Credit: Chris Cuffaro/Fox

Will Simon Cowell and the odds-makers be proved right — will the next Idol be Adam Lambert, the dazzling glam-rock prince? Or does Kris Allen, the guy with the acoustic guitar, square jaw and plaid shirts, have a chance of upsetting the race? Can Smallville beat Vegas?

Tuesday night’s performance finale seemed to clinch Adam’s victory, but Kris could win, for at least four reasons.

1. The Johnny Depp Analogy: Look, Johnny Depp is a huge, glamorous, risk-taking star, but off camera doesn’t he look like someone you could scare with a sock puppet? Something like this comes into play with Kris. Simon has faulted him for not having star swagger, something Adam exudes with every flash of his smile and swivel of his hips. But what may seem like modesty on a live stage can project to the viewing audience as a different kind of charisma — cool, even. Just because Adam rules the stage doesn’t mean he rules the camera.

2. The Kara Principle: It drives me crazy when Kara talks about artistic growth and development, as if she were a tenured lecturer at the pop academy — but why deny that Kris has improved, quite a lot, and that this is key to the competition? His folk-pop approach is not only melodic but surprisingly versatile, as when he won over the judges with his acoustic version of Kayne West‘s “Heartless.” Adam is absolutely the better performer, but the whole competition seems too consistently easy for him. It’s like Apollo coming down to Athens and competing in a few Olympic events without breaking a sweat. It’s not that Adam is smug or proud — he’s entirely likable — but there doesn’t seem to be any need for him to have bothered even auditioning. He’s right where he started: perfect. Kris has discovered himself. That’s important.

3. Progressive Lambert Fatigue: The blasting falsetto, the strutting, the fussy layers of costume — it’s exhausting! If I had to listen to an entire album of Adam on my iPod, my head would explode in an unpleasant David Cronenberg manner. Even when he tones things down (as on his outstanding, stock-still performance of “Mad World”), you feel the air being sucked out of the room. Adam is terrific, but he’s like one of Seinfeld‘s close talkers — he’s a close singer.

4. The Danny Gokey Transference Theory: Ryan last week said that little more than a million votes separated Adam and Kris, raising speculation that this might not be the sort of lopsided finale as last year’s, when David Cook crushed David “Oliver Twist” Archuleta. The hunch is that Danny voters could swing to Kris — a migration of sentiment from underdog to underdog. — Tom Gliatto

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