In the music business, the road to success is typically long and grueling. Not so for Kris Allen, David Cook and Adam Lambert, who have been catapulted to instant fame by their performances in the hit TV show "American Idol."
It is a coveted stepping stone, and this diverse group of "Idols" is making the most of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As they all grapple with the scrutiny, the rapport that the three have established with their various fan bases who have dialed and texted them into stardom continues to fuel their success.
Watch David Cook, Adam Lambert and Kris Allen perform live this Friday, from New York City's Central Park on "Good Morning America's," Summer Concert Series.
Allen, 24, and Lambert, 27, along with the eight other finalists of the last season are part of the 50-city "American Idol Summer 2009 Tour," which ends in mid-September. Cook, who was crowned "American Idol" in 2008, will join the two this Friday for a performance in New York's Central Park as part of "Good Morning America's" Summer Concert Series.
Cook, 26, took to the road earlier this year to promote the self-titled album he released in 2008, and co-wrote nine of the album's songs. In May, Allen, who hails from Conway, Ark., was the fans' No. 1 choice, edging out Adam Lambert, who had previously performed in "Wicked" and "The Ten Commandments: The Musical."
The latest "Idol" winner taught himself to play guitar at 13 and had encouragement from his father, who was a musician. It only took writing one song for the nascent talent to know he was hooked on music, he said. "It wasn't that good but I felt like it was the one thing that I could do forever."
Now, making music full-time is a thrill. But he's not stopping there, as he uses the "American Idol" tour to propel himself further as a musician. Allen recently dropped from the tour his signature track, "No Boundaries," which won him the "Idol" title in favor of a cover of a song by the Killers, "All These Things That I've Done."
"The tour director came up to me and asked if would be willing to change it, so we put in a song that has a little more energy and I really feel like the crowd has responded well," Allen explained. He is slated to release his first album this fall.
His former rival, Lambert, is also very much in his element on stage. "I like getting an emotional reaction out of people. There is an energy exchange that takes place between artist and audience that gives me a huge rush," Lambert exclaimed.
Lambert keeps focused on the positive aspects of entertainment fame, hoping that it will provide him with financial security, he said.
But the dark side does rear its ugly head sometimes. "A drawback is that the negative opinions people have toward the famous, successful, and alternative is now aimed at me," he said.
Photos of Lambert making out with another man came to light during the "American Idol" season. Lambert, who never denied being gay, came out officially on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine shortly after the show wrapped up. Foremost, he wanted to quell the speculation surrounding his sexuality, he said. "Rolling Stone is one of my favorite music publications and I felt like it was a more credible way of sharing more about my personal life."
Even after his attempt to tamp down the gossip, he said, "I have to deal with more ignorance than I did before."
When it comes to vocals, Lambert has been compared with Cook. Although Lambert said he is flattered, he maintains his sense of individuality. "I feel like we're very different artists, but I still take it as a compliment," he said.
Their paths to the "American Idol" try outs were nothing alike.
Adam Lambert was living in Los Angeles, yearning to stretch his talents beyond theater. "I was looking for an opportunity to promote myself as a solo artist," said Lambert. "Although I'm not in any way turning my back on my experience in the theater world, I am looking forward to performing as an extension of myself as opposed to an already written and directed character."
Cook of Blue Springs, Mo., never intended to audition at all. "I went to Omaha [Nebraska] with my Mom and little brother, Andrew, and was planning on being moral support for Andrew, who had wanted to audition for years. While standing in line for registration, I got talked into it," he said.
Cook, who has had a year to find his footing in the spotlight, said he hasn't become caught up in trappings of fame. "In one sense, everything has changed. But in truth, it's all the peripherals. You get recognized more, for sure, but I don't really feel any different."
Just ask Lambert, who said, "David is very talented, intelligent and down to earth."
Beyond embarking on another record and continuing to perform live, Cook takes a live and let live attitude toward his next steps. "The five year plan I've implemented involves being happy, making good records and playing good shows," he said. I figure whatever is supposed to happen will inevitably happen, regardless of what I do."
Today, Cook's satisfaction stems from being able to identify himself as a musician. "Any time some sort of application for something comes in front of me, and it asks what my occupation is, I can write in 'musician,' and not 'bartender' or 'painter' or 'mascot for a restaurant. '" The worst part of his new line of work? "The mascot job paid pretty well," he said jokingly.
But he is serious about his music and believes it's never too late to improve his sound. He would welcome the chance to perform with "Sir Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen ... any of the greats. There are always things to learn," he said.
Allen, Lambert and Cook are blessed with hard core fans of their own that not only want to hear them sing but also keep up with their lives. When Cook lost his 37-year-old brother, Adam, to brain cancer in May, he received an outpouring of support from fans.
In his time away, Allen has become very friendly with Lambert. Earlier this year, they roomed together on "American Idol." While on tour, they've become more familiar with each other's hidden talents. While Allen said he has maintained the "weird talent of blowing bubbles out of my mouth," he's also discovered his former rival's quintessential quirk. "It takes [Lambert] longer to do his tour makeup than the show," Allen joked.
Doing his own makeup, Lambert said, gets him in the mood to perform. "We're bringin' glam back, baby," he said excitedly.
For his part, Lambert said all the time together only solidified his initial impression of Allen. "He's further proved my opinion that he is one of the nicest, most laid-back and gracious guys I have ever met," he said. "He has a great sense of humor and nothing fazes him. It's refreshing to be friends with someone so comfortable in his own skin."
In one way, it shows what Lambert has realized about having a career as an entertainer.
"In order to make a living in show biz, you have to be good with people and be a team player."
He is upbeat about working alongside Allen and has become one of his ex-rival's biggest fans. "I am so excited for his future success," he said.
Lambert's also looking forward to his own success, as he works on releasing his solo album in November, which is expected to have some sexy songs. But he has more far-reaching plans as well. "In five years, I see myself making more records and music videos and hopefully crossing over into other forms of entertainment media," he said.
Acting is one possibility. "I would love to try film and TV. Movie musicals are back," he said excitedly. He holds out hope for one part in particular. "Dream role would be Judas in an edgy version of 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' " he said.
Before any of that happens, two pieces of advice Cook received about life in the music business could only help the three young stars as they navigate the road ahead. "One: Never stop working until you want to stop working. Two: Hold on. It's about to get crazy. Both are extremely appropriate," Cook said.