Adam Lambert, J.J. Abrams, and Mystery

As previously mentioned here, I have occasionally found myself part of the conglomerate of Americans that weekly find themselves lingering on the every word of the well-groomed and omnipresent alien being that refers to itself as Ryan J. Seacrest.  And as an American Idol viewer, I am keenly aware of the three contestants remaining in this year’s contest, and have formed my own personal opinions about the outcome of the competition.

For the uninformed, here is the general rundown of the three gentlemen who have yet to be eliminated from the program: (since there are only three contestants remaining, it should be assumed that all are talented vocalists, which they are.  If we assume the playing field is even in the talent department, then the contest will be determined, as it typically is, by the persona each contestant has created, the demographics they appeal to, and the way they style their hair rather than pure musical giftedness.  This will be a discussion about those particular nonmusical qualities.) Danny Gokey is the odds-on, overwhelming favorite, as long as the only people you’re asking are white, Christian, and middle class.  He’s a church worship leader, he wears trendy glasses, and he’s a widow, which in an eerily morbid way, makes him more likeable.  Kris Allen is a guitar-strummin’, aww-gee-shucks southern heartthrob, and his style lies somewhere between Jason Mraz and John Mayer.  Whenever Ryan Seacrest says Kris’ name, hundreds of pubescent girls scream like his last name was Jonas and hold up signs that say “Marry Me Kris,” while Kris’ clearly visible wife smiles on adoringly.  And then there’s Adam Lambert.

Adam Lambert, in many ways, defies description.  He wears eyeliner and lots of jewelry and leather, and has a vocal range that would make Steve Perry wet himself with jealousy.  The only thing the public really knows about Adam Lambert is that he’s a theater kid, and was in the Los Angeles cast of Wicked before he became a contestant on the show.  We don’t really know where he came from, we don’t know anything about his family, we don’t know who taught him to sing like that, and we never know what he’s going to do next.  Moreso than anything else, however, we don’t know whether or not Adam Lambert is gay.  And that’s where J.J. Abrams comes in.

J.J. Abrams is the man behind such T.V. shows as Alias, Fringe, and Lost, and movies like Star Trek and Cloverfield.  J.J. Abrams knows the power of an unanswered question, as evidenced through this article he wrote in Wired Magazine, or his Ted Talk here.  He has revitalized suspense in a way we haven’t seen probably since Alfred Hitchcock.  What J.J. Abrams knows is that an integral part of human nature is our inquisitiveness.  Going all the way back to Socrates, we have been a society that questions. As humans, we seek truth, it’s just part of who we are.  What happens after we die, who would make the best president, and what the hell is that smoke monster thing, and why did it kill Mr. Eko?  And now, added to that list of unanswered questions is the question on every American Idol fan’s mind: is Adam Lambert gay?

I think I know what J.J. Abrams would answer if you asked him whether or not Adam Lambert was gay.  I think J.J. Abrams would probably say, if we knew, wouldn’t that just make it less exciting?  The truth is, if Adam Lambert told America he was gay, it wouldn’t change the fact that he’s still a talented singer, and I don’t think it would change anyone’s vote for or against him.  The kind of person who would only vote for Adam Lambert if he wasn’t gay is likely already casting their vote for Danny or Kris.  If Adam Lambert told America he was gay, the only thing he’d be changing is the mystery that surrounds him, and that might just be the reason we don’t know yet.  The reason people keep watching Lost week after week is because they expect that eventually, all their questions will be answered (even if forty-seven new questions show up every time you answer one).  Isn’t it possible that, aside from his obvious talent, Adam Lambert is still on American Idol for the same reason?  We figure if we keep watching, if we keep voting him to the next week and the week after that, he might just answer some of those pesky questions.

I’m not saying Adam Lambert left his sexuality in question intentionally, but he might have.  If he didn’t, he’s probably realized by now that he’s stumbled into something that’s keeping the public’s attention, which is why he hasn’t just flat-out said anything about it yet.  As Abrams points out in the Wired article I linked to earlier, we live in an age of immediacy, where the answer to literally any question we may have is only a mouse click away, and that truth has enhanced the way we look at questions that don’t seem to have obvious or easy answers.  In other words, in a world where we can have all the answers, we’re intrigued only by the ones we don’t have.

And that’s why I think Adam Lambert is going to win American Idol this year.  Or, if he doesn’t win, he’ll end up more successful than whoever does.  It’s apparent from the itty-bitty-nobody-to-all-powerful-cultural-icon path of previous Idol winners like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson that twelve weeks of being on that show is the equivalent of an upper division master class in becoming a celebrity.  And judging by the way in which he has captured the public’s attention (he hasn’t even won yet, and he’s already on the cover of this week’s Entertainment Weekly), it’s clear that Adam Lambert is at the top of that class for this year.  Whether or not they deserve the attention they get, (and that’s another story entirely) the celebrities that capture the public’s attention do so by utilizing Mr. Abrams’ favorite concept of mystery.  Who are they dating, where are they going, what will they do next, and yes, are they gay?

And that’s why Adam’s going to win.  Like all the contestants, he’s got the talent to deserve the spotlight, and perhaps more importantly, he’s got the mystery to maintain it.  And as long as he keeps America guessing, he’ll be at the forefront of the public eye, and he’ll preserve our attention.  That is, until some bigger mystery comes along to distract us.


3 Responses to “Adam Lambert, J.J. Abrams, and Mystery”

  1. 1 marjorie2009
    May 10, 2009 at 6:03 am

    I love your article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on American Idol. At this stage of the competition, win or not, adam has move up towards a celebrity status. Adam will surely soar. Though personally, i still want to see him win American Idol. I’ve watched AI for years and this is the only year i saw a performer like him. He definitely brought excitement to AI.

    What I love about him is that he has a clear understanding of who he is and what he wants. He is smart and knows his craft. He articulates his thoughts very well. He is fearless and unique as mentioned by Simon. He is humble and not selfish. When the other idol contestants asked for his help he doesn’t hesitate to help them. This proves that he is confident with his skills and is not threaten by insecurities. And that’s great!

    I’d like to share verbatim from an article i read. It is written by Mr. Josh Tygragiel on Time, titled The Un-Idol: “…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 televisions show, where acting would be completely abnormal… 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.”

    I wish Adam the best! May he have a long and fruitful career in the medium he loves the most. Hope people continue to vote for him this coming Tuesday and next.

  2. 2 Beau
    May 10, 2009 at 7:42 am

    Loved Abrams article. It is interesting that I have three seasons of Alias on DVD, but never watched any of them twice. Same action, same hot Sydney, same annoying Sloan all collecting dust on my shelf. On the other hand, I’ve probably watched The Marine Biologist 15 times and will probably watch it again soon. I bet your hypothesis is American Idol falls into the former category and not the later.

    I have suspected for a while that people are tired of churches (and Christians) giving people handfuls of answers. The obvious irony is that Jesus answers most questions with more questions, or at least a story. It seems to be something He, Socrates, and J.J. Abrams all have figured out – people are more interested in the right questions than the right answers.

  3. May 10, 2009 at 9:03 am

    You know, it’s funny… even though this post ended up being mostly about the American Idol guy, I was first going to write about how J.J. Abrams and his idea of the importance of mystery overlapping with religion. I had read that Wired article a while ago, and I remembered having watched his Ted Talk, and I had the beginnings of a post on J.J. Abrams and religion saved on here for a while. Then yesterday at Barnes & Noble I saw the magazine cover with Adam Lambert on it, and I decided to scrap the religion angle and talk about how Lambert uses mystery to create interest about himself.

    Part of why I scrapped it was because I couldn’t decide between two things– the first being what you said, that all churches do is answer questions and so people lose interest, or that people are drawn to churches and religion because no matter how many questions are answered, a dozen more questions arise (or like you said, sometimes Jesus answers questions with more questions). The unfortunate truth is that I’ve spent more time watching American Idol than I have reading smart theologians and philosophers that may know how to tackle that question, so this post came a little easier than the original plan. Go figure.

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