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Watching Kris Allen beat Adam Lambert to win the title of American Idol was like witnessing a Maruti 800 steal a march over a Porsche.

Written by Amrita Shah | New Delhi |
May 23, 2009 4:47:51 pm

Democracy might not be all that it is cracked up to be. This much was evident from the finale of the last season of one of the world’s most watched television reality shows this week. Watching Kris Allen beat Adam Lambert to win the title of American Idol was like witnessing a Maruti 800 steal a march over a Porsche. The small car,favourite of the masses is nice enough,but the best?

The 27-year-old Lambert had been the favourite by miles for weeks running. Something of a contemporary cross between Elvis Presley and Freddie Mercury,the stylish singer from the very beginning had displayed a level of maturity and accomplishment that put him way ahead of the other contestants.

But his theatrical gestures,his penchant for leather and images of him kissing another man seem to have apparently gone too far for the American public.

The issue was not merely one of style. Speculation over Lambert’s sexuality was rife in the media; Entertainment Weekly referred to it boldly on its cover and homophobia is the prime factor being talked about now as the reason for the glam rocker’s shock defeat. But the debacle has also potentially exposed what may be a powerful religious lobby at work.

Michael Giltz in ‘The Huffington Post’ for instance made a list of past runners up and winners (which includes the gospel singing Carrie Underwood and evangelical Christian Jordin Sparks) to demonstrate how the odds heavily favour obvious believers.

In this case Lambert’s camp world was contrasted not just with 23-year-old Allen’s wholesome lifestyle but his missionary work in places like Burma and Mozambique.

Supporters of the bias would argue that ethnicity,professional background,personal history and family are all legitimate factors in determining a contestant’s likeability. In India a similar defence has been used for controversies – such as Debojit’s Assamese following in SaReGaMaPa and Nach Baliye duo Manav Gohil and Shweta Kwatra’s decision to distribute SIM cards among friends – in vote-based talent shows.

But while a democratic system permits candidates to reach out and for voters to express preferences,it is also ideally,meant to protect minorities from prejudice.

Even on television. Polling a100 million votes,only 30 million less than the highest recorded vote in last year’s presidential election American Idol has a special responsibility. Lambert may not need the prize to be the star he is destined to be but for a country that takes its role as a guardian of democratic values so seriously it needs some serious soul searching.

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