I submit Kris Allen's winning American Idol Season 8 over Adam Lambert offers us a window in to American popular culture, even American evangelical culture.
I understand a singing performance competition like American Idol is largely subjective, still though, I can't see how someone could argue Kris Allen is more talented than Adam Lambert. Lambert was a better singer and performer, period. Frankly, Danny Gokey, the third place finisher, had a better voice than Kris Allen also.
Kris Allen won American Idol because it became a contest of persona more than sheer talent and ability. Kris Allen personifies what popular American culture has as it's ideal, Adam does not. Add to this equation the presence of a large amount of evangelical Christians following the show closely and actively voting every week. Similarly, Kris personifies what the American evangelical culture so adores, Adam does not.
Let me unpack my contention a bit:
Kris Allen, in addition to playing several instruments, is described as a devout Christian. He was a worship leader at New Life Church in Maumelle, Arkansas. He has done missionary work around the world, including in Burma, Mozambique, South Africa, Spain and Thailand. Just a few months ago he married his longtime girlfriend. He's clean cut, looks like a regular guy from middle America. Kris is straight, a professing Christian, and a loyal husband. He is the absolute personification of what American popular culture still values, especially evangelical culture- a heavy influence in the voting process.
Adam Lambert on the other hand, is from Los Angeles, and an active participant in theater productions since he was a small child. He is a born performer and well experienced before coming on AI. While of Jewish descent, religion appears to play no active part in his life. He's a secular person, slightly effeminate, with an edgy look and sound. When pictures of Lambert kissing a man showed up on the Internet, he declared he has nothing to hide, yet he hasn't clarified what his sexual preference is, some of his friends say he practices bisexuality. Who knows? Basically Adam is the anti-Kris. He is the exact personification of what Hollywood and the mainstream media holds up as the "new" America, however, these entities actually represent a very small part of the population unable to give Adam the votes he needed to overcome the following of Kris.
As one article observed, the show did its best to establish the two as opposite personas. "The guy next door versus the guyliner," as host Ryan Seacrest put it.
Kris Allen beat Adam Lambert because of what he seemingly personifies contrasted against what Adam seemingly personifies. I still say Adam should have won- he's just plain more talented with a superior voice and a better stage presence than Kris. But American Idol is a vote taken among popular America with a heavy dose of evangelicals flexing their muscle (see Foxnews' take on the "evangelical factor" in American Idol). I got a kick out of Kris and Adam trying to minimize the evangelical factor as Kris said, "This is a singing competition, not a church thing" and Adam adding that the "vote is based on talent and performing, not religion." Yeah, sure.
The fact is 100 million people voted to decide the winner. To put that in perspective- the last presidential elections saw 130 million people vote. Yes, people can vote more than once for their American Idol contestant of choice (of course, some people say Acorn did the same for a certain presidential candidate...), but still- 100 million votes for a singing competition!! The show hasn't revealed how many votes separated the two finalists, but some sources say it wasn't close.
American Idol Season 8 gives a window in to popular American culture. It seems we're still a relatively conservative country. Sure, television and Hollywood, and many news media outlets lean heavily left, but in reality they don't seem to represent what the majority of America thinks or idealizes. For all the squawking over gay marriage, when put to a vote, the most morally confused state in the nation (California) voted against it. Recently a poll showed the majority of Americans were pro-life. Yet, to watch the news or listen to Hollywood stars you would think just the opposite.
So, for now, Kris and his persona get the nod from pop-America. Who knows how long that preference will last?