Adam Lambert ready to shake up pop world with CD

Adam Lambert performs during the closing act of the 37th Annual American Music Awards on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
November 23, 2009 9:28:20 AM PST
During rehearsals for his outlandish American Music Awards performance, amid a thundercloud of throbbing theater lights and special-effects fog, Adam Lambert effortlessly governs the sprawling stage while gripping a microphone in his gloved hands and donning a tight T-shirt slathered with an image of David Bowie's face.

"Let's do it faster," the ebony-haired singer prods a choreographer.

"Tell them it should be really bright there," he later cues a technician.

"

Turn that off," he barks mid-performance over a backing track at the sound engineer.

It was just seven months ago that the seemingly unstoppable 27-year-old glam rocker lost "American Idol" to nonchalant singer-songwriter Kris Allen on this very stage at the Nokia Theatre, but now it's Lambert's world - and we're just being entertained by it. With his glitzy rock godliness, Lambert has already eclipsed the talent contest's actual winner and has the potential to outshine all "Idols" before him.

When he begins performing "For Your Entertainment," the first single and title track from his album out Monday, Lambert's domination turns outrageous.

At one point, he thrusts a leather-clad male backup dancer's face toward his crotch, and later flashes a knowing smile as he strokes the same dancer's cheek after plowing through a door that swings both ways.

This is not your typical award show routine.

"There are a lot of double standards as far as that goes," the openly gay singer says backstage, a few days before his Sunday performance. "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."

While inside the "Idol" bubble, Lambert dodged the "he-is-isn't-he?" line of questioning, choosing to reveal all to Rolling Stone magazine after his narrow loss to Allen last May. Lambert believes the time is right for someone like him to be embraced in pop culture while simultaneously smashing established conventions.

Unlike his leashed back-up dancers ("I'm not into bondage," he says with a matter-of-fact smirk), Lambert insists he's no puppet, and is in control of his record deal with 19 Recordings and RCA Records. He had the artistic direction for his CD, the zany album cover (which features him with blue hair and even more guyliner than usual) to the songs.

"Contrary to certain opinions, the management team has been nothing but facilitating of my vision," Lambert claims. "It's not the other way around. I don't know why that impression was made. Creatively, I am in control of my situation. I feel like it is my responsibility to contribute actively, almost primarily, to this because I'm the artist at the center."

Lambert was embroiled in his first controversy last week when Out magazine editor Aaron Hicklin claimed that Lambert's management team only agreed to a cover shoot if it included a straight woman and didn't make Lambert look "too gay." Lambert shot back on Twitter that Hicklin should "refrain from projecting your publications' agenda onto my career."

"The whole debacle with Out magazine was really more of a miscommunication," Lambert says. "It was a request that I had made. I said I didn't feel comfortable talking about certain civil rights and political issues because I'm not a politician. I'm an entertainer. I had actually asked about the content and what the interviewer was going to ask me."

Lambert is navigating unknown territory. No former "Idol" contestant has ever been so loud and proud from the outset. Lambert, a San Diego native who performed in theatrical productions like "Hair" and "Wicked" before auditioning for "Idol," has not lacked attention since narrowly losing the competition's crown.

Lambert raised eyebrows with a saucy Details magazine photo shoot featuring the singer intertwined with a nude woman. Hicklin attacked the spread as awkward, but Lambert contends he was exploring heteroerotism much like many female artists experiment with homoerotocism. Such exposure begs the question: Will all this risque business be risky business?

"You want edge," says RCA Records general manager Tom Corson. "You want an artist who is going to challenge himself as well as his fans and people who may become his fans. You've got to hand it to him, so far it's working for him, but it's got to come down to the music. There's plenty of people who have celebrity but don't have a tenth of the talent of Adam."

Lambert's album is an assemblage of songs Lambert quickly crafted this summer while on tour with his eighth-season "Idol" brothers and sisters. His collaborators include "Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi on the pumping rock tune "Strut," Lady Gaga on the synth ditty "Fever" and Pink on the power ballad "Whataya Want From Me?" - the next single from his album.

There's no question Lambert has star power, but so far, his celebrity hasn't ensured a hit: the first single, "For Your Entertainment," has debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart weakly at No. 84. Controversy - and becoming a Twitter trending topic after his American Music Awards performance - may help sales.

"People were really drawn to him from everything he was doing on the show," says Sharon Dastur, program director at pop radio station Z100 in New York. "Now that it's time for him to be on his own and put out his own music, it's a question of whether he's stepping up to the plate. I definitely think 'Whataya Want From Me?' is a great way to start."

Lambert is full of over-the-top contradictions, and that may be part of his appeal. He's a punk rocker who's not angry at the world. He's gay, but many of his straight female fans readily admit to lusting after him. He doesn't want to be taken seriously, and he wants to be taken seriously. He is playing the part of a character all while being himself.

"If you're a new artist breaking, you have more control over your first impression," he says. "Because of everything I've been through, everything I did on 'Idol' and all of the press attention, it's easy to catch people off-guard by whatever choices I make. They have a preconceived notion. It creates a challenge, but it's one that I'm kind of enjoying."


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