AP National Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Adam Lambert fans, take heart: At least your guy doesn't have to sing the hokey "No Boundaries," this year's much mocked "American Idol" ballad, ever, ever again.
That dubious honor will go to winner Kris Allen.
But there are other reasons Lambert lovers can dry their tears. Given the glam-rocker's unique persona, his strong fan base and the massive exposure he's gotten, he may be as likely as any "American Idol" winner to achieve that elusive stardom the show tries so hard to achieve.
Not to take anything from Allen, the fresh-faced, soulful Arkansas crooner who surprised many — and himself, to judge by his stunned expression — by taking the crown. His victory showed he has both the musical chops and the broad-based appeal to be a star, too.
But not simply because he won. Industry insiders say that once that "Idol" bubble breaks at the end of the season, all bets are off.
"It doesn't really matter if you win," said Diane Warren, the Grammy-winning songwriter who's written for Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Mary J. Blige, not to mention "Idol" alums like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson. "It's all about what you do after the show."
For Lambert, who cut his teeth in musical theater and drew outsized attention from the start with commanding vocals, a signature banshee wail, flamboyant outfits and yes, the eyeliner and black nail polish, the future is particularly bright, Warren said.
"He's just a hands-down star," said Warren. "He's different. He shook things up."
And it may even help that he came in second, she said, because he'll have more control over his career: "There's not as much of a committee plotting your every move."
It's well known that an "Idol" victory does not a star make. Kelly Clarkson, the first-season winner, became a pop radio staple; Ruben Studdard, the next year, did not. Fourth-season winner Carrie Underwood is arguably the reigning high priestess of country music; the next season's winner, Taylor Hicks, is set to play Teen Angel in the Broadway production of "Grease."
As for the also-rans, Clay Aiken, who lost to Studdard, became a much bigger star. Chris Daughtry, who came in fourth the year Hicks won, sold more than 1 million copies of his self-titled album after five weeks, the fastest-selling debut rock album in history. And just ask Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson, who came in seventh in season 3, if there's life after an "Idol" loss.
For now, all that may be cold comfort to Lambert fans, many of whom woke up Thursday morning feeling bereft.
"I know Adam will have a great career, but I'm upset on principle," said Janet Metz, a stage actress and singer. "Talent did not win out."
Her husband, Michael Unger, is also a fan. "Besides his charisma, Adam's vocal range is amazing," said Unger, who directs both theater and opera. "He hits those notes without straining his voice. He sang the high notes in that Queen song last night with an ease that even Freddie Mercury would have been proud of."
In Ottawa, Canada, Lambert fan Alison Edgar was doubly upset — first, that Lambert lost, and second, that she hadn't been able to help. As a Canadian, she couldn't vote.
"It's very frustrating to have to rely on others," said Edgar, 34. She'd spent the evening commiserating online with fellow Lambert fans. "There are a lot of sad people out there," she sighed.
And why did she think Lambert lost? "I have a feeling Adam is a bit too radical for some Americans," she said. She also echoed a common theory: that fans of Danny Gokey, the bespectacled, understated church music director who came in third, had thrown their weight behind Allen.
"I think some Kris and Danny fans got together and said, 'Adam's too weird, let's get him out,'" Edgar said.
Certainly there have been unkind references on blogs to Lambert's attire, which ranged from relatively tame dark jeans and leather jackets to Wednesday's other-wordly ensemble of cage-like wings and elevator boots. (When the band Kiss joined in, though, looking like medieval warriors in Kabuki makeup and platform shoes, Lambert suddenly looked underdressed.)
Among some fans, the Gokey swing vote theory fed into an even broader idea that "American Idol" was much like a U.S. political election, with the red states supporting Kris and the blue states supporting Adam.
Then there was the economic-downturn theory. "Kris Allen's victory signals that America wants a breather from the storm clouds. We need the comfort of a smiling, familiar face," wrote David Capece, managing partner of Sparxoo.com, a business consulting group.
And of course there was the sexuality theory, which held that some voters were not comfortable with the perceived ambiguous nature of Lambert's orientation. The singer has never addressed the issue, saying only: "I know who I am."
The simplest theory, though, was that producers, judges and everyone else simply underestimated Allen's considerable appeal. Starting out slow, the 23-year-old college student and worship leader kept upping his game, with innovative offerings like his acoustic take on Kanye West's "Heartless."
"The show didn't really GET Kris Allen," said Michael Slezak, who blogs about "American Idol" for Entertainment Weekly's Web site. "They didn't know what to do with him. It's no secret that Simon and company wanted Adam and Danny in the final. Kris messed up their plans."
Now, of course, the "Idol" machine will go to work for Allen. "I still think it pays to be a winner of this show, if only for the promotion," Slezak said.
In the end though, he noted, it all comes down to having a strong sense of who you are as a singer and making sure that vision comes through. By that measure, both Allen and Lambert should do well.
"All Adam needed from this show was the publicity," reasoned Edgar, the fan from Canada. "He has the talent. He has the showmanship. He just needed to get his name out there."
And he sure did that. Indeed, the crazy publicity that "Idol" bestows on all its finalists is enough to make more established performers consider trying out. Warren, the songwriter, has mentioned to singers that they should consider it. Sometimes, they say it's too tacky for them.
"I'd tell anybody, 'Don't have attitude about this. Don't think it's not cool,'" Warren said. "We all need that break. We all need that chance to be seen and heard."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.