Reality Rocks - Archive

Why Adam Lambert Rocks My World

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Last season, David Cook became the first rocker to win American Idol, succeeding where Constantine Maroulis, Bo Bice, and even Chris Daughtry had failed. Idol-worshipping rock fans, myself included, rejoiced at the time. But then David's disappointingly Nickelbackian debut album came out, which made me reluctantly realize that David Cook was really only a "rocker" WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF AMERICAN IDOL. Sure, compared to the nervous-giggly David Archuleta or the bubbly-blonde Brooke White, David Cook (and Carly Smithson and Michael Johns, for that matter) practically sounded like Motorhead or Slayer. But in the real world, he didn't really ROCK.

But you know who does rock? Um, Adam Lambert, that's who. (Who'd you think I was going to say, Scott MacIntyre?) Adam is the best, most awesomely rockin' thing to happen to Idol since Sanjaya Malakar got voted off, and I'll tell you why.

Here's the deal: Real rock 'n' roll is supposed to have some element of danger to it. It's supposed to make people feel a little bit uncomfortable, make concerned PMRC parents fear that their susceptible kids are heading straight to Hades for listening to such decadent, demonic rubbish.

Just think about all of the rock stars over the past decades who've generated shock, awe, disgust, and debate...

Elvis "The Pelvis" Presley (to whom Adam Lambert bears a startling resemblance) wasn't even allowed to be filmed below the belt on The Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles were ridiculed for having "long" hair that (gasp!) hung past their ears. Newspapers once ran headlines warning mothers not to let their innocent maiden daughters date a debauched Rolling Stone. Led Zeppelin were accused of inserting backwards-masked Satanic messages in their songs. The Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen" wasn't even officialy listed on the U.K. singles chart, despite going to number one, because of its offensive anti-royalty lyrics. Everyone from Bowie to Bolan to Boy George once outraged onlookers with their gender-bending androgyny. And numerous dark and doomy rockers, from Ozzy Osbourne to Judas Priest to Marilyn Manson to My Chemical Romance, have been blamed for the bad behavior of their more troubled fans.

Now, I'm not saying that Adam necessarily belongs in same league as any of those legendary artists. Not yet, anyway. But I will say that--judging from his extremely polarizing "Ring Of Fire" performance last week--Adam Lambert is a real rocker. Because he shocks people. He gets people's attention, and sometimes gets people downright angry. He makes those who are faint of heart and feeble of mind squirm in their support hose--and that's a good thing. Because that is what real, relevant, radical rock stars, from Mick to Marilyn, do so well.

The bottom line is: Yes, Adam's "Ring Of Fire" was possibly the most controversial performance in Idol history. But on a related note, it was also the BEST performance in Idol history.

Best. Performance. Ever. Because it rocked. I tend to believe that only someone dead from the waist down or neck up would think otherwise.

And it's not just Adam's guyliner, or his leather trousers, or his sultry sneer (which is more Billy Idol than American Idol), or his fringy haircut, or his black nail lacquer that make him a rock star. Yes, those things do help, as image counts a lot in rock 'n' roll. But let's face it, a shopping spree at the local Hot Topic franchise or a few stylist-supplied studded wristbands do not a rocker make. What makes Adam the real deal--the Idol contestant it's acceptable for "cool" people to like, so to speak--is that he means it, man.

Adam rocks because he stays true to himself, like a real rock 'n' roll rebel. If that means freaking out Randy Travis with his goth manicure; or refusing to "go country" on Opry Night (despite that fact that I really do believe maverick Johnny Cash would have appreciated Adam's slinky, Jeff Buckley-inspired remake of "Ring Of Fire"); or belting it out like the Darkness's Justin Hawkins on helium, so be it. Sure, Adam's screechy, Axl-esque wail, particularly on a trippy Egyptian country cover, is not everyone's cup of psychedelic mushroom tea...but come on now, some of the most distinctive singers of the rock genre--Mick Jagger, Robert Smith, Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, Bob Dylan, Thom Yorke, Kurt Cobain--would've never even made it past the early AmIdol audition rounds for being too "weird." So give Adam points for not sounding like a studio robot and fearlessly letting his freak-flag fly high, week after weirdly wonderful week.

Of course, sadly, all the reasons why I think Adam rocks, and why I'm rocking the vote for him, are why more easily spooked viewers--who think grunge covers of Mariah Carey power ballads are shocking and innovative--probably won't allow Adam to win this show. Because those viewers don't think squirming and feeling uncomfortable are good things. Then factor in all those viral videos of Adam wearing silver corsets and glitter mascara in his Hollywood glam band, or those outrageous photos floating around the Interweb of him smeared head to toe in Burning Man bodypaint or partying hard in semi-drag club-kid attire, and his chances seem especially slim. Slimmer than his legs in his tightest PVC pants.

I just hope Adam's mellow, unplugged "Tracks Of My Tears" performance this week--complete with polish-free fingernails, preppy suit jacket, and slicked-back matinee-idol hairdo--wins over more conservative voters still waking up with nightsweats from last week's "Ring Of Fire." I personally prefer the freaky-deaky Adam, but I understand, strategically, why Adam toned it down this week. It was a smart, salvaging move on his part.

But I also hope, whether he wins or not, Adam does eventually put out the weirdest, wildest, wiggiest indie-electro-goth-pop-metal album in American Idol history. Because I just know it's going to rock harder than anything Cook or Daughtry could ever come up with.

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