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Adam Lambert: Wild Idol

The psychedelic transformation and sexual liberation of Adam Lambert

June 25, 2009 12:00 AM ET

Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 1081 from June 25, 2009. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.

Sometimes, in the desert, you can figure things out. That's what Adam Lambert discovered a couple of years ago at Burning Man, the annual utopian festival in Nevada. At the time, he had been hanging out in the nightclub scene in Los Angeles, at Hyde and other celebrity hot spots — "It was negative, and really dark, all about cocaine and synthetic-ego bullshit," he says — and he felt a little bit lost, not sure of what he wanted to do with his life. "I was getting bitter," he says. "I was looking for something, and I wasn't sure what it was." At Burning Man, he drove around in a bus with a flamethrower welded on top, performed in an impromptu musical revue called the "Big Black Man Show" and experimented with "certain funguses." Then it happened: "I had a psychedelic experience where I looked up at the clouds and went, 'Oh!'" he says. "I realized that we all have our own power, and that whatever I wanted to do, I had to make happen.'" And what he wanted to do was to try out for American Idol.

These are not the kind of stories that one expects to hear from the average American Idol contestant. And there are many other aspects to Lambert that people don't know, even after 30 million viewers spent four months thinking they were getting close to him. For example, he's Jewish, though he was never bar mitzvahed and hated Hebrew school, mostly because he got a bloody nose in front of class the first day. His parents split up when he was 19, while he was in Europe performing in a cheesy six-person musical revue on a cruise ship. He admits to having spent a lot of his life partying, obsessively chasing love, though at his core he is the hardest thing to come by in pop culture: a genuinely free-spirited, easygoing flower child who prizes love over money, peace over power. And there's one more thing, something you probably knew already, but he hasn't been explicit about until now: "I don't think it should be a surprise for anyone to hear that I'm gay," he says.

This information — again, not a surprise — is passed along at 11 p.m. two nights after the Idol finale, when Lambert bounds into the waiting area of 19 Entertainment's chic offices on Sunset Boulevard, with a view of the Los Angeles lights sparkling in the distance ("Is it smog that makes everything look that way?" Lambert muses, gazing into the distance. "Or is it glitter?"). In two weeks, he'll begin rehearsing for the Idol national tour, which starts July 5th, but tonight he met with Simon Fuller, the creator of the Idol franchise, about his new recording contract. "He's so confident and self-assured," says Fuller. "He's like Marc Bolan meets Bowie, with a touch of Freddie Mercury and the sexiness of Prince." This may all be the case, but right now Lambert is running on fumes: After the finale, he celebrated the show's wrap until 3 a.m., then woke up for a batch of Fox-affiliate TV interviews an hour later. "The first thing I did in the morning was crack a Red Bull," he says, laughing. "For a little while, I felt I was at a rave. Then I went from 'Oh, my God, who has glow sticks?' to 'Stick a pacifier in me, I'm done.'" Nevertheless, he pops open a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, a present from Fuller, pouring glasses for his new retinue: a publicist, a day-to-day manager and a bodyguard. "Ain't going to say no to booze," he says. "You've got me in rare form: no filter."

It certainly seems that way during our late-night dinner next door at the Sunset Marquis hotel, where — in the face of a grotesque media circus with such paragons of virtue as Bill O'Reilly and Perez Hilton trying to beat his homosexuality into public consciousness on a daily basis — Lambert eagerly shares details about his private life and his rationale for having kept many of them to himself. "Right after the finale, I almost started talking about it to the reporters, but I thought, 'I'm going to wait for Rolling Stone, that will be cooler,'" he says. "I didn't want the Clay Aiken thing and the celebrity-magazine bullshit. I need to be able to explain myself in context." Later, he adds, "I find it very important to be in control of this situation. I feel like everyone has an opinion of me, and I want a chance to say, 'Well, do you want to hear how I really feel about all this?'"

This is a question easier posed than answered, because Lambert has a lot of thoughts on his newfound role as America's new gay runner-up Idol, and many of them are somewhat contradictory. But there's one point on which he is completely sure: "I'm proud of my sexuality," he says. "I embrace it. It's just another part of me."

Let's return, for a moment, to the other parts of Lambert, the 27-year-old from San Diego who captured many hearts in this season of American Idol for reasons that have little to do with his sexual preference and everything to do with his show-pony voice, silky presence and explosive performances. After all, this is the guy who upstaged Kiss on the finale. "I was so excited," he says of the segment. "I was like, 'I'm going to glue rhinestones on my eyelids, bitch! That's right, American Idol in platform boots. You ain't voting anymore.'" The same electricity that he projected onstage is abundantly available in person, coupled with this triple-snap sense of humor, relentlessly sunny disposition and a knack for quickly assessing the best way to work everybody he comes across. Lambert is handsome — six feet one and 185 pounds, with patrician features and sky-blue eyes — and he's unrepentant about flirting with both sexes. Even when you know that he's gay, it's hard not to find him physically attractive. And that's the way he likes it. "I loved it this season when girls went crazy for me," he says. "As far as I'm concerned, it's all hot. Just because I'm not sticking it in there doesn't mean that I don't find it beautiful."

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