Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A NATURAL WOMAN

Tonight is the American Idol finale -- and I couldn't care less. We won't get to see it on TV here in Argentina until Saturday at 8pm, when it airs on the Sony channel, and again, I couldn't care less. That Adam Lambert is going to win is a long foregone conclusion. His challenger, Kris Allen, waited until last week to finally deliver a memorable performance, with his cover of the Fray's acoustic-pop retooling of Kanye West's "Heartless," but it was probably too little too late. Adam has consistency and -- let's face it -- stage presence on his side, and he's so going to win.

But I couldn't care less.

As I've said before, I want to love Adam. I'm supposed to love Adam. But for some reason, I'm just not feeling the love. Sure he's given a few performances to remember (his spastic early in-the-competition take on Michael Jackson's "Black And White" comes to mind), but he's never truly moved me. Not once. I think he's just too Hollywood, and he has been since day one. Nothing about him is spontaneous or real or raw, from his socially correct onstage Idol banter to his styled-within-a-centimeter-of-his-life appearance to his cagey non-response to those pesky gay rumors. He even admitted to planning his Idol performances so that they (boringly) alternate between slow-rocking-slow-rocking-slow-zzzzz. How calculating.

He's so the opposite of Kelly Clarkson, an American Idol from an earlier age (the earliest one), before intense media training and pre-Top 12 makeovers took away the fun of watching Idol wannabes evolve. Kelly Clarkson was the real deal, and today she's even more so. Her current era of heightened reality kicked off a couple of years ago, when she showed up on Idol Gives Back to sing Patti Griffin's "Up To The Mountain" with Jeff Beck on guitar. There she was, hair bouncy and shiny but unstyled, wearing what looked like a dark, multi-hued tent with spaghetti. straps. Although I found the dress a bit distracting (more on that in a second), I didn't fail to notice that it was one of the best performances I'd ever seen on the Idol stage.

But while watching, I couldn't help but wonder what was up with the dress. Was she trying to hide a little weight gain that she hadn't yet disposed of because she was between albums? That must be it, I figured, and continued to enjoy her blistering, soulful vocal. So imagine my surprise when the release of her third CD, My December, rolled around, and there she was promoting the album, looking like a natural -- and defiantly normal -- woman. Nearly two years later, sleek video appearances aside, she's still the same. A friend of mine caught a recent Kelly performance in New York City and commented on her "no-frills" set and "rather plain" appearance (see the red-carpet photo above). In an industry where female stars are supposed to become more polished, more perfect-looking, more artificial as their careers develop (even Britain's Got Talent's spinster songbird Susan Boyle has had a "wee mini makeover," according to her hairstylist -- and yes, she has one), Kelly is moving in the opposite direction.

And good for her. But I do wonder if she is trying to make some kind of statement (that it's about the music, not about her looks), or if she just couldn't be bothered to gussy up. If the former, her social commentary would be so much stronger if the music were truly organic and original, less aurally airbrushed and not so derivative of everything she's already done. Kelly, I'm loving the look -- keep it up. But lose the formula and bring out the test tubes. It's time to "breakaway" from the shouting stage once and for all.
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