Adam Lambert was the rock star on American Idol‘s grand finale last night, but Kris Allen was the winner, walking off with the Season Eight title after a two-hour extravaganza featuring the Black Eyed Peas, Cyndi Lauper, Santana, Queen Latifah, Rod Stewart, Steve Martin, Keith Urban, Lionel Richie, David Cook, Jason Mraz, Kiss and Queen. A record-breaking number of votes — close to 100 million — were cast via phone and text Tuesday night, however the show failed to reveal the margin between Allen and Lambert (last year 12 million votes separated Davids Cook and Archuleta). That missing piece of information has left many viewers curious and Lambert devotees suspicious as Idol wraps its most exciting season in years. (Relive the night in Rob Sheffield’s live blog and look back at the night, in photos).
A bizarre array of celebrities filled the audience (Janice Dickinson playing air mandolin! Heather Locklear standing around!) as Idol welcomed back its Top 13 for a series of awkward group numbers that, as usual, served as a reminder that the talent sent home before the Top Five weren’t really the nation’s most talented after all.
Both Allen and Lambert stood out in the finale, but the two performances with the most juice both featured Adam: He strapped on cage-like studded shoulder pads Brandon Flowers would covet and sang Kiss’ “Beth,” then joined the face-painted legends for “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock & Roll All Nite.” As Gene Simmons’ tongue lashed beside him, Lambert punctuated the latter with a blistering scream from deep within his velvet goldmine. Later, Lambert and Allen stood together to sing “We Are the Champions” with Queen; at the song’s end, guitarist Brian May — who’s in the market for a new frontman — had a few words with Lambert, the man RS credits with saving the Idol franchise.
Cook took the stage first, hitting some remarkable notes on power ballad “Permanent” in honor of his brother Adam, who recently died from cancer. Then the duets began: Lil Rounds joined Queen Latifah on the rapper-actress-singer’s new single “Cue the Rain,” a hot disco-pop song that swipes the bassline from Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life.” Allison Iraheta and Cyndi Lauper traded verses on “Time After Time.” Anoop Desai and Alex Grace shared the spotlight with Mraz, Santana accompanied the cast on “Smooth” and Allen crooned with Urban on a strong rendition of “Kiss a Girl.”
Lionel Richie welcomed Danny Gokey for a medley that included “Hello” while Cook, who reinvented the track to great success last year, looked on. Rod Stewart made his way through “Maggie May.” And in perhaps the oddest team-up, roughneck Michael Sarver and songbird Megan Corkrey tackled “Pretty Flowers” with funnyman Martin on banjo. Fergie helped the ladies with “Glamorous” (no one-handed cartwheels this year for Mrs. Duhamel) and the Black Eyed Peas stormed the stage with their hit single “Boom Boom Pow,” which featured either the longest expletive in history or a five-second technical difficulty.
Producers wisely decided to bring back three notable singers who didn’t make the finals for “Golden Idol Awards”: theatrical comic Normund Gentle (who did “And I Am Telling You” from Dreamgirls), Bikini Girl Katrina Darrell (who had a brief sing-off with Kara DioGuardi on Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” that ended with DioGuardi baring her own bikini-clad bod — for charity, of course, and not shameless self-promotion) and drama queen Tatiana Del Toro (who was annoying while trying to make light of her annoying persona). Seacrest got his best line of the night in while announcing Darrell’s return: “I was going to ask you what’s new, but I think I know.”
After two hours of pomp, it was time for the results and Seacrest proclaimed Allen the winner. The low key 23-year-old Allen’s mouth dropped open and he said, “Adam deserves this” as the two embraced in a genuine hug. He was rushed into the maligned coronation song “No Boundaries,” co-written by DioGuardi, and the credits rolled.
So what’s next for Lambert, long considered Season Eight’s favorite — and was his defeat the result of playing it too safe Tuesday night (or our other Ways Lambert Could Lose)? Find out where we could see Adam next, and flip through photos of the show’s glam-rock sex god.