Expectations are tricky. When Susan Boyle appeared on Britain’s Got Talent, audiences looked at the homely woman and expected comic relief. When, instead, she exploded with a crystal-pitch rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” the same audiences immediately and repeatedly lavished her with praise, as if to desperately redeem their shameful stereotyping.
More than her voice, it was Boyle’s inadvertent shattering of expectations that made her a phenomenon—and ironically, that’s what makes her album a letdown. While her soprano is unquestionably beautiful, her delivery is stagnant. On a cover of The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" and a rendition of jazz standard "Cry Me a River," Boyle follows beat notation like it’s scripture. Her gospel detailing (“How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “Silent Night”) is wholly uninspired. Even Boyle’s piece de resistance, “I Dreamed a Dream,” makes her sound like a showboat Fantine.
Boyle already proved that folks can sing if they’re dowdy; now she’s proving that singers can’t always perform.
Another TV phenom, Adam Lambert, had his own expectations to shatter. Not long after he strutted onto American Idol, his glitter and guyliner wink-winked that he wasn’t your average contender. But no matter how subversive he showed himself to be, Lambert would always wear the sash of an Idol also-ran.
For Your Entertainment opens with the Lady Gaga-penned “Fever.” At first, the juxtaposition of the Idol machine with the heavily synthed/heavily sexed ode to, um, temperature seems to ring with inauthenticity, Fox’s idea of raunch. But with a second listen, the put-on promiscuity fades, and an authentic Lambert appears.
Armed with A-list writers and producers, For Your Entertainment is an ambitious mixed bag. “Music Again,” written by ex-Darkness singer Justin Hawkins, soars as Lambert showcases his falsetto. “Soaked” brings full orchestra and theatrics befitting Muse (appropriate, since it was written by that band’s frontman, Matthew Bellamy). Even the Lambert-penned “Broken Open” sounds like Chris Isaak in space.
Unlike Boyle, Lambert can’t stop himself from performing—he just needs to hold out hope that his Idol fandom follows him beyond the comfort boundaries of the show.