'Idol' upset as Allen takes title

By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / May 21, 2009
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Kris Allen, mellow and understated throughout the "American Idol" competition, was more than mellow when he was crowned the season 8 winner last night. For a moment there, when his name was announced, he looked positively sheepish.

"The dark horse comes back and wins the nation over. How does it feel?" host Ryan Seacrest asked him.

"It feels good, man," Allen said. "But Adam just - Adam deserves this."

Such is the pull that runner-up Adam Lambert has had on this competition from the start. The producers, the judges, the "Entertainment Weekly" editors who put him alone on the cover - all of them seemed to think that Adam should take the title, and apparently, so did the guy who actually won.

But the viewers - who cast more than 100 million votes on Tuesday night - said otherwise, charmed by Allen's smart song choices and increasingly bold performances, and in some cases, turned off by Lambert's goth appearance and over-the-top performance style.

Lambert may have been the most polarizing finalist the show has ever seen, and Allen was almost-absurdly wholesome by comparison - and far more similar to third runner-up Danny Gokey. Still, this "Idol" contest wasn't just a skirmish in the culture wars. It was a choice between glam rockers and mellow guys with acoustic guitars, a test of how fast people could dial or text, and - perhaps most significantly - a referendum on what an "American Idol" winner should be.

Lambert arrived on the "Idol" stage fully formed, with the skill and confidence of an already-minted rock star.

Allen, meanwhile, represented the traditional "Idol" conceit: that the show should find a diamond in the rough from some distant corner of the country. He won over voters by choosing bold arrangements and improving over time. And when he hugged his wife after singing his schlocky coronation song, the full weight of what had happened seemed to be settling in.

It was a lovely moment, and enough to make anyone feel decent about the results. Lambert and Allen seemed like stand-up guys; perennially-grumpy judge Simon Cowell called them "unusually incredibly nice people." And they seemed to genuinely wish each other well - an easy thing to do, given that the "Idol" exposure is far more valuable than the title itself. They'll both be stars, most likely, and they'll both deserve it.

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