoy successful singing careers. “Can 100 million people ever be wrong, and I mean seriously?” Champion said. “I know that Kris Allen won last night and that's great and we congratulate him, but some of the most successful performers to come out of Idol aren't even Idol winners.”

“The Early Show” also pointed out many successful singers have emerged after not being crowned “American Idol.” Chris Jansing of “Today” stated, “coming in second may not be so bad after all.”

As for the print media, it did its part in promoting the cultural divide angle of Allen's win.

The Associated Press headlined its article "Shocker: Kris Allen takes 'American Idol' title." Picking up the theme Newsweek's Ramin Satoodeh hit last week in a "Pop Vox" blog post on the Christian influence in "Idol" voting, AP's Lynn Elber said Allen was "downright conservative when compared to Lambert's elaborate staging and wardrobe choices. Allen is a married college student - his wife was often on hand to root for him - and has worked as a church worship leader." Lambert, on the other hand, has "largely kept his personal life under wraps, saying 'I know who I am' when asked about it."

Elber also noted, "it turned out that 'Idol' viewers could embrace a gifted performer like Lambert, one who sported black nail polish and bold self-assurance, only to a point." Elber also addressed the ensuing firestorm over allegations of anti-gay bias, reporting, "Backstage, Lambert was asked about how his second-place finish would be interpreted online. "The blogs have a lot of opinions, don't they?" he said, smiling and looking relaxed.

The Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes, echoed Elber:  “Lambert, on the other hand, hails from Los Angeles by way of San Diego, was in the cast of "Wicked" and doesn't talk much about his personal life. But expect the "is-he-or-isn't-he?" chatter about Lambert to explode today into a full-on debate about whether the vote reflects gay bias.”

Back at Newsweek, Setoodeh's latest post examined what he called "The Christian factor" and "The gay factor" in Allen's win, despite admitting that "maybe Kris is the more deserving American Idol after all." 

Of the Christian factor, Setoodah wrote:

You could say – as many of you have in the comments – that religion is an irrelevant criterion for judging a singing competition. But the fact remains that Idol is one of TV's most family-friendly shows, and it draws a large number of Christian viewers. Five out of seven of the past Idol winners have been very vocal about their Christian faith. Kris Allen had the edge here.

And of the "gay factor”:

Adam Lambert hasn't talked about his sexuality publicly, but TV Guide reported that he was "openly gay,"...and there are photos circulating online of someone who looks like him kissing another guy. This shouldn't be an issue in 2009. But if you've read any of online chatter about Idol this year, you know that sadly, there's still plenty of hate out there. Adam has millions of fans, and it looked like he could strike an emphatic blow against homophobia, much the same way that Obama broke through the race barrier when he became the country's first black president. But his ambiguous sexuality still cost Adam votes.

Ken Levine, an Emmy-winning producer, director and writer slammed "Idol" voters for their un-originality. He wrote for The Huffington Post,"This country is not yet ready to crown a young man who looks like Liza Minnelli their next American Idol. Not that Kris didn't deserve it but clearly Adam was the more interesting, original choice." 

Alessandra Stanley, TV critic at The New York Times, also took her shots at "Idol" voters. She labeled viewers "too conformist to anoint a sassy, androgynous individualist," and derided their taste in pop music as "conventional."

The media usually love stories of underdogs triumphing over the favorite. But in this case, they can barely manage a few half-hearted congratulations before espousing their theories of “hate” and “homophobia” in the land of the “race barrier.”