The last time Kris Allen had to sing a rock duet, things didn’t go so well for the Arkansas Kid, whose Rock-Week duet with Danny Gokey was memorable for all the wrong reasons. But on Wednesday night, just minutes before he would be crowned this year’s American Idol, the 23-year-old singer redeemed himself by teaming up with a partner that was sure to make him look better: fellow finalist Adam Lambert.
Singing their first-ever duet, the friendly rivals perched just above the judge’s pit as the spotlight hit their all-black ensembles and the iconic first notes of [artist id=”14648″]Queen[/artist]’s “We Are the Champions” washed over the crowd. Looking over at Lambert and smiling, Allen went first, singing the triumphant rock anthem’s opening couplet, “I’ve paid my dues, time after time/ I’ve done my sentence, but committed no crime.”
Defiantly spitting the lines as he shook his head and sneered, the theatrical Lambert paid homage to the song’s flamboyant writer, late Queen singer Freddie Mercury, as he sang “And bad mistakes/ I’ve made a few/ I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face/ but I’ve come through,” his voice rising to a powerful vibrato as the “Idol” stage lit up to reveal original Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor.
Walking back to the fog-shrouded stage, which slowly filled with a backing chorus of dozens (as well as the rest of the top 13), Lambert and Allen’s voices meshed nicely on the sometimes tricky-to-sing power ballad from Queen’s 1977 News of the World LP. Lambert, in particular, furthered his rock bona fides with some towering notes and the duo locked hands for a bro-hug midsong as May ripped off some wicked notes. The pair ended on a dual high note as they stared each other down and pyro rained from the sides of the stage.
“Champions” is one of Queen’s most enduring anthems and it has become a rousing, sway-along staple at sporting events and victory celebrations across the globe, often played in conjunction with its B-side, guitarist Brian May’s raucous “We Will Rock You.” Singer Mercury explained in an interview that he was inspired to write the verses while thinking about watching soccer matches, in the hope that he could pen a song that would become a fan rallying cry.
In addition to being covered by everyone from Green Day to Gavin DeGraw, Robbie Williams and “Idol” also-ran William Hung, the tune was sampled by Dame Dash, Kanye West, Young Chris, Beanie Sigel, Cam’ron and Twista on the 2002 song “Champions.”
It was a fitting choice on a night when even grouchy judge Simon Cowell would admit that he thought both men deserved to be on the stage and wished them each success.