If American Idol is a referendum on American taste, then it's possible Adam Lambert--the most flamboyant contestant yet on a show that has never been a beacon of restrained masculinity--will be gone before you read this sentence. Pleasantly little fuss has been made over pictures circulating on the Web of Lambert kissing a man, but a form of prejudice could still do him in: prejudice against irony.
Idol is a reliable source of platinum talent largely because the talents it produces--Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, Carrie Underwood--respect the conventions of its genres. They are nice singers who sing nice songs nicely. Lambert, 27, may have the best chops of the bunch (his ability to hold high notes recalls Grace Slick in her prime), but where he really outshines them is in self-awareness. While his peers act as if being plucked from obscurity to sing in prime time is normal, he understands that he's on a television show, where acting normally would be completely abnormal. In his hands, a song and a performance are separate messaging opportunities, so "Born to Be Wild" becomes a rock anthem and show tune, "Ring of Fire" a love song verging on the orgiastic.
The judges love Lambert, but they are also routinely stumped: "Confusing and shocking and sleazy!" shouted Kara DioGuardi after Lambert seduced Sammy Davis Jr.'s "Feeling Good." Lambert might just be too weird for a show this big. But win or lose, it won't matter: after producing plenty of singers, American Idol has found its first star.