Pretty much everyone who covered entertainment in the last 15 years has at least one good story about American Idol. Here’s mine.
In 2009, though I’d recently left the staff of OUT, I was so obsessed with this obviously queer guy on Idol that I wrote maybe a dozen blog posts about Adam Lambert for the magazine’s culture blog I’d founded, Popnography.
Spoiler alert: He didn’t win. I almost forgot I was there in person for the finale; his loss to Kris Allen was both completely shocking and not at all surprising. I remember better how I stood outside a restaurant that night telling NPR’s Neda Ulaby why that season was still, on some level, a win for the community.
From the beginning of that Idol season, OUT also pursued an interview with him for the magazine—which finally happened more than four months later. (It was also the week before I got married. The music documentary show I’d left OUT to work on was about to premiere. I will never learn not to try to do everything at once.)
So we sat out on the balcony of the 19 Entertainment offices and talked about an hour. There was nothing I asked that he wasn’t seemingly eager to give his opinion on. That wasn’t really that surprising.
What had been surprising was the way his publicist pulled me aside before we started and cautioned against making the interview “too gay” or, he said, “you know, gay-gay.” It was as baffling then as it is now. I made note of that exchange when filing my story, and my editor wrote a rather angry letter in the issue about the whole mess.
Thousands (millions? it felt like millions) of Glamberts and basically every other professionally employed Idol blogger or commentator condemned OUT and said we were blaming Adam for not being gay enough and that we would probably ruin his career, etc., etc. A lot of angry open letters were written. (I also forgot about those, too, until I went poking through my gmail tonight to see if I could find the interview transcript.) Middle fingers were raised during live performances, pearl-clutching ensued. Time passed. Eventually the magazine and Adam kissed and made up and we all lived gaily ever after.
Here’s something I wrote that November of 2009, in response to all the back and forth:
I’ve seen such striking change in even the last two or three years of how comfortable industry gatekeepers and their clients are in handling such new territory. We’re witnessing a changing of the guard, and it’s bound to overlap a bit in the middle, creating these strange moments where we work with both proudly out stars and their reluctant handlers, sometimes at odds with each other even when they have the same ultimate goals. I’m sorry it happened like this, too. But I’m looking forward to Adam Lambert having a long career, and to him proving every single one of us wrong in one way or another.
On Saturday my wife and I saw one of the last nights of Adam’s stateside tour, which was hands down one of the best, most entertaining and well-staged concerts I’ve ever seen. I spent most of it just leaning over the balcony, staring, smiling, impressed, swept away.
Last year Adam made more money than any other Idol alum, period, beating Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry and Kelly Clarkson. That’s largely thanks to his long stint fronting Queen in a worldwide run, and if it means he gets to spend the rest of his career making exactly the music he wants and performing it exactly how he enjoys, I think we all win.
Anyway: if you’ve got that funny Idol nostalgia feeling, you can read my whole long, barely edited interview with Adam from the glory days of 2009 right here.