NEW YORK (AP) -- The other night, after her 3-year-old son was in bed, confirmed Adam Lambert fanatic Sue Murrell was glued to her DVR, watching "American Idol."
She was also glued to her computer, chatting with members of the pro-Lambert Facebook group she founded. And to her phone, too, where she voted for Lambert at least 100 times in two hours.
"My husband thinks I'm totally nuts," says the 35-year-old Illinois mom, an office manager for a moving company.
Perhaps, but there are millions just like Murrell, fans whose passions have been inspired by the unabashedly campy, cheerfully over-the-top Lambert, with his back nail polish, his "guyliner" and that jet-black, asymmetrical mop of hair that has no place in the natural world.
But then, perhaps nothing about Lambert, who will ace the late-blooming Arkansas crooner Kris Allen in next week's finale, is truly of this world; all season long, the judges have praised the rocker in terms sometimes touching on the metaphysical.
"You are a rock GOD!" crowed Kara DioGuardi after his rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." "Dawg, you're one of the best we've ever had on this stage," opined Randy Jackson after Lambert's "Cryin'," by Aerosmith. Simon Cowell had no comment for Lambert's "Mad World," by Tears for Fears — just a very rare standing ovation.
And leave it to Paula Abdul to come up with this one: "You dare to dance in the path of greatness," she told Lambert after "Born to be Wild" — not even one of his better-received performances.
If the judges have seemed to gush over Lambert, it was more surprising to see a guest singer express her unsolicited preference — during her performance. Katy Perry, performing "Waking Up in Vegas" on Wednesday, started out in a glittery cape emblazoned with Lambert's name.
Of course, there's always a certain mania surrounding "American Idol" contestants. But this year feels a little different. "There definitely is a new level of hysteria this season," says Caryn Ganz, deputy editor of Rolling Stone's Web site, rollingstone.com, which gets hundreds of emotional fan posts every time it recaps an "Idol" show.
Partly this can be attributed to the high quality of the final four singers — besides Lambert and Allen, who now face a very competitive finale, with only a million out of 88 million votes separating them this week, there was the gravelly voiced Danny Gokey, voted off Wednesday, and the throaty teenager Allison Iraheta, whose duet with Lambert to "Slow Ride" was a season favorite.
But it's also because Lambert has evoked so much passion from both fans and detractors. One thing on which almost everyone agrees: The dude, as Jackson would say, can sing. (The word "pitchy" does not apply.) But his critics are annoyed by the embellishments, particularly his high-frequency wails — glorious high notes to fans, but screams to others.
"Adam outclassed Danny and Kris? How? By out-shrieking them?" wrote the aptly named "awfuladam" on newsday.com's blog this week. "Danny and Kris SANG their songs, Adam, well, I don't know what the heck you call that but it wasn't singing."
For Lambert fans, the low point this season was the night two weeks ago when the rocker, long assumed to be out in front by a mile, was suddenly relegated to the bottom three vote-getters. On rollingstone.com, there was an outpouring of fury and hurt. "We got 500 posts after that night's recap, 80 percent of them outraged," says Ganz.
On her own blog, Idol Tracker, Ann Powers found herself shocked at the depth of her feelings.
"I was haunted by my own reaction to Lambert's near-elimination. Why do I care so much that he makes it? It's embarrassing," she wrote. Then, touching on his potential outcast appeal, she remembered checking out a David Bowie album as a youngster and thinking, "This guy is really strange and proud of it, I could be proud of myself, too. I look at Adam Lambert, and hear him sing, and think he might give that gift to some kids out there."
Lambert, 27, has spoken of his childhood in San Diego, and how he always loved dressing up, but wasn't exactly into soccer. He performed in musical theater as a youngster, and more recently appeared in the Los Angeles cast of "Wicked." He once appeared opposite Val Kilmer's Moses in "The Ten Commandments: The Musical" — getting the show's only good notices.
Lambert's theater training clearly infuses his "Idol" performances, both in his supreme confidence and in his penchant for changing his look to fit the song. While Allen, a gentle, 23-year-old worship leader who favors singing with his acoustic guitar, prefers T-shirts and jeans — one can't imagine he stretches his "Idol" wardrobe allowance — Lambert turned up in a silvery suit and 1960s pompadour on Motown night.
But most often, he's in androgynous rocker mode — the earrings, the nail polish, the heavy eyeliner. He's been compared to such artists as David Bowie, Steven Tyler and Pete Wentz.
Then there's the widespread speculation — actually, a widespread assumption — that Lambert is gay, based on widely viewed photos on the Web that appear to show him kissing another man. Lambert himself has said nothing — other than to say he has nothing to hide. But plenty of people are talking nonetheless: The latest cover of Entertainment Weekly headlines Lambert as "The Most Exciting American Idol Contestant in Years," with an asterisk to the line: "And Not Just Because He Might Be Gay."
The media interest stems mostly from the question of whether a gay or bisexual singer could win "American Idol." Clay Aiken, the season 2 runner-up, did not come out until years later. But with Lambert, whatever his sexuality, the question seems beside the point: People don't seem to care. He has a varied fan base, and gets his share of the tween girl screams in the "Idol" theater, though not as many as Allen, a heartthrob for the younger set. Some even carry signs saying, "Marry me, Adam."
"I think fans have never really cared about people's persuasions in the world of entertainment," says Joyce Valach, 60, of Naperville, Ill. "As long as they're entertained, they're entertained." She herself was long torn between Lambert and the much different Gokey, an understated church music director from Milwaukee.
But Murrell, the founder of the Facebook group, says she gets offended when some fans write anti-Lambert posts, saying that he looks like a freak.
"I say to them, 'You just don't know what makes people unique and different,'" she says.
"But you know, 'Idol' just brings out the craziness in some people."