April 15, 2009 -- There's the eyeliner. There's the YouTube video in which he declares kissing girls is "not necessarily" his preference. There are the Web photos of him making out with guys.
None of it seems to matter.
Adam Lambert appears to be this year's chosen "American Idol" contestant, whatever his sexuality may be, signaling a shift from the moral scrutiny once piled on "Idol" contestants.
Lambert has never publicly acknowledged whether or not he's gay. But he did confirm that photos posted on the "American Idol"-mocking Web site votefortheworst.com depicting him dressed in drag and kissing another man were real, taken at the Burning Man arts festival, telling "Access Hollywood," "I have nothing to hide. I am who I am. And this is about singing … nothing else."
That comment was made before Lambert was voted into "Idol's" top 12 and Fox cut off press access to him and his family. Since then, speculation about the 27-year-old musical theater veteran's sexuality has been kept at a simmer.
Conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly tried to turn up the heat last week by broadcasting the make-out pictures and asking if they'll "have an effect on ['Idol'], which is a cultural phenomenon in America?" But that buzz comes up cold in comparison to the overwhelming praise Lambert has received for his "Idol" performances.
Lambert's rendition of "Mad World" earned a standing ovation from perpetually persnickety judge Simon Cowell last week. Prior to that, his rendition of Smokey Robinson's "The Tracks of My Tears" drew high praise from the songwriter himself, who served as "Idol's" mentor of the week. According to online betting exchange Betfair.com, Lambert has a 68 percent chance of winning this season of "Idol," with no other contestant consistently wowing both voters and judges.
While Lambert's not flaunting his sexuality, whatever it may be, he's not taking the Clay Aiken path of avoidance. Aiken, the runner up of "Idol's" second season, dodged questions about his sexual orientation during his 2003 run on the show and for years afterward.
Aiken officially came out on the cover of People magazine in 2008 beneath the headline "Yes, I'm Gay," hardly shocking those who watched him all along and wondered about his sexuality.
Lambert Hints at Sexuality on 'American Idol'
Lambert, on the other hand, has hinted at what may be his preference via "Idol." The iTunes version of his "Tracks of My Tears" includes a verse, cut for time during the "Idol" broadcast, in which Lambert rewrote pronouns to make them neutral, replacing "her" with "their" and "girl" with "person."
True, he may be treading softly. But it's hard to find fault with Lambert for not making a bolder statement about his sexuality considering what's happened to some past "Idol" contestants who found themselves in controversy because of their personal lives.
David Hernandez was voted off "Idol" last year shortly after it was revealed that he worked as a male stripper for predominantly gay clientele in his native Arizona. Antonella Barba was voted off "Idol" in 2007 after a series of racy photos of her emerged on the Internet. Season two contender Frenchie Davis was disqualified by the "Idol" because of topless photos she took when she was 19.
But Lambert seems to have arrived at the right time and in the right package. With his intense eye-makeup, highly styled hair and propensity to dress in drag, he fits into a group of legendary gender-bending male performers known and loved by Americans, like Elton John, David Bowie and Prince. And he's competing on "Idol" in an age when Americans are embracing the gay community more than ever before.
"We just legalized same-sex marriage in two states in two days," said Corey Scholibo, arts and entertainment editor of The Advocate, referring to the measures passed in Vermont and Iowa. "Things are happening. I think he's an example of change ... I think the gay community thinks he's already one of us."
Not everyone's so optimistic. Village Voice culture critic Michael Musto talked exclusively with ex-stripper and "Idol" contestant Hernandez for his latest column. When Musto commented that Lambert hasn't been voted off despite the gay speculation, Hernandez countered, "not yet."
But as has always been the case, it's up to voters to decide how far Lambert goes in the competition. And with the six other remaining contenders often failing to match his talents, there's no reason why Lambert shouldn't become America's newest "Idol," whether gay, straight or simply a show-stopping singer with a fierce sense of style.