Patricia Nell Warren

More on That Christian Vote at "American Idol"

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | May 19, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Entertainment, Entertainment, Media
Tags: American Idol, Fox News, Kris Allen, Ramin Setoodeh

According to conservative pundits, the "Idol" finals tonight are shaping up as a classic High Noon shoot-out. Kris Allen is hyped as the good guy in the white hat, and Adam Lambert is the bad guy in the spangled black hat. After all, Adam does wear black a lot. And he's rumored to be gay. That makes him a bad guy, right?

Last week, just before the "Idol" semi-finals, Newsweek entertainment writer Ramin Setoodeh got going on Adam Lambert, and compared his wardrobe to Marilyn Manson's. Manson wears black too, right? And he's another bad guy, right? If Marilyn Manson didn't exist, certain Americans would have to invent him so they can have someone "dark and demonic" with to compare new rock musicians.

Setoodeh's column was titled "Religion and Idol: Could Adam Lambert Be Heading Home?" Throughout, he wove all kinds of negative insinuations around Adam. He even made it seem like a black mark that Adam has gotten more attention than any other "Idol" contestant in the show's history. (Uh, isn't getting attention the purpose of the show?) Then Setoodeh showed where his own sympathies lurk, as he lovingly listed the Christian credentials of the two other semi-finalists, Danny Gokey and Kris Allen. LIke mentioning they both labor in the vineyards of faith ministries, etc. etc.

All in all, according to Setoodeh, the lurid Manson glow around Lambert meant that he might get run out of town by Gary Cooper.

Setoodeh was wrong, of course. It was Gokey who had to leave town. Which left Lambert and Allen to face each other this week, with microphones in their hands instead of six-guns. And it left the question of which way Gokey's fans would now be voting.

The O'Reilly Factor

Meanwhile last night, Bill O'Reilly, who never misses a beat when it comes to Main Street showdowns around gays, invited Setoodeh on his show. He wanted to discuss if there is a "Christian vote" in the mix. Though he insists that he never watches "Idol," O'Reilly did admit to knowing that there are alleged photos of Adam "smooching up guys on the Internet." He even put the alleged pics on-screen for the whole world to see!

As the two chatted cozily about Lambert and Allen, Setoodeh conceded that Adam is the "better singer" of the two. But he hastened to mention some other considerations, which were not confined to what he called their "different techniques of performing." (Uh, isn't the show supposed to showcase talent?)

The implied upshot of their chat was this: Adam might be the acknowledged frontrunner, but he doesn't deserve to win. Why? Because he is a "might-be gay guy" (O'Reilly's words) and "hasn't said anything about his faith" (Setoodeh's words). Plus they didn't like the fact that Simon Cowell had said on the air that everyone should vote for Adam. Whereas Kris Allen should win, because "at the beginning of the competition it was announced that he is a Christian," and "he sometimes wears a cross when he performs," and he "appeals to younger voters." In the two commentators' eyes, these factors made Allen the all-deserving underdog.

Indeed, according to Setoodeh, five of the seven past "Idol" winners have "talked about their Christianity." Which suggests that there IS a possible influence of "Christian vote" on this show.

So Bill O'Reilly did what he could to influence the voting outcome tonight.

Strange Ironies

I've been wondering when Billo (as Keith Olbermann of MSNBC calls him) would weigh in on Adam. And it's significant that O'Reilly waited till this all-too-sensitive moment.

To me, there are several strange ironies worth noting, about this apparent attempt to turn the finals into a High Noon of hetero outgunning homo.

  1. The show may be owned by a media corporation favoring conservative Christianity -- but it's definitely not a Christian show. If it were, "American Idol" wouldn't have enjoyed such popularity for so many years. The producers have been canny enough to position it close to the edge of ideological ambiguity. The show's enormous audience thrives on fascination with all the different shadings of talent -- thousands of hopeful artists who go through the meatgrinder of auditions and competition, who come from every ethnicity and every walk of life. "Idol" has to be a show where Li'l Rounds can sing a gospel song, and Adam can sing "Born to Be Wild."
  2. The "Marilyn Manson" look is the result of packaging decisions by "Idol's" stylists and producers -- from the haircut to the jackets to the jewelry. In fact, the "Idol" website has a complete rundown every week on every detail of the stylists' decisions on Adam and the other contestants. Surely, if Setoodeh is an "entertainment writer," the Newsweek guy knows this basic fact of the entertainment industry. So his characterization of Adam's look as something sinister and demonic is the extreme of disingenuous.
  3. Even the show's guest entertainers and celebrity mentors are not necessarily picked off a Focus on the Family short list. As I noted in my previous post, Lady Gaga was invited to perform "Poker Face" a few weeks ago. I wonder if Setoodeh or O'Reilly bothered to listen closely to the lyrics. As a celebration of sexual-orientation ambiguity, "Poker Face" is as far from "Amazing Grace" as you can get.
  4. And yes, Fox News showed the alleged kissing photos. Okay, so they cropped the image just above the spot where the two guys' lips lock. But if being gay is so objectionable, so Manson-ish, why are they flashing even half of these pictures? Did Fox do this because the buzz is consistent with how the network positions "American Idol" -- to exploit people's tabloid curiosity about a wide range of "Idol" performers' personal lives? To have that broader appeal that reaches a larger audience including liberals, instead of the narrow conservative appeal of O'Reilly's show (whose ratings aren't all that high)?
And why was O'Reilly allowed to try rocking the "Idol" vote anyway? Don't the top decision-makers have some say about what subjects O'Reilly covers? They know he's a loose cannon, especially when it comes to gays. Or was this Fox's way of having their cake and eating it too? Pleasing their conservative Christian political base by taking a few swats at the "might-be gay," but also feeding the curiosity and excitement of their conservative-into-liberal entertainment base by flashing the now-famous photos?

After all, Fox has a sizable investment in this young blinged-out gunslinger by now -- millions of dollars spent on supporting, grooming, training and mentoring him. Why would they deliberately try to shoot him down in the final moments? Does Fox care at all if Adam wins? Or are they just squeezing him for what they can get, and using him to boost ratings?

The way I figure it -- having their cake means that Fox can't lose either way. As history has proven, not every "Idol" winner goes on to a big career, and some of the losers go on to very big careers. Even if Adam loses, he'll be touring with the rest of the contestants this summer. And whether he wins or loses, he'll surely have the major career that all the "Idol" judges have predicted.

So in a few hours, the big shoot-out at the "Idol" corral will be history. Maybe the spangled black hat will go down in defeat. But maybe he won't. It all depends on whether last night's public-relations maneuver creates a backlash of indignant voter sympathy for the owner of that fabulous hat.

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I have to admit to being a weekly Idol watcher, so your speculations are of great interest to me. I think you are right to wonder where the Danny Gokey votes will go (and I think it is a sign of the times we live in that in the blogosphere, Danny is most frequently referred to as "Dead wife guy". Good god....). My guess is that they will migrate to Kris and that he will win the whole thing.

The most wonderful modern Hollywood ending imaginable would be for Kris Allen to win and to come out of the closet in his acceptance speech. I wonder how much Fox would pay him to do that (and how O'Reilly would spin). Certainly a lot more than they are offering Adam to keep mum about his orientation until after the showdown is over.

I used to watch only sporadically, but this year I admit to watching without fail, and to voting! How can any observer of the American scene resist "Idol"? The show is a hair-raising study in American culture war.

Great article Patricia.

There is a great oped piece on Huffington this morning in the entertainment section regarding how both singers want to be judged by their talent and how both have agreed to help the other depending on who wins.

To me...the winner should be Adam Lambert based solely on how remarkably talented he is. Yes, regardless of who wins will have their shot at a record deal.

I predict Adam will win.

christophe | May 19, 2009 1:46 PM

The fact that Adam should win is of no importance to people, they are going to end up not voting for him simply because they perceive him as gay. I doubt Adam will win, but he should as he is way more talented than the boring Kris is. Kris will end up where most of the idol winners end up which is NO WHERE. Adam on the other hand could be a real winner who would go farther than any other before him, which i still think he will do even if he loses.

Count me as one of the gays against Adam. Not because he is gay, but because he is terrible.

I don't think you can really call him a singer, as he usually screeches out any song he is "singing." Now I know American Idol is derivative, but he is the definition of derivative. Nothing original, nothing new. I really hope he goes down, yuck.

What is interesting is how the judge's are in Adam's back pocket. Evidently Simon Fuller believes he can make a good nickel off of Adam and wants him to win.

Whether Adam wins or not, I think has less to say about gays in America, than the fact that given the choice of all of the contestants this year- Simon wants Adam to win. If Simon knows one thing- its how to develop talent and make money, and he clearly believes that he can make lots and lots of moolah off openly gay Adam. Good for him and good for us as a community.

But for me, everytime he comes onto the screen I want to either a) put the tv on mute or b) throw the tv out the window.

Jeremy, the beauty of this show is that everybody gets to have their personal opinion about contestants, starting at the very first auditions out in the boonies. Some of the singers make us and then, there is one who gives us goose bumps. But it's that way everywhere in the global music scene, not just "Idol," and the world is big enough for all of us.

christophe | May 20, 2009 9:22 PM

don't be so overly dramatic! You obviously don't care about the positive impact his winning could have on the gay community. If he win's, which I hope he will, but also doubt he will, it would show all those fundies calling in mass for Kris that they are the ones in the minority now and that America is changing for the better.

If a coalition of Christian votes forms to propel the lesser talent (Allen) into the pantheon of Idols that includes Taylor Hicks and Jordin Sparks, so be it. Winning Idol isn't all it's cracked up to be:

#1: Winner Kelly Clarkson certainly has the best career of Season #1

#2: Second place Clay Aiken has four music awards, winner Ruben Studdard? Zero.

#3: Winner Fantasia has 3 awards, but seventh-place Jennifer Hudson has an Oscar.

#4: Winner Carrie Underwood, by far the most musically successful Idol.

#5: Winner Taylor Hicks is where, exactly? Fourth place Chris Daughtry's debut became the #1 album of that year. Even second place Katherine McPhee and sixth place Kellie Pickler are doing better.

#6: Winner Jordin Sparks has a music award and the rest of Season 6 really sucked, so I guess she's done well, in comparison. Now compare her to the rest of the winners. Uh huh.

#7: Winner David Cook's doing OK, it's too soon to tell with the others.

The way I see it, twice the Idol winner was the best of the bunch (1 & 4) and twice the winner was clearly not (2 & 5). Once the winner deserved it but another has succeeded (3), once nobody deserved to win (6), and one is too soon to tell (7).

Adam's probably better off not winning and getting locked into 19's contract and being forced to sing what will surely be an awful Idol song for a year. Adam's better off getting the Daughtry deal.

Kris Allen will win, though. It's not even the Christian vote you need to worry about. It's that Idol is decided by thirteen-year-old girls who live in the South. Anyone can call in to vote, but that is slow and you often get busy signals. Text messaging, however, is done through AT&T, which has its largest subscriber base in the Southeastern US, and you can text in up to ten votes. Kris Allen's been coasting for weeks now on what I would've called the "Shaun Cassidy" vote back in the day; the "ohmygosh he's so cute!" vote from adoring thirteen-year-old girls.

The folks who've been supporting Danny Gokey will also largely switch their votes to Kris.

I hope I'm wrong, because Adam's been the only one all season with all of "it". He deserves to win. (Allison Iraheta has some of "it", and in three years she will have all of "it". Mark my words.)

Radical Russ, you are probably right. Kris does have that "boy band" look. But he's kinda bland. I can't see him lasting more than a few years.

Adam appeals to a different, older, more sophisticated demographic. There is more to him, and I can see him making a more lasting mark in the music scene.

I liked Allison too, and thought the semi-finals should have been Adam, Danny and Allison.

Joshua Braska | May 19, 2009 3:24 PM

I find it very amusing that concervative Christians can watch American IDOL, much less become contestants on American IDOL. One of the 10 Commandments prohibits the worship of IDOLs, even if they are patriotic. This is just one of the many inconsistences in modern Christianity that makes me wonder about the validity of the statements made by people like Reily and Limbaugh. American IDOL is meant to be entertainment period, and yet we have a nationally syndicated, "political" show dedicating a whole segment to this beefed up karoake contest. Let's face it, if Fox was looking for talent, the contestants would at least have to sing original songs. Not someone else's. The best part about the show is the same thing that people like about NASCAR. The crashes. Whether or not Adam is gay makes no difference to whether or not he can sing because in the long run, it doesn't matter.

I don't own a single album, CD, or download of anyone who's won or even competed on American Idol, and have never heard one I'd bother spending money on. In fact, I cannot think of an artist who's come along as a new artist this decade that I've bothered to purchase. Everything I've bought was produced by artists who've been around at least since, well, REM? Sheryl Crow? No Doubt?

When I was a kid, I remember my parents shaking their heads at my Rolling Stones, Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, Doors, Grateful Dead, and Chicago records. They thought that Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Count Basie, and the classics were better, musically. Now, I realize that I've become my parents, so far as the attitude of "back in the olden days, we had REAL MUSIC", goes.

So, count me in the hundreds of millions who won't be watching or voting on the finale of American Joke, er, Idol.

I also worry that Kris will win based on the anti-gay vote. But something strikes me:

The target Idol audience is pre-teen and teenage girls. They tend to vote for the cute boy. Kris is very cute.

But he's married. And the girls know that.

Adam is gay. And the girls know that.

So who to choose? Neither guy is available and a lot of the teen vote is based solely on who they dream they could be with; television is based on fantasy, after all.

Adam was the best performer, hands down. But Kris's level of "cute" might just propel him to the top...

Yes, I agree that Chris's performance was pretty lackluster and lightweight. It lacked the impact of Adam's performance.

But I'm not sure that "unavailablility" daunts many of the young females who fancy them. Given the current attitudes, each could imagine that she is "the one" who will get Chris away from his wife, or Adam away from his boyfriend.

I'm intrigued by Davyd's comment, and the Huff Post piece that alleges Kris and Adam have pledged to work together and support each other, no matter which of them wins. If this is true, and the two of them actually follow through, it will be a powerful demonstration of the way that many young people shrug off all that ultraconservative attitude against gays.

With its broad audience, it makes sense that on some level American Idol reflects our societal values. A lot of Christian fringe groups/leaders are voting in blocks for Kris Allen specifically because he is Christian. The press has been all over this: I personally hope that Adam wins, he is more talented and it is time for an Out Idol.

christophe | May 20, 2009 10:21 PM

WELL, Adam lost and its a shame that the christian fundies were able to influence the vote and the fact that those gays who didn't vote for Adam didn't realize how important an impact his winning would have been to finally have an openly gay man win what is a Mainstream American talent show. I personally think the show is stupid and in general hasn't produced any real "idols" but had Adam won it would have been a collective positive statement that finally we are being accepted more and more, but he didn't so I hope all those who didn't vote for him are happy to have supported the fundies obvious choice.

I agree. Ironically, Adam's performance tonight totally overshadowed Kris's, especially when he sang with Kiss.

It was interesting to see how shocked Kris was when the announcement was made. When he said, "Adam deserved to win," I think he knew that the voting had probably been manipulated by "special interests" outside the network.

christophe | May 21, 2009 2:35 AM

I've been up all night over at queerty stating the obvious with so many gays not understanding the significance of it all. As one commenter there said. Had an African American never won AI then you can be sure they would have hit the phone banks in droves to make sure the black contestant won, whether she could carry a tune or not. Just as they did in my opinion with Obama. If the gay community, if you can even call it a community had been able to come together in solidarity and voted for Adam the same way other minorities and fundamentalist would do and did when one of their own is out there, we would have advanced gay rights in the eyes of Mainstream America. Gay people can't even unite on voting for one of their own in a stupid singing contest, how in the world are we going to ever be able to come together as a community and advance gay rights. We can't and we won't.

Did you read where Fox and AI officials deny that they had set up voting parties in Arkansas?

It came from Arkansas, as I said and it sure sounded a lot like "I did NOT have sexual relations with that woman!"


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