A thoroughly enjoyable but exasperating night on American Idol has prompted me to post this morning! The good news is that, like many viewers, I finally know what kind of record Adam Lambert should (and probably will) make. Yes, as the judges said, he needs to go the Led Zeppelin mixed with glam-rock route. There are, however, some big problems with that and I will elaborate in a moment.
First I must vent because the judges really pissed me off by going overboard in their obvious attempt to save Mr. Lambert after last week's bottom two "scare." Whether Lambert is your cup of tea or not is irrelevant because he turned in a stellar performance last night and didn't need extra pimpage from the judges. Allison Iraheta came out and gave one of the best performances anyone has given all season, and they picked it apart over what seemed like the lamest of reasons. Non-reasons. It smacks of manipulation. I would still buy Allison's record before Adam's. But that's me. Kris Allen and Danny Gokey did the best they could with the material but they are not this year's rockers and it showed. Gokey's fan base will keep him safe.
So let's get back to rock music. Here's where Adam Lambert faces a challenge. If he takes the judges' advice and goes the pure, classic, bring-the-house-down rock route he's going to have post-Idol troubles. There's much talk about filling the current empty void of arena rock but I've got news for you and I will put this in bold typface: an American Idol contestant, whether a winner or runner-up, is not going to be the one to single handedly bring back rock. Mr. Lambert, good luck getting on rock radio, because you better line up behind 5 x platinum Daughtry and newly platinum David Cook. Their "tainted" American Idol history still has them waiting for spins on the all-too-snobbish rock radio format. The pair are ruling Hot Adult Contemporary (aka Adult Top 40) and they both do well on Top 40, but cracking into the rock radio format is an uphill challenge. Daughtry's sophomore album is due out in July, and it remains to be seen whether he's paid enough "rock dues" to get onto rock radio. If so, it will have been three long years since he left American Idol, and he didn't even have the "stigma" of winning the show!
Adam Lambert faces other big challenges, especially if he wins and is signed by 19 Recordings and managed directly by the boss, Simon Fuller, himself (as is the case with Daughtry and Cook). They'll likely hook him up with RCA Records (again, like Daughtry and Cook, both 19/RCA) and there's no way he'll put out a hard rock-Led Zeppelin-Guns & Roses type of album right off the bat. David Cook, who was given unprecedented creative freedom post-Idol, and is by far the Idol success story with the most extensive indie-rock resume, put out a superb but fairly commercial rock album that crosses several radio formats (HAC, Top 40, Adult Contemporary). Daughtry's debut album has similar characteristics. The difference between Lambert and his two Idol predecessors is that it's unclear whether Lambert can shine in the dialed-down rock ballad category. Daughtry's crisp, clear understated angst-driven vocals have made him a rocker who gets played on pop radio. Cook's power and pipes go into Lambert's territory, but Cook is also brilliant at dialing it back and putting in a vocal performance that can bring tears to your eyes. Both Daughtry and Cook write and sing songs with pop-rock hooks that stay on your brain all day, but never stray from their rock roots. I'm not convinced Lambert will have me buying his entire album. Cook and Daughtry are seasoned musicians but I have no knowledge of Lambert being anything more than a performer, and that can be another handicap for Lambert in the rock world.
As an American Idol fan, I hope that Lambert succeeds as a rocker. Daughtry opened the door. Cook practically broke the show last year and proved you can be a successful rock winner. I think both Daughtry and Cook have allowed the judges and the fans to embrace rock on Idol, and as someone who prefers rock to pop, it makes me happy. Slash's involvement with the show might also help keep rock alive on Idol, and open some rock doors for Idol alumni. The sad news for me is that, in the real world, when you look at current radio, it's clear that rock has taken a back seat to R&B and Hip Hop oriented pop, so when a rocker does well on American Idol, expectations for him/her need to be managed. Versatility is the key to success, and I'm not convinced that Adam Lambert has the level of versatility that has helped David Cook succeed on HAC, Top 40 and Adult Contemporary. I would love to hear all four Idol rockers - Cook, Daughtry, Lambert and Iraheta, on rock radio - and soon!
Contestant duets are a welcome addition this season. Last night's performance of Foghat's "Slow Ride" by Lambert and Iraheta was a highlight of the show.