"American Idol" 's Adam Lambert on Sexing Up Johnny Cash and Getting on His Soapbox

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Adam Lambert didn't win American Idol, but he's the first real rock star the show has produced in its eight-year run (apologies to Chris Daughtry and David Cook). Brian Hiatt talked with the man Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield dubbed a glam-rock sex god about his controversial "Ring of Fire" cover, conversations with Brian May and the culture war surrounding the finale. (Check out photos from Lambert's Idol run.)

What is your goal? What do you want for your career?
I want to make records. I want to be an entertainer, you know. I want to help people escape and just dance and have a great time and party and love each other, and I want to be able to raise awareness on a couple of things. You know, soapbox about it. Maybe pushing peoples buttons for a little bit. Always with a little wink at the audience with a little camp. With a little seriousness in it, but I don't want to take myself too seriously. I want to upset people, I want to make people think, I want to keep people interested.

A lot of people are trying to figure out what happened when you lost. Do you have a theory?
Danny had a very strong following and when Danny was out of the competition I had a feeling that his fans were probably quicker to default to Kris than to me, you know just because of the kind of artist that he is. So I think that also might have had something to do with it.

Like a red state blue state thing?
I can see why people would see it as a red state blue state kind of thing. Conservative versus liberal kind of thing but I just want to believe, I may just be being an idealist, but I want to believe that its more about the music which is not always the case. I think that it shouldn't matter what your religious beliefs are for instance, or your gender or anything else should come into play. But it's a reality show and that's what it does. I wish it didn't but it kind of does.

You sang with Queen last week. (Don't miss photos from the Idol finale.)
I know! I couldn't believe it. Like Brian May was brushing my shoulder, it was so surreal and not only was it a personal victory for me but also with Kris up there, I mean Kris and I became really good friends on this. We were roommates and looking at him across the way singing the lyric "We are the Champions" I felt very connected to him at that moment and it was the perfect symbolic ending to this whole journey and it really felt like it put the period at the end of the sentence. And for me at that point, whoever won at that point it didn't matter after that, that was the winning moment for me I don't know, you know what I mean, I didn't feel like I was competing with him at all.

Brian May seemed pretty impressed with you. Did you get a chance to talk to him?
Yeah. He was just such a gentleman. He has such a warm, positive philosophy on life. I liked his outlook a lot. He said, "I just flew on a plane overnight and I woke up this morning and I looked out my window and I just realized how lucky I was to be alive." I don't know, it was just so inspiring to hear that come from his mouth. That's kind of something that I've been focusing on personally, the past year of my life, is just positive thought. And there's a reason Idol came along for me this year and I decided to audition and it worked out cause it came at a time in my life when I really started to try to change my perception you know what I mean.

Rock is a much bigger part of Idol now, why do you think that is?
I think maybe early on it had to do with the judge's opinion. I think the judges tended to favor the R&B singers 'cause they felt like that was showing more vocal prowess. I feel like early on they dismissed some of the rock singers. And even Kelly Clarkson who was first year's winner sang her soul and R&B stuff and now she's a pop/rock singer. I think they felt that the Whitney Houston route was more of a competitive type of vocal maybe.

The finale was mostly a rock night, with Kiss and Queen.
That was so much fun, I was just so excited to be able to play dress up. That's a really big part of me as a performer, it always has been and I hadn't really gotten to show myself doing my underground club kid thing on Idol cause the songs that I was singing never really felt appropriate to do that. But when I found out that Kiss was on the show I was like, 'OK, this is my chance to kind of do that other thing that I do' so I don't know I had a blast putting on that costume and rocking out with them.

I think probably your most out-there performance was "Ring Of Fire." What are your thoughts on that one now?
I loved it. I was a big fan of Middle Eastern elements of music and experimental electronic and tribal sounds. I heard the version by a woman named Dilana, who was on Rock Star: Supernova, I found it hypnotic and really cool. It was country week and I don't really like country music, I'm going to be honest. The first song that came to mind was a country song was the Johnny Cash song "Ring of Fire." It's a cool song. It's sexy. So I was like I'll do something sexy. So I figured why not.

Is any part of you disappointed with America?
I have to say it was a little bit of social pressure projected on me by just trying to be the quote un quote "different one" — all the supposed insights into my sexuality and my alternativeness and all my what have you, I think there were some people who were kind of like, "Well, he's changing your Idol' and all this hype and pressure to make a change for America. It kind of got overhyped a little bit.