Hours before Adam Lambert hit the American Music Awards stage for a wild spectacle of a finale, he was already the talk of the red carpet. It seemed of all the divas performing that night — Janet, Whitney, Rihanna, Gaga: the ones who need no last name (or first) — plenty considered the American Idol runner-up to be queen supreme. “Don’t you wanna see what his hair looks like?” singer and presenter Melissa Etheridge cooed with tween-like glee. “And just how much makeup he’s gonna wear? Finally — finally! — we’ve got a real diva. I can say it.”
But as countless pop and rock stars both gay and straight have learned, with the pipes and popularity often comes responsibility — whether it be to your fans, the media, the public at large or an organized movement. Lambert learned that early on in Idol, and the lesson was reaffirmed more recently when the editor of Out magazine chose to call out the Idol imaging machine (and Lambert’s apparent complicity in a make-me-seem-less-gay plot) in a scathing letter to readers. It too was a big topic of conversation during the pre-show and a heated one at that.
“I think he’s just afraid and so is his management,” offered celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. “It’s difficult because he doesn’t have that many people to look up to. There are only a few openly gay successful pop stars.” Said Etheridge: “We in the gay community, we’re never happy. We want everyone to say we’re like everybody else, but then if someone doesn’t act like everybody else, we get mad. We kind of want it both ways. I know how it is in this industry and in the world. When you’re an out gay person, you take on a lot and you never ask for it.”
But any criticism of Lambert not being gay enough went out the window as soon as the Elvis-haired and glittered rocker belted the first words to “For Your Entertainment,” the title track off his debut album (conveniently out today), then proceeded to make out with his (male) keyboard player, ride two of his (male) dancers like dogs on a leash, and grab another (male) with a face-to-the-balls maneuver. At least some portion of that performance, presumably the latter, did not get approved beforehand, and after the East Coast broadcast, was deemed too racy to repeat.
“Due to the live nature of the show we did not expect the impromptu moment in question,” said ABC and Dick Clark productions in a joint statement following the edited West Coast version (Jennifer Lopez’s tumble was also omitted). Fellow Idol runner-up Blake Lewis, on the other hand, described it as “Epic! He sounded and looked amazing. Adam’s voice was meant for big stages like that.” Perez Hilton’s reaction: “Diva — in a good way!”
So was it all an elaborate stunt to scandalize and maximize Adam Lambert’s record sales his first week out? Or did Lambert spontaneously decide to shove his tongue down his (straight) bandmate’s mouth completely of his own free will? To hear the man himself tell it, a little of both. “Adrenaline is crazy and sometimes things just happen,” said Lambert after the show. “We had this great dance number totally staged. It’s a sexy song about seduction and power and I was just doing the lyrics justice. My intention was not to try and create a controversy. But if a controversy ensues, then so be it.”
To that end, Lambert insisted he didn’t put all that much thought into the possible repercussions of such a risqué performance. “I think I did that early on Idol, where I was careful and thought about things a lot,” he explained. “But when it comes to being a live performer, thinking is the biggest enemy. It’s about trying to be in the moment as much as possible.” As for how bass player and keyboardist Tommy Joe Ratliff, who’s been playing with Lambert all of three weeks, got roped into a nationally televised lip-lock? Easy, he didn’t know it was coming. “He just believes in the spirit of rock & roll, as do I,” said Lambert. “He’s a really cool open guy. There’s a quote from the movie Velvet Goldmine that we both get a kick out of: ‘Rock & roll is a prostitute — it should be tarted up.’ He believes in that the same way I do.”
Still basking in post-show glow, Lambert didn’t have much time to chit-chat with a flight to catch and an album to promote. He’s due on Letterman tonight for what he promises will be a less fantastical, but just as dramatic number. “I’m doing â€˜Whataya Want From Me?’ and it’s about vulnerability and hope, feeling scared and taking risks,” he said. “It’s a totally different energy.” Lambert is also starting to wrap his head around a tour next year (“maybe spring-ish”) and you can count on AMAs-like production for that trek. “Costumes, sets, fire, dancers, the energy tonight — I love all that,” he said.
But first things first, namely: his debut album and those high expectations. “Numbers are shmumbers, they don’t mean anything,” he insisted. “It’s about the music. I’m creating art, and if they like it, they’ll buy it, and if they don’t, they don’t. It really doesn’t matter to me.”
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