Katy Perry Plugs Adam Lambert in Idol Performance
I'm sure millions noticed that Katy Perry opened her American Idol performance by displaying an Adam Lambert emblazoned cape. While it surely is a sign that she, and at least one of the judges, are openly supportive of Lambert in his quest to become the next Idol, the effect of the endorsement may be a more complicated affair.
Perry's wardrobe choice serves to highlight a vein of increasing doubt about the competition's authenticity that has remained as subtext throughout the past years, but which may now emerge and tip the scales of this year's vote. It's not just that Idol has pushed product placement beyond what even reasonable people can take, from Coke cups on the judges table and AT&T calls to the Ford advertisements-come-videos with a narrative depth and visual style that makes the Backyardigans look like Citizen Cain.
The fact is that it will be hard for anyone to believe that Perry's act was not orchestrated, at least in part, by people outside of her entourage. That doubt stems from the fact that Adam Lambert, more than any other any previous Idol participant is a professional. Lambert is a manicured, media-genic sexually ambivalent collision between the Cure's Robert Smith and Steven Tyler (that may have nicked Bowie on the way by). His song choices, arrangements and style all resonate with the precise image management reserved for top celebrities.
In comparison Kris Allen, and the recently exiled Danny Gokey, better fit the mold of previous winners, and the Fox audience. Allen is Arkansas bred, with an aw-shucks demeanor more akin to the calamitous Taylor Hicks or the hard done by Chris Daughtry. Lambert is an undeniably talented performer and a refreshing change to that history, but whether the audience feels entirely comfortable with the contestant being "placed" as product within the show remains to be seen.
It's not necessarily that Katy Perry exposing Idol as corporate sponsored theater rather than competition will necessarily hurt it, but it may - in the same way that Wrestling has given way to MMA. More likely it will sail on, anesthetizing audiences for as many seasons as Simon Cowell has the appetite. If it doesn't sail on, the Adam Lambert Signature Cape may be the official historical moment that Idol jumped the shark. Not a big jump I realize, people don't expect much from it. What people do expect though is the good story, the American Dream of the undiscovered humble talent rising up against the odds (those half aware will settle for the illusion of that story couched as competition). In either case the depth of that expectation will be tested here.
As ever, in the end Cowell - who may be complicit in the stunt - is well positoned to exploit these tensions. I'm sure he's already arranging a strange cross atlantic duet featuring Adam Lambert and Susan Boyle.