Few American Idol contestants have ever had a voice — or look — as distinct as Adam Lambert!
In 2009, the Indiana-born, California-raised performer (his family moved to the West Coast when he was a baby, per Biography) walked into the Idol audition room and blew the judges, and America, away. With his powerhouse rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, the rocker clearly had something special: a once-in-generation voice and a glam-goth, leather jacket-clad fashion sense to match. But really, don’t you get chills rewatching that first audition? It’s hard not to see (or hear) the talent! Though Lambert came in second place in Season 8 to the charming but forgettable Kris Allen, a star truly was born!
Adam Lambert has since toured all over the world as the frontman for Queen, rocked the 2019 Oscars, and was declared Idol’s highest-earning alum back in 2015, bringing home $10 million pre-tax, per Forbes. Impressive! On a non-musical level, he’s also, incidentally, become a trailblazer. Lambert, who publicly came out as gay in 2009 to Rolling Stone and is the first openly gay artist with a Billboard No. 1 album, paved the way for other queer artists like Troye Sivan and pal Sam Smith. “‘Come out’ is so funny to me because I’ve never been in,” he told ABC News.
Yup, Adam Lambert is one of American Idol’s biggest successes, though his journey hasn’t always been easy. Here’s a closer look at Adam Lambert’s life story, struggles, and amazing style transformation along the way.
As a child, Adam Lambert learned to sing the classics
What was Adam Lambert like growing up? Well, he was gifted from a young age — and adorable with strawberry blonde hair, we might add! Lambert’s mother, Leila, told People that as a child, he was into “any kind of arts and crafts” and wanted to be involved with “anything to do with being creative.” Soon enough, that craft became … performing!
Lambert started taking acting lessons at the age of eight with a reputable youth theater network and continued doing so for eight years. Soon, he was also taking voice lessons as well. Lambert told Variety that his childhood voice teacher “was like a mentor,” teaching him classics by greats like Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Cher, and more. So while Lambert obviously went the rocker route, he’s well-versed. “She [my teacher] cut my teeth on […] the quintessential gay icons, I was like, ‘Oh, well, I got my education already,'” he told Variety. Never hurts!
Meanwhile, in school, Lambert was apparently “kind of a loner,” telling HuffPost Live (via PressParty) that he didn’t have many friends growing up. He wasn’t bullied, but he, as he put it, “avoided a lot of social contact” because he was afraid of being bullied. Aw. Fortunately, things got better for Lambert in high school, where he was able to find “people who had shared interests.” And no matter: All that time, Adam Lambert was just honing his skills!
Adam Lambert skipped college to pursue fame
By high school, Adam Lambert hadn’t yet donned his signature goth-glam look, but he had developed his killer pipes. (He even showcased them at his graduation ceremony.) Then, he did something else. As noted by The Guardian, Lambert came out as gay when he was 18 years old, encouraged by … his mom! Apparently, she “kind of initiated” the conversation, “which was hilarious,” Lambert told People. He added that while he was “kind of an out-there kid,” he was always accepted and supported at home. Aw!
After coming out, Adam Lambert was apparently more confident than ever. He told Rolling Stone in 2009, “I’m proud of my sexuality,” adding, “I embrace it. It’s just another part of me.” After high school, he departed for Los Angeles, skipping college to pursue showbiz. Although, per The Guardian, his early jobs included a ten-month stint on a cruise ship, he was soon landing more serious roles, like a leading part in The Ten Commandments: The Musical in 2004 alongside Val Kilmer at the Kodak Theater (now the Dolby Theater) and the Wicked national tour. He did, however, quit Wicked for his next gig … a TV gig, if you catch our drift.
While the star’s identity was embraced at home, let’s say things got a little tricky with the public’s embrace…
Adam Lambert wasn't publicly out as gay on American Idol
In 2009, Adam Lambert auditioned for Season 8 of American Idol, and the rest is history! But while he blazed a path to the finale, even at his first audition, Simon Cowell gave the singer a tough go. “I think your voice is a little … theatrical,” he said. Hmm. It became clear while Adam Lambert was ready for America, America wasn’t perhaps fully ready for Adam Lambert.
When the singer lost to Kris Allen, fans immediately called out, yup, homophobia. “Adam Lambert Loses, Homophobia Wins,” wrote HuffPost in 2009. Meanwhile, Lambert told The Guardian that, as the competition progressed, his speculated sexuality “was becoming bigger” than his singing, which he called, “fundamentally […] f*cked up.” Preach! One thing’s certain: America chose the more palatable contestant. (Allen was married to his high school sweetheart at the time.)
While Lambert did come out after the finale, the struggle continued. His debut album got an alternative cover because his label felt the original (more provocative) cover would hurt sales. “The powers that be released a second cover for retailers who felt ‘uncomfortable’ w the original,” the star wrote on Instagram in 2017. “Seems so funny now…. but just 8 yrs ago it was a much different climate.”
Lambert then had an (admittedly risqué) AMAs performance get censored on-air, and his 2010 single “Whataya Want From Me” felt like a direct response to the hate. But it’s true: Times would change!
Adam Lambert is now more accepted by the public
Years later, the pop culture landscape, and Adam Lambert’s look, have definitely both evolved. For one thing, the star gained admiration when he became Freddy Mercury’s successor in Queen. Brian May explained that he was swamped with messages after the star’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” audition (via Louder) and that Lambert was “the natural successor to Freddie [Mercury],” per his book, Queen in 3-D. Indeed, he’s toured the world in Freddy’s shoes since!
And thankfully, American Idol has loosened up, too, with two openly LGBTQIA+ singers (one in drag) making it to the top 10 in 2018. And since the late 2000s, there’s also been a much-needed and clear shift in the industry at large in accepting LGBTQIA+ artists, with more queer artists on the charts than ever. “It’s a totally different landscape,” Lambert told Variety. “When I first came on the scene almost everybody that I encountered in the music business was very supportive of me personally, but they were all a bit nervous about how it could work publicly. Now it’s been proven that there is a market and an audience.” We partly have Lambert to thank for that!
Meanwhile, Lambert has become a huge success and told Entertainment Weekly that his 2020 album VELVET finally saw him “marching to the beat of my own drum.” So it hasn’t been an easy road, but Adam Lambert’s music, fashion, and the industry he once struggled to connect with have all matured. His stock is only rising!
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