03/01/2009 at 12:00 AM EST
Allison Iraheta, Kris Allen
(far left) and Adam Lambert
beat out a welder, dueling piano player and a much buzzed-about contestant with a comedic alter ego, among others, to become the latest members of season 8’s American Idol
Top 12. On Friday afternoon, the performers faced the press.
Musical theater vet Lambert, 27, responded to the mixed review he got from judge Simon Cowell,
who called his high-energy performance of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” both “brilliant” and “excruciatingly bad.” “Obviously, I’m a risk-taker,” said the former Wicked
cast member, whose first musical role was as Linus in a San Diego production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
at age 10. “I’m not easy-listening. I’m not gonna always be the most digestible thing for everybody across the board. I like to blow it out the box, and either you like it or you don’t.”
Still, Lambert – who admires David Bowie – says he does plan to tone down the drama. “I’m not planning on wailing at the top of my lungs every week,” he said. “I think the audience would grow tired of that. I intend on making it interesting by varying it up.” Only one potential theme week has him nervous: “Country week would obviously be a stretch for me. But I’m up for the challenge.”
Sixteen-year-old high school student Iraheta, whose husky voice and raw talent has led judges to call her this season’s “dark horse,” is now the youngest contestant to make the cut, though she says age shouldn’t matter: “It comes down to how much we want it and how much we prepare.” An Idol
fan since she was 9, the Los Angeles native had been waiting impatiently to be old enough to audition. “I had my face on that TV screen every season, wishing I was on the show,” she said with a laugh.
Now that she’s secured her spot, Iraheta – who is of El Salvadorian descent and who won a Telemundo singing competition two years ago – has her heart set on becoming Idol
’s first Latin winner: “It would mean a lot,” she said. “It’d be pretty cool. All my life I’ve been singing in both Spanish and English. It’s hard to go out there and do both. A lot of won’t be into that. You gotta be really good. Shakira’s a real inspiration, and Selena.”
Arkansas native Allen, 23, managed to crack the Top 12, despite a scarce amount of airtime during the initial rounds and despite not being able to play his trusty guitar. “I’ve always been ‘Kris Allen, that guy who sings and plays the guitar,’ so it was weird” to be without it during Wednesday’s performance show. To prepare, “there was a lot of practice in the room by yourself to make sure you don’t look like a retard or an idiot,” he admitted.
Allen, who, like fellow Top 12-er Danny Gokey, is a church worship leader, said he's naturally low-key. “I love being the guy that’s kind of in the background. I’m totally cool with that,” he said, adding that Cowell’s comment that “chicks are gonna love you” has taken some getting used to. Said the married Allen, “I’ve actually been with the same woman for the past seven years.”
Both Allen and Lambert defended controversial contestant Nick Mitchell, who performed as headband-wearing alter ego Norman Gentle. Lambert admitted to being nervous while waiting to see if he or Mitchell had won viewers’ votes: “I thought Nick was brilliant,” he said. “I thought, ‘here it goes. It’s a toss-up.’”
Said Allen of Mitchell: “He’s not making fun of the show. He’s doing what he knows how to do. We all love him to death.” – Shawna MalcomEarlier: Meet the Season's First Three Contestants