It’s really not surprising that Adam Lambert got to be on the cover of Entertainment Weekly solo, without the others in the top two (Danny Gokey and Kris Allen). He’s fast becoming a cultural phenomenon, and him winning American Idol (yes, I’m that confident that he will win) is only going to be the tip of the iceberg. The most interesting part about his arrival in the show is the fact that he’s wildly talented artist with a great work ethic (from what I hear, he’s a very reliable performer, and I can tell he has never given anything less than genuine), who is also major eye candy. There has never been anyone like Adam Lambert on the show. Unlike all the other previous contestants and winners, who were all pretty much manufactured by the Idol machine, Adam has so much appeal on his own – appeal that people like. People made such a huge fuss about Elvis and his “devil” hips, Madonna and her outlandish sexuality, and now everyone is talking about Adam – even before he wins American Idol. Now this is what it means to be an American icon.
The Entertainment Weekly cover story focuses on the question of whether an openly gay contestant will win American Idol, but I really don’t see why this is still an issue, considering that there are so many GLBT working in the entertainment industry. I’m thinking, if Adam doesn’t become the next American Idol for one reason or another (even though he should, based on talent alone), there’s a possibility that all this hype surrounding him will fade, and he’ll be left to shine in his own little corner of the world.
Here’s the press release for the cover story:
New York, NY – There is nothing more valuable to the health of an eight-year-old TV series than a surprise, and for American Idol, it rarely happens. But once in a very long while, someone arrives who doesn’t just dominate American Idol, but challenges and even changes it. And that has happened with the current season’s contestant Adam Lambert. With his mop of glam-rock cobalt-blue-on-dyed-black hair, his hearing, his sneering, and his unambiguously ambiguous sexuality, Adam would have probably been brushed off early on. And there was also a time, more recently, when Adam would have made it to Hollywood but been dismissed as “too Broadway” or “too musical theater.”
Then in walked this 27-year-old from San Diego, a chameleon of a singer who was unashamedly everything that the Fox reality show thought America didn’t want. And he flattened the competition. He has been able to morph from a quasi-punk whom the judges accused of being “like something out of Rocky Horror” to a Rat Pack sharpie to a grown-up crooner. Other contestants who have tried this on Idol routinely get accused of lacking identity.
There’s always been a fracture between how you succeed on Idol and how you succeed beyond Idol once you enter a world in which being the cookie-cutter product of a network series is a liability. But Adam has taken a battering ram to that aesthetic. And he’s doing so while playing out the big issue – the gay question – with a complicated mixture of caution and shrewdness. Though Adam is widely assumed to be gay, the most he would say to EW about the public scrutiny is “I know who I am. I’m an honest guy, and I’m just going to keep singing.”
Now the question is whether an openly gay contestant can win American Idol? The question is being considered everywhere from fan blogs to The New York Times – but we’re still one openly gay contestant short of a test case. Adam’s sexuality offers a fascinating challenge to the show’s status quo. Is Idol ready for a gay winner? Possibly. After all, its British forebear Pop Idol crowned a contestant, Will Young, who came out shortly after he won. And Idol itself came close when Clay Aiken, then closeted but somebody who even house plants surmised was gay, finished second. But is Idol ready for this gay(ish) winner? Perhaps not. Clay, after all, never sang “I’m gonna give you every inch of my love” while wearing skintight pants and green glitter guyliner.
Unlike his counterparts, who commodify their lives on their sleeves, Adam isn’t talking about it. Maybe it’s still too costly to say who you are. It’s certainly costly not to. Does he feel he can’t? Does the show feel he shouldn’t? Is his choice personal or strategic? Will it pay off? And does any of this represent progress? (Cover story, Page 24)