Kris Allen, meet Antonio Salieri

Sort of by accident, Kris Allen has become the 21st century's Antonio Salieri.

I don't mean all the negative baggage. The brilliant play (and splendid, Oscar-winning movie) "Amadeus" depicted Salieri as cruel, envious, narrow and vindictive. Kris is none of those; by all accounts, he's an extraordinarily decent guy who deserves much of the good fortune -- cute face, super-cute wife, "American Idol" championship -- that has happened to him.

What I mean is the theme at the core of the mostly fictional "Amadeus": Salieri was more popular and successful than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Still, he was a good enough musician to realize that Mozart was much better. Knowing that -- while the public didn't -- haunted him.

That, sort of, is Kris. "Adam was the most consistent person all year," he said Friday, two days after winning. "He is one of the most gifted performers I've ever seen."

In short, he's in awe of Adam. So are we.

This is a guy who grew up in the San Diego theater world. At 10, he was Linus in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. He did "Peter Pan" and "Grease" and more; he got his Equity union card doing "Brigadoon" in Houston. He settled into the Los Angeles theater world; in "Wicked" -- a big-deal, long-term production -- he was in the chorus and sometimes got to step in as understudy for the role of Fiyero, the pleasure-loving playboy.

"It was a great job and I had lots of friends and it was paying the bills," Lambert said Friday. "But I thought, 'Is this it? Is this my life?'"

It wasn't. He soon became the most complete performer in "Idol" history. Since the show is based in Los Angeles, he could even use his own hair-and-makeup stylist and his own costumers -- three friends of his, under the business name Skin Graft -- who designed his "Idol" jackets.

That gave him the visual flash, but there was much more. Lambert hits notes beautifully, throwing in flair. There's nothing wrong with theatrical rock 'n' roll, he said, citing David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Madonna and more.

Allen, by comparison, avoids all flash. "I've always been a procrastinater ... I'm kind of laid-back and low-key," he said.

His real passion is sports. ("That's kind of my life during football season.") As for music -- well, he actually dropped out of the University of Central Arkansas for two years and tried to make it as a musical professional. It didn't take hold; it rarely does for laidback guys."

He was back in college when he auditioned for "Idol" (waiting 14 hours while "really, really sick") and got on.

Even then, he was too laidback to get any screen time. "There was a little bit of 'Wait, they're not showing me. But that's the way I live my life."

How did he beat the amazing Adam? Was speculation about Lambert's sexuality a factor? "Probably," Lambert said.

He said it without a hint of rancor. "I'm totally OK with this," Lambert said of Allen's victory. "I'm happy for Kris. He's a good friend."

Besides, there are easier explanations. Kris is a cute guy, the sort that little girls love to vote for. He has that shy, apologetic smile. He's mainstream.

It's not terribly surprising that he would win. It's nice to know he'll have a pleasant career. The only problem is the same one faced by Salieri -- the knowledge that he's a decent, pleasant talent who was in the company of genius.

So very wrong, but ...

Of course, tonight's "American Idol" result was flat-out wrong.

Adam Lambert is simply on a different plain than any other "Idol" contestant, past or present. He proved that tonight when he fit in perfectly with Queen and Kiss. This guy is a rock star, with the voice, the showmanship and the smarts.

Still, we can't hold anything against Kris Allen. It's remarkable how this likable kid, almost invisible in the early weeks, kept getting bigger and better. His quiet calm -- like Adam's flash and flair -- almost concealed the presence of great talent.

So I won't grumble too much -- especially since I know Adam will keep dazzling us, in the best Elvis-Mick-Bowie tradition of big-deal stars. Here are a few of my comments; please add yours:

1) The theme tonight was "kiss." Kris sang (with Keith Urban) "Kiss a Girl." Kiss sang. Also, I'm pretty sure I wanted to kiss Fergie. And Megan Joy. And Allison Iraheta. And ...

2) You do realize that "kiss" is a euphenism here, don't you?

3) How come Keith Urban sings about kissing a girl and people just shrug? Katy Perry does the same and it's a big deal.

4) The bad news? Alexis Grace has lost that red swirl in her hair that made her stand out. The good news? Megan Joy looks better than ever.

5) It would be even better if Megan could also sing. And that Steve Martin tune was one of the few detours in an otherwise terrific night.

6) Those special awards? Well, Tatiana is still a basket case, but I think Nick Mitchell (also known as Norman Gentle) is a gifted comic-performance-artist with a decent-enough voice. As for Katrina Darnell, the plastic surgeons did fine work on what was already an appealing palette. I might want to kiss her, too.

7) That thing over Kris' lip is now coming dangerously close to being a mustache. Somebody stop him while it's still possible.

8) There were few bad moments tonight and several great ones. One of the best had people singing "Black Magic Woman" with Santana.

9) The first vocalist on that was Matt Giraud. A half-year ago, he was singing at a Kalamazoo dueling-piano bar; now he's alongside Carlos Santana. That's the glory of "American Idol."

10) And yes, Adam Lambert sounded like he belongs in the turf of Santana (and Queen and Kiss and more). I may have mentioned it already, but this guy is a star.

A dandy finale

Imagine that you did a little perverse time-travel.

You took Justin Guarini, bouncing around amiably in the original, 2002 "American Idol" finals. Or Diana DeGarmo, belting her best in the 2004 finale. Then you transported them instantly to tonight, to see and hear Adam Lambert.

They'd feel like they'd arrived from a lesser universe. That's how much the competition has grown in five and seven years -- and how much Lambert towers above everyone else, even now.

Kris Allen was very good tonight -- good enough to win in some years. Lambert went far beyond that. He has that rare combination that can only be called Streisand-esque. It's the knowledge of exactly how a song should be sung and the voice to pull it off.

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

1) The night was sort of upside-down, starting with its best moment and dwindling from there.

2) The best, of course, was Adam singing "Mad World." In an AOL poll, fans had overwhelmingly chosen his previous rendition as the season's best performance; then he matched it.

3) And the worst was when both men did their best with the Kara overkill, "No Boundaries." Simon Cowell used rare restraint in proclaiming, "I'm not going to judge the song ... the mountains, the hurricane." It was too much of everything, sort of Miley Cirus' "The Climb" on evil steroids. Worse, it simply wasn't a good tune to show off a singer.

4) In case you're keeping track, "No Boundaries" was a reality show that debuted (on the WB) three months before "Idol" began and was forgotten 89 days before "Idol" began. It was also the theme of the truck that sponosored that show. Maybe life is one big product placement.

5) Between those extremes, both men did good jobs with soulful classics. Kris mastered Marvin Gaye's vocally complex "What's Goin' On?" Adam brought new power to Sam Cooke's passionate "Change is Gonna Come."

6) Hey, give credit to a guy who apparently grew up in California comfort, yet can do amazing things with a song about being born by the river and a change is gonna come.

7) You knew these were the finals -- Simon wore a sport jacket, Randy added a tie. The pressure was on.

8) All of the sub-conscious forces were on Kris' side. Ryan Seacrest described this in terms -- "Conway vs. California," "guy-next-door vs. guy-liner" -- that made viewers root for Kris. What's more, Allen got to sing last (thanks to a coin flip) and had plenty of chances to show that wonderfully apologetic smile.

9) I have nothing against any of that. Kris is a good, talented guy who's become a fine performer. He plays the guitar and piano skillfully, uses his voice with subtle skill.

10) He's a fine performer who had the misfortune to be onstage with someone who is from a higher performing universe. Consider Kris this year's runner-up.

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."