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Is American Idol homophobic?

Ordinarily we'd leave commentary on American Idol up to our friends over at Z on TV or Reality Check, but given what Wednesday night's results may or may not say about the nation's sexual politics, it seems worth discussing.

Kris Allen, a married former Christian missionary from Conway, Ark., went up against Adam Lambert, an eye-makeup-wearing former musical theater prodigy from California. Pretty much everybody, including the judges on Idol and Kris himself, assumed Adam would win. But he didn't.

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We do not actually know whether Adam is gay -- he hasn't said so -- but it was generally assumed to be the case, so much so that the New York Times wrote a cover story in its Sunday Styles section about it a few weeks ago. Given that, we're confronted with the question: Do the American Idol results reflect some sort of deep-seated homophobia?

I'd argue not. I tend to think there were other factors at work.

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Much has changed in America since Ruben Studdard inexplicably beat then-ambigiously (now not-ambiguously) gay Clay Aiken back in Idol season two. That was back before the 2004 election, back when the Republican Party was able to stoke voter turnout with anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives.

Now, Iowa has gay marriage, for god's sake. On the very same day that Lambert lost the Idol crown, the New Hampshire legislature actually rejected a gay marriage bill because it didn't go far enough to protect gay rights.

New York's legislature may be on the verge of legalizing gay marriage, too, cementing a pattern that the issue has moved beyond the province of civil rights-minded courts and to the realm of politicians who have to consider how their votes will play when they run for re-election.

Idol voting does represent a kind of conservatism, but a conservatism of taste, not politics. For one thing, the contestant with a lock on the pre-teen girl demographic ususally wins, and the cute guy with a guitar is going to do better than the guy who, when singing with Queen on Wednesday night, sounded more like Freddie Mercury than Freddie Mercury did.

For their big duet numbers on Wednesday, Allen, with country star Keith Urban, sang a sweet song about kissing a girl but not going too far. Adam sang with a makeup and spandex-clad, tongue-wagging Kiss. Going too far was just getting started for him.

It's easy to peg where Allen fits in the current soundscape. He's a sensitive, acoustic guitar-playing, singer-songwritery type along the lines of John Mayer or maybe Jason Mraz. But you don't hear anything like Adam on the radio now. (In that sense, this final was a bit of a replay of Jordin Sparks' victory over beat-boxing Blake Lewis in season six.)

Of the two, Adam, with his flamboyant style and ridiculous vocal agility, seems more likely to take popular music in a new direction, but avant garde is not what Idol is all about. The results didn't prove that America isn't ready for a gay Idol. They proved that America isn't ready for Adam Lambert yet, and that may be just how he likes it.

(Photo by Frank Micelotta / FOX)

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