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How Adam Lambert Single-Handedly Saved "American Idol"

May 13, 2009 2:16 PM ET

Rob Sheffield's complete American Idol piece, "Whole Lotta Lambert," is on newsstands now in our new issue. He will also take over RollingStone.com to live blog the Idol finale on May 20th.

American Idol is back on top, and it's all one little black-leather-clad demon prince's fault. For the past few seasons, Idol seemed to be dying of boredom, but Adam Lambert, a goth studlet with mascara, black nail polish and a falsetto from deep in the larynx of Lucifer, has single-handedly rescued the franchise. He can do sincerity and ridiculosity all at once, exactly the algorithm Idol has been striving for all these years. Lambert combines the different Idol archetypes, delivering the complete star thrill heretofore doled out one sliver at a time. He has the burning "say my name, bitch" thing of Chris Daughtry, the cutthroat vanity of a Carrie Underwood, but also that innocent desire to give pleasure à la Kelly Clarkson. He packs a whole Gong Show of Americana into one pair of striped spandex tights. (Savor the spandex and guyliner in these photos of Lambert's finest Idol moments.)

Where the hell did they find this guy? There's a "boy who fell to Earth" quality about him, like David Bowie's Lady Stardust come to life. It's a little hard to believe that, until a few months ago, he was toiling away as an obscure understudy in the L.A. production of Wicked. He's easily the most fun Idol ever, a flam-bam-boyantly queeny California boy who has devoted his nights to making Midwestern housewives slobber into their tubs of Ben & Jerry's Karamel Sutra. Whether he's slutting up a rocker like "Born to Be Wild" ("wiii-eeee-iiyaaaiild!") or sobbing his way through "Mad World," he oozes pure awesome-stosterone.

Having Adam around seems to cheer everybody up, including the other singers, who know the pressure's off. Hell, even Simon looks happy. Yeah, it's supposed to be a competition, but part of Glambert's charm is that by removing all the bogus suspense from the show, he's made it watchable again.

We don't know for sure if Glambert is gay — all he says is he has nothing to hide or deny — but if not, it's the gayest embodiment of flaming youth by a straight guy since Bowie sold the world. Glambert plays off the new gay stereotype that has been reality TV's gift to our culture: the hyperfunctional gay dude who has his shit together in contrast to all the neurotic, insecure straight guys around him. He reverses the joke from Mean Girls — he's too gay not to function. Somewhere along the line, this has become an iconic gay image in the mainstream — seen more recently in I Love You, Man, where the only person with any confidence is the gay Andy Samberg character, who gets to be strong while all the straight boys are sulky little bitches.

For the rest of Rob Sheffield's thoughts on American Idol — including why Lambert reminds us of 1973 Triple Crowd winner Secretariat — check out our new issue, on stands now. And don't miss his live blog of the Idol finale here at RollingStone.com on May 20th. Check out all our Idol recaps and news, too.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Don't Dream It's Over”

Crowded House | 1986

Early in the sessions for Crowded House's debut album, the band and producer Mitchell Froom were still feeling each other out, and at one point Froom substituted session musicians for the band's Paul Hester and Nick Seymour. "At the time it was a quite threatening thing," Neil Finn told Rolling Stone. "The next day we recorded 'Don't Dream It's Over,' and it had a particularly sad groove to it — I think because Paul and Nick had faced their own mortality." As for the song itself, "It was just about on the one hand feeling kind of lost, and on the other hand sort of urging myself on — don't dream it's over," Finn explained.

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