Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Miseducation of Adam Lambert

Ladies and gentlemen, we are witnessing the end of an era.

American Idol is officially losing its vice grip on pop culture. Their ratings are slipping to a point that Dancing With the Stars is taking over the number one spot in terms of viewers (or at least viewers with those weird scanner boxes.

Obviously, the producers are trying to save the sinking ship. It's very logical. They're getting mentors that, while people may hate them, are relatively current- Miley Cyrus and Usher come to mind-and now they're going to get Adam Lambert.

Of course, if you haven't heard me fangirl about this guy already, Adam Lambert is last season's runner up and one of the few contestants that has been able to be a game changer. His performances always resulted in hitting notes people didn't know were possible, stylistic approaches that resulted in him owning the song, and being able to have fun with it. Of course, his high notes and his theatrics did polarize the crowd- some people said that he wailed too obnoxiously, others said that he was a big flaming homo that should not be on a family program, whatever. He made it to the finals and as hard as I tried to vote for the first and only time in my life, he didn't win. Adam sort of got the last laugh, for lack of better terms: He got the cover of Rolling Stone, and Details, as well as an album that debuted at number three on the Billboard charts. He's planning a summer tour and has number one singles in Japan, Canada, and all over Europe. He isn't quite taking over the world just yet, but hey, neither did Kelly Clarkson the first album.

Of course, when news got out that he was the mentor, a lot of people were pissed. American Idol has never had a mentor be one of its past contestants, even though some of them are doing very well in the music industry (Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, and yeah, Kelly Clarkson come to mind). Having a mentor that hasn't had a number one single yet, when they do have a small group of talented contestants to mentor instead, does seem a little odd. A lot of people jumped to conclusions- They assumed that American Idol didn't ask past contestants to possibly mentor, or whatever. No one has details on what went down in terms of getting Adam to mentor. However, a brief run through the situation proves that minus Kelly Clarkson's strained relationship with Idol, the other people were most likely too busy to do the gig, should they have been asked. That and Adam is currently in LA taking some down time before he goes on tour in the summer. He also has a remix EP that has come out this week (get it on iTunes, if only for the song "Voodoo", a super sexy, slick b-side). So the idea of Adam being a mentor is convenient for everyone involved.

While this would be simple enough if it was any other musician, it just isn't. I'm kind of shocked I have gone as far as I have minus the album cover saying anything that pertained to his sexuality. In the long run, it shouldn't matter, however, it sort of means everything in the pop music world.

Adam Lambert, in case you have lived under a very large rock, is gay. He was on the American Music Awards in November and did a super sexual performance that resulted in people complaining to ABC and a pseudo ban from the station. A lot of backlash still lurks because of it. It's not even about the fact that he hit bum notes (which is what I personally had an issue with), but the whole "Adam Lambert did something wrong on TV. Think of the children. His homosexuality is way too much." The whole situation was so messed up, GLAAD didn't even take his side (but then they did... and then they kinda didn't? But then they did again and got him as a performer for their award show so I guess we're all right? Why is my relationship with watchdog groups like I'm in high school?).

But anyway, according to the media for the most part, people were over the AMA performance. Well, so we thought. When news of his mentoring came out, many people turned it to "What has Adam done lately? Did controversial shit at an award show and red carper appearances?" Which is kind of silly. He's appeared on TV a lot for various performances, from The Early Show, to the talk show circuit, to Dancing With the Stars (which was live, so suck on that, media). The only reason why he was kind of MIA in the US was because he's been overseas promoting and getting number one singles like a boss. Of course Europe and Japan likes our gay singer import. What people seem to forget is that Adam is a theatre kid, and a damn good one at that. He knows how to give stage presence and how to be well known, whether it's for good things or not... something that this season full of very quiet singer songwriters need on American Idol, a type of musician that may be pretty safe (see Kris Allen), does not necessarily mean that they're the most successful as American Idol winners (While his single is still living like it's dying, his album sales aren't). Disclaimer: I like Kris Allen. Please don't crucify me for my last statement.

However, this whole entire incident, which should be simple (American Idol needs a mentor that isn't Quentin Tarentino, oh hey, Adam's available), isn't. Enter a quick interview on Entertainment Weekly with American Idol's executive producer Ken Warwick. When asked by the interviewer Do you think having Adam Lambert come in this week is going to shake things up and infuse the show with that added bit of drama that he generally manages to bring to the screen?, Warwick replied with this little gem:

I sincerely hope so. Because the guy is an incredible talent, and he had an incredible following. And it kind of upsets me that at the moment he’s not doing quite as well… [Pauses.] I don’t know what possessed him to do what he did at the AMAs, but he’s still struggling to live it down. And everybody says to me every week, ‘When are you gonna bring back Adam?’ They want to see him as he was. And hopefully we’re gonna do that for him this week, and we can start putting him back firmly where he belongs, as a major star. Because the guy is an incredible talent. He genuinely is. And it kind of breaks my heart to see someone with that much talent struggle a bit. So hopefully we can do back for him as he can do for us.

Okay, I'll take off my cray cray Adam Stan goggles for a second. I will admit that Adam's not ~taking over the world by storm. He's nowhere near as close to the level of sales and presence that Carrie and Kelly have, but at the same time, this theory is sort of irrelevant. While all three come from the same show, they are not the same in terms of fanbase and where they stand in the industry. It's like comparing three kids that go to the same school. Sure, they have the same classes, but one of them might be a cheerleader, another might by a video game nerd, and the other might be a theatre kid. Actually, when you break them down to their genres, Kelly is a poppy girl with a little rock infused sometimes, Carrie is country, and Adam is glam and dance music. Those three genres are not exactly the most similar genres, which result in different fanbases and different types of record sales. Plus, you have to point out that while we live in the twenty-first century: Adam's a gay man. Not only is he a gay man, but he's one of the first musicians to be on a major record label and from the start be open about it. Sure, Elton John is gay. We all know that. But like hell he was out about it at first. While there are a lot of rumors about Kelly Clarkson's sexuality, she sings about guys. She sings heteronormal, safe, music that the general public likes. Adam's lyrical content, though mostly safe, is definitely not about girls, once directly refers to a guy, and another time is very cheeky about the whole thing (Please see "Sure Fire Winners" lyric "And all the girls in the club wanna know/Where did all their pretty boys go?").

However, in terms of Warwick saying that Adam is "struggling" sounds silly and implies that he's trying to do Adam a favor, while saying that fans are requesting for him to make an appearance. So what does this mean, Warwick? Is it Adam that's struggling or is it your show that is?

Another issue I have with this statement has got to be the "firmly putting him back in his place" part. Okay, we all want to see Adam succeed. But with the disdain toward his behavior on the AMA performance, the implication of Adam being in whatever place that Warwick wants him to be is unsettling. The implication that Adam has to change and fit whatever standards Warwick has for him is slightly unnerving. Statements and comparisons have proved over and over again if a girl did a performance such as the AMA performance, she wouldn't have gotten in very much trouble at all (and maybe-gasp!-even got reprimanded for the real issue with the performance, the vocalization of the whole thing). Adam is a combo breaker, and because of it, even the show that brought him to TV screens everywhere doesn't know what to do with him.

Will Adam become an international superstar? He probably has a better chance at it everywhere else, but his home country. The fact that the US does not know how to handle Adam and his presence in the music world proves that while he is very talented, and people know that, it is hard to market an openly gay singer in a world in which propositions taking away his section of the population's rights away. And as for him being a mentor? He will probably do well. No, I don't think he's going to tear someone apart and make them cry, but I honestly believe that if Miley Cyrus could do it, fuck it, so can Adam. It's just disheartening how a TV show, which is supposed to be about, well. Fun, I guess, has become a social commentary for the world and its views toward nonconformist behavior in the music industry and society in general.


  1. I really have no serious comments about Adam being a mentor one way or another...it'll be a needed boost for him, possibly a (much needed) boost for the show, hooray everyone wins!

    But calling Kris "safe" and pointing out his record sales and then saying you can't compare Adam's sales to Carries or Kelly's because he's in a different genre kind of invalidates part of your argument.

    Also...the Elton John comment? Yea, he wasn't out to begin with but you do understand Elton's career started in the 1970's and not the 2000's correct? We have a long way to go as a country in terms of acceptance of GLBT individuals, but in the 70's? Shit, African Americans had been given the right to be equal citizens according to the law not even a decade before Elton had his first hit...and you criticize him for not being out from the start? I seriously can't blame him at all for his decisions considering the social climate of the country at the time. (And to be fair...Adam never explicitly said he was gay while he was on Idol. One would argue that you'd have to be daft to think he was straight...but the same could be said of Elton John and his bejeweled glasses and sequined platforms)

  2. Guh! I just read this and wow. Pretty much everything I wanted to say, I mean he did morning TV over here and bloody hell it was amazing, He's definitely going to be a part of the European pop scene.