It’s been six years since Adam Lambert riveted television audiences as a finalist on the eighth season of American Idol, where his electrifying vocal range and dynamic stage presence made him an instant fan favorite. Although his competitor Kris Allen was named the champ that year, Lambert has gone on to an enviable career with two acclaimed albums, a stint on Glee and a much-discussed tour as frontman for the classic rock band Queen. Now the 33-year-old entertainer is back with The Original High, a dazzling collection of new material and his first album for Warner Bros. Records (out June 16), which includes the hypnotic first single “Ghost Town.” Lambert chatted with Queerty about making music his gay fans can enjoy, why he turned down the chance to play Hedwig on Broadway and whether he’s ever had sex while listening to one of his own songs.
Queerty: There’s a ’90s house vibe to a lot of the songs on The Original High. Was this the kind of music you listened to as teenager?
Adam Lambert: Definitely. I’ve always loved dance music, like C+C Music Factory and Soul II Soul. I don’t remember how I heard them, whether it was on MTV, but I was hearing them somehow. The dance throw back is definitely ‘90s house, for sure. I started noticing there was a revival for that music and got excited. I thought this is the kind of medium that I should definitely get into. It’s authentic to my experience.
Speaking of being authentic, how did your being a gay man inform the music on the new album?
One of the things that I found exciting — and it wasn’t a conscious thing — but once we’d finished some of the tracks that have more of a house vibe I realized how dance-oriented they sounded. Even more than my last two albums, I wanted this one to reflect my real life, not only lyrically and emotionally, but through the sound of the music I listen to with friends when we go out or when I’m on the treadmill or in my car. It sounds like music that I actually listen to as opposed to some persona of myself. I got excited because I thought my gay brothers and sisters would identify with this music more than what I’ve done in the past. It’s a sound that feels more like our scene.
Which song on the new album would you say is most likely to become an enduring gay anthem?
I definitely think “There I Said It” can be interpreted that way. It definitely has that kind of message that can be interpreted different statement that’s saying, “Hey I’m not making apologies anymore. I’m going to be who I’m going to be. I have opinions. I’m a fucking grownup. Don’t tell me who to be, what to say or how to live.”
There’s a bonus track called “After Hours” which would be a great make-out song.
You’re in the history books as the first openly gay artist to have a number one album. What expectations do you feel with the impending release of The Original High?
I have very high expectations for the album but, oddly, I’m more relaxed and calm than I’ve ever been while doing this. With the last two albums, I was very proud of them, but I was nervous and I was unsure. With this album, I don’t have that feeling. I feel really confident about the direction and what it is. I know that when it’s heard it will connect. That’s what I want more than anything.
Even in the six years since you became famous, the pop culture landscape has changed significantly for LGBT performers. What advice would you offer young artists who are debating whether to be open about their sexual orientation at the start of their careers?
I think there’s a difference between the music industry and the film and TV world for actors. It’s a different thing you’re trying to convey. For musicians who are debating whether to come out, I think it’s a lot easier to live your life as you are. I can only imagine what it’s like to be closeted and having to hide that with the way the celebrity machine works. People are prying into your business looking for anything that can be found out about you. I can’t imagine having to hide anything like that. For their own personal well-bring, I think it’s best to keep it real. More than that I think the more people are honest about, the less it will be a big deal. When I first came on to the scene six years ago there wasn’t a lot of mainstream presence in the music industry for gay or lesbian artists. Because of that the media was sensationalizing it and hyper focused on sexuality and unfortunately what that ends up doing is it makes the artist appear to be hyper-focused on sexuality. One of the things that I’ve found frustrating over the last few years is I’m all sorts of things. My sexuality is definitely a big part of my life but it’s not the defining thing. I’m more than that and it was hard being reduced to that in the public eye. The way it works between an artist and the media, a lot of things aren’t under your control. Quotes get taken out of context and headlines become this, that or the other thing. Ultimately, the more of us that are out in the mainstream, the less sensational it will agree.
The big thing is keeping the right people around you. I’ve met a lot of people and my old friends from way back when are still my friends. Perspective is everything. I’m not afraid to make new friends. I like people and I’m open.
You’re very charismatic on camera and on stage. You’ve appeared in Wicked and on Glee. Do you have plans to do more acting or perhaps perform on Broadway?
I don’t know. I definitely want to try it, but there’s nothing on the radar right now.
I can’t believe you haven’t been approached to play Hedwig. You could sing the hell out of those songs.
They offered. I’m flattered they asked me, but it’s not what I want to do right now. It’s an amazing role. Maybe one day. The thing about it is I don’t want to get in drag for eight shows a week. [Laughs]
We’re in the middle of Pride season. Are you planning to attend this year?
I was actually bummed because I’d love to have performed at L.A. Pride, but I’ll be in London that week. Logistically, with releasing the album so many commitments came up to promote it that it didn’t work out. I think I’ll be involved with Pride up in Canada at some point and maybe New York, as well. It’s definitely something I want to be a part of. Ultimately, connecting with the community means a lot to me. It’s been important to me.
Your mother Leila is the epitome of the cool mom and she’s been honored by PFLAG and is a role model to a lot of parents. How has your relationship with her evolved since you’ve become famous?
She’s great. My mom and I have always had a great relationship. We’re besties. I tell her everything. I’ve always been super open with her. She gets a kick out of it. She’s open with me. It hasn’t evolved. It’s stayed just as it always was and that’s what I want from my mom. I don’t want her to change because my life has changed. I don’t want to be different with her, either. I think the continuity of our relationship gives me comfort.
[Laughs] With the two main relationships I’ve had, I’ve definitely been curious as to how they’d get along with my mother. Who wants to be dating someone who doesn’t get along with your family. What’s great is they always do. That’s a sign that I’m on the right path.
How close are you to Kris Allen these days?
We’re not close. [Laughs] I have the utmost respect for him. We were on a TV show together and a competition together. We got along really well. There was a lot of mutual respect. Our lives have taken us in different directions.
Let’s play fuck, marry, kill: Simon, Randy and Ryan.
Oh, lord! No! No! No! I can’t play that game with them. [Laughs] I don’t know. I guess you’d want to marry the rich one, but they’re all rich. This question will come back and bite me in the ass. Next question. [Laughs]
Have you ever had sex to your own music?
[Laughs] No, I have not. I’ve made out to my own music before, but then it gets weird so I turn it off.
You have some of the most passionate and devoted fans of any entertainer. I wonder if it ever gets to feel uncomfortable.
Boundaries are an interesting thing. Everyone has their own set of boundaries. Actually when I started getting into this, figuring out my boundaries was an interesting process because I didn’t really know what I was and wasn’t comfortable with. I’ve tried to sort on a personal life and private to an extent. I’ve nothing to hide and I’m not ashamed of anything but you want to keep certain things yours. There is a separation between your public persona and your personal life. I don’t just mean dating. I mean with friendships. If fans get too involved with elements of my personal life, I get a bit freaked out.
Would you say you’re happy right now?
I think so. I don’t know what the ingredients are. It’s relative. I think I’m fine right now. As an artist I’m someone who’s never fully satisfied and I’m always searching. I am a pretty open book, I have to say. A lot of what the album is about is the pursuit of happiness and what makes you content in life and gives you pleasure and how that’s a journey no matter who you are, how old you are or where you’re at in life. It’s a trial-and-error journey. That’s what The Original High is about.
Watch the video for “Ghost Town” below.
Photo credit: David Roemer