By Jocelyn Noveck
NEW YORK — The other night, after her 3-year-old son was in bed, confirmed Adam Lambert fanatic Sue Murrell was glued to her DVR, watching “American Idol.”
She also was glued to her computer, chatting with members of the pro-Lambert Facebook group she founded. And to her phone, too, where she voted for Lambert at least 100 times in two hours.
“My husband thinks I’m totally nuts,” says the 35-year-old Illinois mom, an office manager for a moving company.
Perhaps, but there are millions just like Murrell, fans whose passions have been inspired by the unabashedly campy, cheerfully over-the-top Lambert, with his back nail polish, his “guyliner” and that jet-black, asymmetrical mop of hair that has no place in the natural world.
But then, perhaps nothing about Lambert, who will face the late-blooming Arkansas crooner Kris Allen in this week’s finale, is truly of this world; all season long, the judges have praised the rocker in terms sometimes touching on the metaphysical.
“You are a rock god!” crowed Kara DioGuardi after his rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” “Dawg, you’re one of the best we’ve ever had on this stage,” opined Randy Jackson after Lambert’s “Cryin’,” by Aerosmith. Simon Cowell had no comment for Lambert’s “Mad World,” by Tears for Fears — just a very rare standing ovation.
And leave it to Paula Abdul to come up with this one: “You dare to dance in the path of greatness,” she told Lambert after “Born to be Wild” — not even one of his better-received performances.
If the judges have seemed to gush over Lambert, it was more surprising to see a guest singer express her unsolicited preference — during her performance. Katy Perry, performing “Waking Up in Vegas” on Wednesday, started out in a glittery cape emblazoned with Lambert’s name.
Of course, there’s always a certain mania surrounding “American Idol” contestants. But this year feels a little different. “There definitely is a new level of hysteria this season,” says Caryn Ganz, deputy editor of Rolling Stone’s Web site, rollingstone.com, which gets hundreds of emotional fan posts every time it recaps an “Idol” show.
Partly this can be attributed to the high quality of the final four singers — besides Lambert and Allen, who now face a very competitive finale, with only a million out of 88 million votes separating them this week, there was the gravelly voiced Danny Gokey, voted off Wednesday, and the throaty teenager Allison Iraheta, whose duet with Lambert to “Slow Ride” was a season favorite.
But it’s also because Lambert has evoked so much passion from both fans and detractors. One thing on which almost everyone agrees: The dude, as Jackson would say, can sing.
For Lambert fans, the low point this season was the night two weeks ago when the rocker, long assumed to be out in front by a mile, was suddenly relegated to the bottom three vote-getters. On rollingstone.com, there was an outpouring of fury and hurt. “We got 500 posts after that night’s recap, 80 percent of them outraged,” says Ganz.
Lambert, 27, has spoken of his childhood in San Diego, and how he always loved dressing up, but wasn’t exactly into soccer. He performed in musical theater as a youngster, and more recently appeared in the Los Angeles cast of “Wicked.” He once appeared opposite Val Kilmer’s Moses in “The Ten Commandments: The Musical” — getting the show’s only good notices.
Lambert’s theater training clearly infuses his “Idol” performances, both in his supreme confidence and in his penchant for changing his look to fit the song. While Allen, a gentle, 23-year-old worship leader who favors singing with his acoustic guitar, prefers T-shirts and jeans — one can’t imagine he stretches his “Idol” wardrobe allowance — Lambert turned up in a silvery suit and 1960s pompadour on Motown night.
But most often, he’s in androgynous rocker mode — the earrings, the nail polish, the heavy eyeliner. He’s been compared to such artists as David Bowie, Steven Tyler and Pete Wentz.