Adam vs. Kris: A double profile

The final "American Idol" commotion is tonight and Wednesday, with Adam Lambert and Kris Allen. Here's a joint profile of the two; for an interview with Danny Gokey, who finished third, catch the next blog down: 

After months of hard rock, soft pop, cute faces and ugly choices, "American Idol" comes down to this:
On Tuesday (May 19), Adam Lambert and Kris Allen sing and viewers vote. On Wednesday, one of them will be the "American Idol" winner.
"They are exact opposites," said Kimberly Caldwell, who co-hosts "Idol Tonight" on the TV Guide Network . "I think it's going to be great."
Allen, 23, is the Arkansas church kid. "Kris is very mellow," said Danny Gokey, who finished third this year.
Offstage, Lambert, 27, may be similar. Justin Guarini, an "Idol Tonight" co-host, calls him "a stand-up guy"; Gokey calls him "just an all-around good guy."
The difference comes at show time, when Lambert transforms. "He's very creative," Gokey said. "He dresses creatively, does everything creatively."
A Lambert song often becomes a 90-second epic. "It gets really over-the-top crazy, with all the lights and the costume and the band," Caldwell said.
Allen sometimes goes in the opposite direction. For his second song last week, he had no back-up.
"It was just him and a guitar," Guarini said. "He is a phenomenal guitar player ... It was so clean and clear. It was his saving moment."
These opposite approaches reflect their backgrounds.
Allen grew up near Little Rock, then went to the University of Central Arkansas. He has stayed in the college town of Conway, where he became a worship leader.
This is a quietly charismatic guy. One "Idol" judge, Simon Cowell, speculated that he does well with the ladies; Allen, who married last fall, shrugs that off. "I've actually been with the same woman for the past seven years," he said.
For Lambert, the style is big-city and flashy. At 10, he was Linus in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," in downtown San Diego. He stuck with theater, moving after high school to Los Angeles.
He found success there, even understudying the romantic male lead in "Wicked." When he wasn't in a show, he said, he kept a sort of hard-rock, Goth look.
"The other kids looked at me like I was a freak, because I was dressed like that in rehearsal," Lambert said. "That has always been my style."
It brought him instant attention at the "Idol" auditions, Caldwell said. "You could tell that he's been on a stage his whole life. He knows how to hold an audience."
And Allen? "He didn't get any (TV) time in the early stages," Caldwell said.
That was fine with him. "I love being the guy who's kind of in the background," Allen said.
Both men have fine voices, people agree. "Kris is really soft and smooth," said former contestant Sanjaya Malukar. "Adam is very raw."
At times, Lambert does amazing things with the higher pitches. "Like the greats -- Steven Tyler, Freddy Mercury -- you start to take if for granted," Caldwell said.
Yes, she's comparing him to the lead singer of Aerosmith and the late lead singer of Queen. "He's a rock star," Caldwell said.
And he came at the right time. In the early years, "Idol" had no room for innovation, recalled Caldwell, who finished seventh in the second season. Instrument tracks were recorded in advance. "It was more like karaoke then."
Back then, Guarini said, "it was an experiment. Nobody thought it would go anywhere."
By the first-season finale, everyone knew it was big. Kelly Clarkson won and became a star. Guarini was runner-up; he's preparing album nowl, as is Caldwe;;.
First is the "Idol" finale. "It's like prom night," Caldwell said. Except this prom king may become a rock star.

The final push:
-- On Fox: "American Idol," 8-9 p.m. Tuesday, 8-10 p.m.Wednesday; viewers vote after Tuesday's show.
-- On Fox Reality Channel: "American Idol Extra" interrviews the contestants. On Wednesday night, that's 10 p..m. PT, 1 a.m. ET; on Thursday, it's 7 and 10 p.m., ET or PT.
-- On TV Guide Channel: Profile of "Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi at 8 p.m. Saturday, "Idol's Sexiest Stars" at 8 p.m. Sunday. Special editions of "Idol Tonight," 8-10 p.m. Monday (with Jason Castro, Melinda Doolittle, LaKisha Jones, Michael Johns, Phil Stacey, Haley Scarnato, Elliot Yamin), then 6-8 p.m. Tuesday (with Ruben Studdard and Paris Bennett), Wednesday and Thursday. Also, fashion round-up at 8 p.m. Friday.

The final showdown

Many people had been predicting a showdown between Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert in the "American Idol" finals (8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday on Fox). One person -- Simon Cowell, no less -- predicted Gokey would win.

Now, instead, he's out and Kris Allen is in the finals. Why? In the story below, Gokey says it might have been "the scream" that doomed him; Justin Guarini guesses that Gokey and Lambert split the older voters, while Allen had most of the little girls.

Then again, there's the simple fact that Kris Allen is really cute, in an unthreatening -- shy, quiet, married church guy -- kind of way. In "American Idol," cute people -- starting with Guarini and continuing through last season's David Archuleta -- finish second.

Anyway, here's my story. Please add your comments about the final showdown:

Danny Gokey ended his "American Idol" stay with a sweet ballad, but the subject soon turns to other sounds.
There was the scream, raw and primal, that startled judges a week earlier. "Maybe that was the start of the downfall," Gokey said by phone.
And there are ... well, rude sounds he makes when he's in dignified places. "I make this fart sound with my mouth," Gokey confessed. "It gets laughs in the funniest places."
This is the Gokey that other "Idol" contestants talk about -- a guy who looks first for fun. It's not always what viewers saw.
During auditions, producers latched onto Gokey's story. He was a church worship leader whose wife Sophia had died recently, during surgery for a lifelong heart problem.
For a time, Gokey backed away from that, afraid people would say he was using it to get votes. Now that he's ousted, however, he talks about it quickly. "Sophia's Heart Foundation -- that is everything to me," he said.
Gokey often flashes the group's heart symbol onstage. Now he talks about starting with a center in his home town of Milwaukee. "I'd like to have a hip-hop area, a theater, a gym," he said. "I want to get kids into music, because it's being taken from the schools."
There would be a multi-cultural tone, he said. Sophia was Puerto Rican; one friend has been quoted as calling Gokey "a black man in a white man's body."
Gokey said he would like to help finance it by starting a line of eyeglasses. When the season started, he had about 15 pairs of glasses; now he has about 50. "It's been raining glasses on me."
Early on, Gokey was bathed in praise for his singing and his character. One judge, Simon Cowell, predicted he would beat Adam Lambert in the finals.
Then what went wrong? Why is it Kris Allen, not Gokey, who faces Lambert next week?
"Perhaps he (Gokey) and Adam shared the same voting bloc," said Justin Guarini, the runner-up in the first "Idol" season. "Kris appeals to the younger voters."
Kimberly Caldwell, who hosts the TV Guide Network's "Idol Tonight" with Guarini, feels Allen had the advantage of coming from nowhere, growing constantly. "Danny didn't really grow that much from his first audition."
Or maybe it was just that scream, at the end of a May 5 song. "I rehearsed it so much that I hurt my vocal chords," Gokey said.
He survived that week, with Allison Iraheta going home, but was ousted a week later. The next day, his sounded subdued, but his words were enthusiastic. "I was a nobody," Gokey said, "and now I'm a somebody."

Art festival season begins


First my apologies for:

1) The ragged condition that temporarily befell my last couple blogs. As you may recall (see a few blogs ago), I recently learned whether that don't-spill-Pepsi-on-a-computer thing is mere myth. (It isn't.) In the aftermath, I dusted off a previous computer, one that is better -- but not substantially so -- than an abacus. Anyway, I'm now typing on a new, low-budget Toshiba; I fixed those blogs and am quite happy.

2) The fact that this blog is just about the Lansing area. If you're not interested, go to past or future ones. Chances are, they're about "American Idol."

Anyway, this is the weekend of the East Lansing Art Festival and it is, as usual, a real pleasure. You can catch music (I was impressed by Thom Jayne and the Nomads), celebrities (in close proximity, I spotted Matt Ottinger and Clifford the Big Red Dog) and artists.

The art work is always impressive, but this year I was drawn to the exquisite woodwork from Steve Klein of Laingsburg and the beautiful photos of Steven Huyser-Honig of Grand Rapids. There are a lot of great photographers there, but Huyser-Honig seems to have a great eye for the visual pleasures of Western Michigan.

If you go there Sunday, you can also catch some fine music. In particular, I'd recommend a couple folk acts on the small stage -- the great Josh White Jr. at 12:45 p.m. and Daisy Mae Erlewine and Seth Bernard at 2:15 p.m. -- and then Claudia Schmidt closing things on the big stage from 4-5 p.m. Then again, you can't miss on either stage, all day. This is a fun festival.

End of the Madness

Tonight (Saturday, May 16) marks the end of a TV tradition. "MADtv" has its last new show, after 14 seasons, from 11 p.m. to midnight on Fox.

Even if you missed the first 13-plus years, you might want to catch tonight's farewell. It only overlaps on part of the season finale for "Saturday Night Live," which is from 11:29 p.m. to 1 a.m. on NBC.

Anyway, here's a recent story I wrote about the show and its finale:

In TV terms, Fox's "MADtv" is almost ancient.
"The idea actually pre-dates the existence of Fox," said David Salzman, the show's producer and co-owner.
The notion was tossed around in the 1980s and finally got a schedule spot in 1995. Then -- as it often does -- Fox got a new programming chief. "He told me, 'It just doesn't fit the new Fox," Salzman recalled,
He disagreed and won the argument. "MADtv" has outlasted many programming chiefs and stayed 14 seasons -- until now.
Saturday's show is the final new one on Fox and probably anywhere. "Something told me to be on the show this year," said Erica Ash, one of the regulars.
She had turned down a spot last season, but jumped in this time. That let her ride out the final year of a brassy show.
"It's edgy," Ash said. "It doesn't compromise the funny."
It is, at least, more quick and youthful than most shows. "We'll have 14 or 15 elements in a 60-minute show," Salzman said.
The idea was to capture the frenetic quality of Mad magazine. Salzman seemed in a position to push it through; he ran the Lorimar company, back when it was stocked with future network chiefs.
Still, the idea floundered for years. In 1995, Fox -- a youthful network with "Beverly Hills 90210," "X-Files" and "Melrose Place" -- seemed to fit the "MADtv" style.
That first year introduced Nicole Sullivan, Orlando Jones and others. In the years that followed, humor ranged from the broad Michael McDonald creations (Dr. Phil, etc.), to Alex Borstein's Miss Swan, tiny, quiet and dense.
Ash finally got to meet Borstein when past stars returned to tape the finale. "She's a sweet, sweet lady," she said.
By then, "MADtv" had accepted its fate. For its final season, Salzman said, its budget had been slashed in half. He's been trying to find a new home; so far, however, he hasn't succeeded.
Still, "MADtv" had a long run. Fourteen seasons? That ties "Dallas," "Bonanza" and "Ozzie and Harriet"; it beats, by two years, "NYPD Blue" and "Murder, She Wrote."
And it beats, by 13 years, "Misery Loves Company," "The Preston Episodes," "Strange Luck" and "The Crew." Back in 1995, all of those were deemed to fit the new Fox.

A great "Idol" moment

Even on a show that tries endlessly to manufacture emotion, nothing can match the real thing. The final moments tonight were "American Idol" at its best.

Here was Danny Gokey, a man who had entered the competition shortly after the death of his wife. Buoyant, outgoing, he was immensely likable. And the song he sang (wonderfully) at the end was perfect for this widower -- "You Are So Beautiful."

Danny had picked out that song for Tuesday's performance, a great choice. Paula Abdul had picked his other song, an awful choice.

That may have been one reason for his surprise ouster tonight. A bigger reason is more basic: Kris Allen, also a fine singer, is cute as the dickens, with a shy manner and a slight smile that warms old people's hearts and sends little girls rushing to the phones.

Here are a few of my comments; please add yours:

1) No matter what happens, of course, the essentials remain: Adam Lambert is a spectacularly good singer and performer. Kris is likable; Adam is a star.

2) It was a great touch to show Adam back at the Metropolitan Education Theatre, in San Diego. This is where he had his first starring role, back when he was 10. "Idol" used to think of theater as a bad thing; Adam has reminded us that rock 'n' roll can be wonderfully theatrical.

3) Tell me this: Wasn't this the first time we've seen an enormous American flag, Patton-style, fronted by a man with Goth hair and two black earrings, singing the National Anthem?

4) Consecutive promos -- for a movie, a car and a charity -- were then followed by commercials. I would have objected, except that charity is a good thing and any promo done by Ben Stiller is fun.

5) Jordin Sparks has become a great singer; Katy Perry is an OK singer who knows how to stir up a storm.

6) In his visit home, Adam had approximately the scariest bodyguard ever.

7) The going-home stuff was a mismatch, as expected. Danny (Milwaukee) and Adam (San Diego) seemed to mostly be visiting strip malls. By comparison, Kris -- going to Conway, Ark., his college town and adopted home -- seemed to be in a real place.

8) That was the place where his shy, cute-guy smile seems to fit perfectly.

9) I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but Kris' wife is really, really cute.

10) All of that cute-guy, cute-wife, shy-smile, nice-voice stuff makes Kris a worthy contender. He's an ideal choice to stand alongside, when Adam Lambert -- one stunning talent -- becomes the next American Idol.