Adam Lambert: From Closeted 'Idol' to AMA Provocateur

Lambert's AMA performance shows how far the openly gay singer has come.

November 24, 2009, 12:48 PM

Nov. 24, 2009— -- Adam Lambert has come a long way.

The once sexually ambiguous, aspiring "American Idol" made one thing clear with his provocative performance and man-on-man kiss during Sunday's performance at the "American Music Awards": He's gay enough.

"It's great, he can be himself now," gossip columnist Perez Hilton said. "He doesn't have to play it safe to get votes and, at the end of the day, it's all working. I applaud him for that performance. It was ballsy. It wasn't perfect, definitely not his best vocal. But I loved it. I loved it."

Lambert's AMA performance appeared to repudiate recent criticism from Out magazine editor Aaron Hicklin that the openly gay singer was not "gay enough."

Village Voice columnist Michael Musto told, "Adam's gesture might have been a reaction to the 'not gay enough' criticism, but weren't there also lots of dancing women in his number? I think his marketing will always try to keep him out of the closet, yet with ambiguities his people will continue to sneak in there."

Lambert's trajectory from closeted "Idol" to openly gay AMA provocateur has not been without controversy.

Speculation was rampant about Lambert's sexuality during his run on "American Idol." But the singer refused to comment on his use of eyeliner or his declaration on a YouTube video that kissing girls was "not necessarily" his preference.

He did confirm that photos posted on the "American Idol"-mocking Web site, which depicted him dressed in drag and kissing another man, were real and taken at the Burning Man arts festival. "I have nothing to hide," he told "Access Hollywood."

"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 media access to him and his family. Lambert would have to wait until after his second-place finish to publicly come out on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, followed by his first television appearance on "20/20."

From Not Gay Enough to Too Gay

But it's not been all smooth sailing since.

In a letter published in the December issue of Out, in which Lambert appears on the cover with Wanda Sykes and Cyndi Lauper, Hicklin complained that Lambert's management didn't want him to appear "too gay," which is why the cover shot includes Lauper, a straight woman.

Lambert responded via Twitter: "Dear Aaron, it's def not that deep. Chill! Guess ya gotta get attention for the magazine. U too are at the mercy of the marketing machine. Until we have a meaningful conversation, perhaps you should refrain from projecting your publications' agenda onto my career."

David Hauslaib, editorial director for gay Web site, told, "His response to Out was appropriate. He is a performer who doesn't want to be branded as a gay civil rights hero. He just wants to be known as a pop star who happens to be gay. I think it's an admirable request. I also think it's unreasonable for the most famous gay pop singer."

Many people were waiting for Sunday to see what the most famous gay pop singer would do during his first live performance at a major awards show, and Lambert promised to break new ground.

"There are a lot of double standards as far as that goes," Lambert told The Associated Press before the AMAs. "We've seen female pop and rock performers do that for the last 10 years. They've been very provocative, owning their power and sexuality.

"You just don't see men doing it very often. And I'm hoping to break down that double standard with this number."

From riding on the backs of his leashed male dancers, to making out with his apparently straight male keyboardist Tommy Joe Ratliff, to bringing another male dancer's face to his crotch, Lambert certainly succeeded in getting people talking.

Lambert AMA Performance Sparks Outrage

"It is outrageous that children today cannot watch a televised awards program for an industry that is built squarely on their backs," Parents Television Council president Timothy Winters said in a statement to

ABC, which aired the AMAs, said it received 1,500 complaints, most of which the network termed "moderate," but enough that producers decided to edit out the moment where one of Lambert's male dancers thrust his face into the singer's crotch when the show re-aired on the West Coast.

"Due to the live nature of the show, we did not expect the impromptu moment in question," ABC and Dick Clark Productions, which produces the show, said in a joint statement after the edited West Coast version.

Responding to the editing of the show, Lambert told "Access Hollywood": "If it's edited, that's discrimination. I will be a little disappointed because there is a little bit of discrimination going in this country. There's a big double standard, female pop artists have been doing things provocative like that for years, and the fact that I'm a male, and I'll be edited and discriminated against could be a problem."

Two days after the AMAs, Lambert's performance was still making waves. "Good Morning America" cancelled his scheduled Wednesday appearance. "Given his controversial live performance on the AMAs, we were concerned about airing a similar concert so early in the morning," an ABC News spokesperson said in a statement.

Hilton said the double standard is at work. "If it had been Lady Gaga who had a girl-on-girl kiss with one of her band members, we wouldn't be getting this kind of charged reaction," he said.

"He was using sexuality as a way to get people talking like so many performers have before him -- Madonna, Britney, Janet, Michael," Hilton added. "How many times would Michael Jackson grab his crotch? Adam Lambert is doing nothing different, except he's a guy and he's openly gay."

Is There a Double Standard?

Hilton and others have pointed out the more muted reaction when Madonna kissed Britney Spears on the 2003 MTV "Video Music Awards."

"I liked his moment way more than the Madonna/Britney thing, which was an act of slumming and a cheap publicity stunt," Musto said. "Adam's had more feeling."'s Hauslaib said, "Lambert's career will live and die by his ability to push boundaries. That is the nature of the business. Britney would not be this mega celebrity if she didn't continue shocking us.

"If we're going to criticize him for doing sexual stuff on stage at an hour on television that has been declared off-limits for kids, we have to go back to the very beginning and start criticizing every female pop star who did anything remotely sexual."

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