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By Andy Argyrakis
Adam Lambert launches post "American Idol"
career with punk meets glam galore
June 15, 2010
To introduce Adam Lambert as a previous "American Idol" contestant at this point is largely unnecessary considering all he's accomplishment, yet without that televised stepping stone, the world at large wouldn't have met the energetic entertainer so soon. After coming in second place last year (though he could've easily swept the competition given those soaring pipes), the singer/songwriter inked a record deal with RCA/19 Recordings to release For Your Entertainment, which debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, followed by a headlining tour. Aside from some controversy after a steamy American Music Awards performance, the 28-year-old newcomer's been embraced by fans of all ages and walks of life, earning comparisons to Queen's Freddie Mercury, plus a slew of other punk, glam and classic rock giants, which as he admitted during a recent teleconference chat, is the ideal measuring stick.
What previous tours did you see that inspired you for your first headlining tour?
Lambert: I definitely have always loved like the big pop tours, people like Michael Jackson and Madonna, and even my first tour that I ever saw was Paula Abdul. People that put on a show, you know what I mean? They take their music and they create a visual and a story and a theme and they kind of reinterpret maybe a song both musically and visually to kind of give it a context and that is something that is really important to me. And also I think that my background in musical theater really came into play a lot with this production. I definitely wanted it to be first and foremost about the music but a close second is giving the audience something to look at and giving them a reason why okay, this is the next song in the set, this is the next song. There is definitely like a thematic through line throughout the show.
What else are we going to hear besides the songs from the album?
Lambert: There is a surprise cover in there, one or two. But I'm kind of leaving them as wonderful surprises as a way to pace the show. And then the show itself was actually- it's being visually inspired by kind of like a blend of turn of the century New Orleans meets psychedelic classic rock. I had a lot of fun with the projectionist and my costume designer and we're working with a fashion line called Skin Graft Designs, which I have worn a lot of their pieces in the past on "Idol" and since then. And yeah, it kind of has its own little world.
Can you talk about what you said on Twitter the other day where you were asking fans not to bring you presents on tour because you just had nowhere to put them last year?
Lambert: Yeah. Honestly that's what happens. It's so funny. It's like so sweet and I love that my fans want to express themselves and give me something. But for me it's far more meaningful to just have them there, to see smiling faces, shake hands and sign autographs. To know that what I do on stage is something that is moving them and affecting them, that's what this is about. It isn't about presents. And so as much as I love the thought, I feel like I don't have enough room for them. I don't want you guys to spend your money on making things for me. I want you to spend your money on your ticket, coming and enjoying yourself. And if they feel the need to express themselves financially and show their appreciation then I want them to donate to a charity. There is a charity called Donorschoose.org that I have been supporting for the past about year and a half now and it's still a great cause and it's still alive and kicking. I would just rather them redirect their financial energy that way if they feel the need to.
Are people who were up in arms about your AMA performance going to be comfortable at this show? Or should they stay home?
Lambert: I definitely think they will be comfortable. That was kind of an artistic experiment, the AMAs, and I learned a lot from it. I learned kind of what my limitations are. I learned what my audience wants to see. The concert definitely is sexy, but I feel like if anybody felt that that was not tasteful, this is tasteful.
Did you see coming out as sort of a necessary step to sort of make the transition from being the "Idol" contestant to sort of launching the rest of your career?
Lambert: Definitely because for me and my career, I wanted it to be an open book. I have always as an audience member, as somebody who has lived in Los Angeles for the last eight years and has watched celebrity culture, I always rolled my eyes at people that were keeping a lot of secrets and kind of trying to put forth an image that was manufactured. And for me I was like you know what, I'm just going to be who I'm going to be because it'll be a hell of a lot easier and I knew that people would know about my sexual preference and my history being in Los Angeles as a performance artist and somebody that had been out and about. So I figured there was no point in keeping a secret. I might as well own it. I'm proud of it and if the audience doesn't like my sexuality then they can find some other artist to look at. It's not a big deal.
Did you feel a lot of pressure being the first openly gay pop artist to be on a major label?
Lambert: It definitely comes with some pressure. There are a lot of challenges that I have faced I think just being one of the first and dealing with the business side of it because I think they are also learning. And yeah, there is definitely a lot of pressure but it's also really exciting. It's exciting to be like a novelty in that regard.
I was wondering how would you classify your image right now both from a musical and fashion perspective.
Lambert: I always have been fond of like the glam rocker title. I think glam is a broader term than maybe people realize because I think that there is definitely the '70s glam, [then] there was the '80s glam movement. And then right now with the tour, I think I'm exploring a look that is really inspired by psychedelic rock stars [like] Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Jim Morrison and then blended with this whole thing called scheme punk. And what it is, is it's like Victorian era fashion mixed with modern elements like punk rock mixed with retro kind of historical clothing. It's hard to explain but it's a really, really cool angle. And there is a fashion company named Skin Grafts that I have worked with for the last couple years and they are designing a lot of custom pieces for the tour so I'm really excited to show everybody.
Is there is anything you learned about yourself from "Idol" to now?
Lambert: I think that ultimately I think that just trusting my instincts has been kind of the biggest challenge and test since coming off of "Idol." It's a business, this music industry, and it's a lot of amazing, talented, very experienced people working in it. And they have their opinions and I have mine and coming to compromises and figuring out what the best plan of action is definitely something that I'm learning a lot about.
Did you feel pressure to conform to any commercial formula or direction when you were making the album because the show has been on for so long?
Lambert: I mean clearly conformity really isn't my thingÉI think that as an artist and a business person both I think that I look at this opportunity and like okay, this is a mainstream major thing. So I want to make a thing that has like mass appeal quality to it and then I want some music on the album to be a little more specific. And it's going to be me so I didn't really feel- I felt pressure of expectation. I thought that people were expecting something, and one of the things that was a choice that I made was that even though I performed a lot of classic rock on "Idol" and it's music that I'm really fond of, I felt like in the challenge of making new music and coming up with my own music, to do a bunch of derivative sounding rock music would have been kind of too much of an expected choice. So for me I wanted to do my brand of pop music and do something a little bit different.
Is it easier for you to emote the songs that you wrote yourself versus some that were written for you?
Lambert: I think usually when I write music I write from personal experiences. So it is definitely a little more familiar to me, whatever emotion I was writing about. But I will also say that all the songs that were chosen for the album are ones that I felt like I could relate to. So if I couldn't feel like I could emote them, I didn't want to put them on the album, so I think I can emote all of them. But obviously the ones that I write are the ones that come from a personal experience.
Following the 2009 "American Idol," finale Brian May in Queen said that he would have to sit down with you some day and have a conversation with you about possibly fronting his band. Has that conversation happened and is that something you would consider making room for in your career in the future?
Lambert: Well, I've got to correct you. I think he wanted to have a conversation about more of a vague future collaboration. It was never an offer and it never came from his mouth that it was to front his band. But I would love to sing with them again at some point. I think that as much of an honor as it would be, I think that filling Freddie Mercury's shoes is something that I dare not try. I don't think I could hold a candle to him even though he is a huge inspiration. And yeah, I think that I'm going to focus right now on my own career and my own original music.
With the success of "American Idiot" and shows like "Rock of Ages," do you see yourself writing and starring on Broadway in a show?
Lambert: That's definitely something that would be really exciting in the future. I don't have any immediate plans, but I definitely see the trend on Broadway and things are becoming more and more contemporary, which I love. Who knows what the future holds?
Adam Lambert headlines at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, IN on Thursday, June 17. www.thevenuechicago.com