There's still a month and a half to go until "American Idol" crowns its champion, and anyone left in the competition could come out on top. But if it ended right now, there's no question that Adam Lambert would be the most deserving winner.
All seven remaining finalists are capable in their own way, but Lambert is the only star. He has the right blend of talent, personality and stage presence to display the breakout ability that the rest of the field lacks (with the possible exception of the blander Danny Gokey). He’s in a groove and he knows it, and so far this season he’s done everything right.
"Make the song your own" may be the most frequent advice given by the judges to "Idol" contestants. It's not just because they are too lazy to come up with new catchphrases, but because originality is a key to succeeding on the show and in the business. Without that spark, all anyone is doing is covering songs that established acts have already done better.
Take a couple of minutes to think back on the season thus far — what are the memorable performances? Gokey has been great, but it's hard to remember what he's sung over the past month without looking it up. Allison Iraheta has potential, but is most notable for the night she dressed up like a cavewoman. Lil Rounds is fading, Kris Allen is too bland, and Matt Giraud and Anoop Desai are one mediocre night away from being shown the door.
On the other hand, Lambert is the guy who everyone wants to see, because he is willing to take risks and able to make them pay off. Every week, he walks that high-wire and leaves judges and viewers wondering if this is the time he’ll fall on his face, and every week he instead emerges as the star of the night.
Sing that funky music, white boyRandy Travis may have wanted to vomit after hearing Lambert's plans for Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," but the result couldn’t be argued with. Then Lambert had the wherewithal to sing a Smokey Robinson song on Motown week when Robinson himself was serving as the mentor, and earned nothing but praise. And is there anyone else in recent Idol memory who could have sang “Play that Funky Music” and not sounded like a wedding singer?
Look at what happened when the show ran nine minutes long and anyone recording the show missed his performance of "Mad World." The big story was that people complained about their recordings cutting off before they had the chance to watch Lambert sing, not to mention the unheard-of Simon Cowell standing ovation that followed.
But unnoticed in all the hubbub was that despite the resulting disadvantage (since anyone watching later that evening on DVR wouldn't be as likely to vote for him without having seen the performance or having the number to call), "Idol" didn't extend the voting deadline to compensate for that disadvantage. There was no need. Lambert's popular enough to win without it.
What are the knocks against him? He’s too theatrical? Please. Nothing he’s done has been as theatrical as the performances that Flo Rida had last week as he guest-starred with "Right Round, or that Lady Gaga had the week before with "Poker Face." Pop concerts these days are all about the theatrics, the stage presence, the over-the-top costumes and use of props ... who can manage that better than Lambert?
He’s too much like Taylor Hicks? Not likely. Hicks was a great entertainer, but the fact that he looked and sounded like Ryan Seacrest’s grandfather probably should have been a clue that he wasn’t likely to have any future in the pop-music business once the show ended. Lambert not only has a better voice and more confidence in his ability, he looks like he could star in the next “Twilight” movie. Superficial though that may be, it increases his cultural relevance.
A couple of weeks ago, Paula Abdul compared Lambert to Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler. Of course, that's Paula being Paula and using hyperbole to make a point, but the fact remains that Lambert is the only contestant on the show who even approaches that stratosphere.
He’s the deserving favorite heading into the second half of the competition. Based on what he’s done so far, nobody has earned the honor more.
Craig Berman is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com