Adam Lambert and Kris Allen will face off on American Idol's season eight finale next week. In a bit of an upset, Danny Gokey, who had never been voted into the bottom three, received the fewest of the 88 million votes cast Tuesday night; only one million calls and texts separated Lambert, widely perceived as the favorite, and Allen, the season's dark horse. With their rock reinventions, Lambert and Allen are closer in aesthetic to last season's victor, chameleon David Cook than previous winners like R&B singers Jordin Sparks, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia, pop sensation Kelly Clarkson, country superstar Carrie Underwood or soul crooner Taylor Hicks.
Most show analysts had Lambert pegged as a lock for the finale — Simon Cowell was so certain Lambert deserved a spot he implored viewers to vote for Adam Tuesday night rather than presume he'd be safe — so it was a surprise when Ryan Seacrest named Allen as the first finalist. When Lambert's name was read soon after, the studio audience erupted and Kara DioGuardi repeatedly mouthed "Oh my God." "Demon prince" Glambert, as Rob Sheffield calls Adam in his piece in our new issue, has single-handedly revived interest in the show and captured the hearts of a very unlikely swath of Americans. (Savor his spandex and guyliner in these photos of Lambert's finest Idol moments.)
Before the two finalists were revealed, giving Idol its strongest final competition in the show's eight-year history, the episode featured tear-jerking footage from the three finalists' hometown visits — video that always demonstrates Idol's stunning power to bring strangers together and make stars out of literal nobodies.
In Milwaukee, Gokey was reunited with fellow contestant and best bud Jamar, who tagged along for Gokey's victory parade. For one of the first times since auditions, Gokey alluded to the death of his wife, calling his homecoming "bittersweet," and nothing that in 10 months he'd come from "tragedy to triumph."
Kris Allen returned to his hometown of Conway, Arkansas, where he said 20,000 of the town's population of 40,000 hit the streets to welcome him. His montage featured a touching moment with his father and a performance at Little Rock's large amphitheater (he also told Seacrest his favorite restaurant had granted him free cheese dip for life).
Lambert paid tribute to his roots, visiting the Metropolitan Educational Theater where he studied drama as a child and his high school, where he was feted by jocks and cheerleaders — and a female streaker who likely gave him nightmares. Lambert was greeted at his stretch SUV by the least professional television anchor in history (she hopped up and down as he emerged) and performed at a military outpost.
Anticipation for the voting results dwarfed the star power of even Alicia Keys, who hit the stage to talk about Idol Gives Back's efforts to help children in Africa and introduce a young singer from Rwanda named Noah. Jordin Sparks performed with OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder on piano, and Katy Perry sang her new single "Waking Up in Vegas" wearing a little Glambert flair: an Elvis-style studded cape emblazoned with "Adam Lambert" on the back.
The voters have spoken, but the show's not over yet — will Lambert be able to lock down the win next week, or will Allen continue his rise? Share your predictions in the comments, and don't forget to come back next week when Rob Sheffield takes over Rock Daily with his Idol finale live blog.