Who:Adam Lambert with Alex Newell
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Riverside Theater, 116 W. Wisconsin Ave.
How much?:$49.50 at the box office, the Pabst Theater box office (144 E. Wells St.), (414) 286-3663 and pabsttheater.org.
March 19, 2016
For years, it seemed Adam Lambert had fallen short of his superstar potential.
Never before, and never again, had there been the level of hype surrounding an “American Idol” contestant as there was during the 2009 season. He gained a passionate fan base, later dubbed “Glamberts,” with his dynamic, Freddie Mercury-style vocals and dramatic stage presence.
The former musical actor appeared on the cover of 2009’s top-selling issue of Rolling Stone, in which he officially announced that he is gay. And even though Lambert lost that season to Kris Allen, an impressive list of artists lined up to contribute to Lambert’s debut album, including Lady Gaga and P!nk.
But the album’s success was overshadowed by Lambert’s controversial performance on the American Music Awards that November, where he kissed his male bassist and engaged in sexually provocative gestures. When Lambert released a follow-up album, “Trespassing,” in 2012, he didn’t even tour the country.
Now Lambert, 34, is back on the road, touring his own music in the States for the first time in six years. He was the top grossing “Idol” alum of 2015, according to Forbes, earning an estimated $10 million last year from his tour with Queen and his album “The Original High.”
Ahead of a return to the Riverside Theater Tuesday, he spoke with the Journal Sentinel about his career trajectory. Below is an edited, condensed transcript of that conversation.
Q.There was so much hype leading up to that first album and the AMAs controversy happened. Do you feel that had any sort of ripple effects?
A. When I came out of “Idol,” the only thing the media wanted to talk about was my sexuality. And in some ways that was really great and I was really proud to be a representative and make no apologies for it. But it became such a focus it pointed me in that direction as far as what I wanted to do on stage.
At the time I really wanted to make a strong, rebellious statement. I didn’t realize it was going to offend people the way it did unfortunately. I was just expressing a vibe. But I learned a lot about how you have to be a little more objective maybe as an artist. I learned what it’s like to make a statement that’s not necessarily going to be the most popular.
And it was interesting because I learned a lot about the media and where we were at as a society at the time. And there was an amazing conversation started about double standards which I thought was very interesting.
Q.How do you feel about society’s response to openly gay performers or gay themes in music in 2016?
A. What I’ve found that is interesting is the majority of people I’ve encountered really don’t care. The people that care the most about it are the media. And in some ways it can be a very good thing because it is helping us progress and it can help us break down stereotypes and it can help break homophobia by talking about it and really exploring it. But in some ways it perpetuates the separateness of it. By talking about it all the time, and pointing it out and slanting articles about it all the time, you’re keeping people separated.
The thing I’m trying to do with my music is it’s not gay, it’s not straight, it’s not black or white, it’s not man or woman, it’s sort of just human.
Q.Do you ever feel, as some of your fans do, you’re not as successful as you deserve to be?
A. This isn’t the Olympics, this is music. It’s not about getting a medal, it’s about moving people, it’s about connecting with people. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the business. It’s not really why I got into it in the first place, so I like to keep my eye not on the prize, but on the experience of getting to create music. I’m very lucky.
The moment my Journal Sentinel interview with Adam Lambert was posted Saturday night, ahead of his Riverside Theater show this Tuesday, the pop star’s devoted Glamberts wasted no time sharing the story, and sharing some candid feedback.
I can’t recall a time where so many fans shared one of my Q&As before. As I write this, the interview is currently the second most popular story on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website.
And while I received some appreciative emails and tweets, several fans also expressed their disappointment (in some cases, severe disappointment) that my interview addressed topics like the possible ripple effects from Lambert’s controversial American Music Awards performance in 2009, but it did not address his new music or other recent accomplishments. That’s a fair criticism.
So here are some more insights from my interview with Lambert, where he discussed the making of his latest album “The Original High,” the songs on the album he’s most proud of, and his experiences touring with Queen. Lambert also told me he’s honoring David Bowie by covering “Let’s Dance” on this tour, so that should be a treat Tuesday.
You can also read more about Lambert’s forthcoming Milwaukee appearance here, where I picked the show as the top concert pick of the week.
Q: I saw you twice in 2010, but then you did “Trespassing” (in 2012) and you didn’t come through. Why did it take you so long to tour in the States?
A: Uh, I needed a hit to be honest with you. (Laughs) That’s just how it works. I’m really grateful (last year’s single) “Ghost Town” really connected with people and this album really connected with people and now I’m touring it. (A hit) makes all of it click. You want your music to connect with people, and when it connects with people you have a reason to go around and share it live. What’s great about this tour is I’m going to do a lot of the music from “Trespassing,” so it’s a double whammy that way. If you were a fan of that album you’re going to hear a lot of favorites on this tour.
Q: Working on this last album, tell me about what you were trying to accomplish and the biggest challenge you were trying to overcome.
A: It was great, I enjoyed the process. I left my old label because it didn’t seem to be working out. And before I signed to another label I made a deal with Max Martin and Shellback who are an amazing production team and were like, “Go to Sweden for two months and start working on music.” And that’s all I had to do when I was there; there were no other distractions besides being in the studio and creating. And that was great for me, that was exactly what I needed. It was a purely creative experience for me as an artist to explore the songs that I wanted to sing, the sounds that I wanted to use, and then I came back to L.A. and finished it. It was the most relaxed and focused process that I’ve had for an album so far. And I feel like because of that groundedness in the process, they helped me put together something that is the most cohesive that I’ve put out. I love the ideas on the album, I love what I’m singing about. In some ways I get to sort of reflect on where I think we are at as a society, how we communicate with each other, how we love each other, how we don’t love each other. It’s about my personal experiences, but its also about us. It has the power of saying you can be this, you can be that, but we all experience this one feeling.
Q: Is there a song on there that you’re most proud of?
A: Putting out “Ghost Town” was really exciting. I’m proud about what it was saying and how it was saying it. It’s painting a really interesting picture of something I haven’t heard put into words before. And “Rumors” is another song I felt was directly addressing the way we all gossip, and the way that stories about people are perpetuated when half the time they’re not really based on any sort of truth, and we all believe in the last thing we heard, and the game of telephone is scary.
Q: Got to ask you about Queen and experience of working with them. How has that influenced or shaped you?
A: It’s been a crazy thing. We’ve been talking my own music, which is me getting to create new music and modern music and look forward and explore uncharted territory, whereas with Queen, I have this amazing treat to be able to sing songs that have been a part of people’s lives for thirty-plus years. I’m in front of an audience, and because these songs are so nostalgic, once the audience is on board and says, “OK, I’m going to accept the fact that this kid Adam is going to sing these and not Freddie,” which let’s be honest, that’s a very difficult hurdle to get over, because Freddie Mercury was unbelievable and I can’t even really compete with him, I’m just up there trying to sing. So once I get the audience to come on board and say, “I know, I know, I miss Freddie too. Let’s all sing these amazing songs together.” And the audience sings with me and it’s been great. It’s a great treat. There’s a sense of joy that comes over an audience that you can feel in the room every time we do a show, and it’s this amazing connective power. And I’m very grateful that I was given the opportunity and the honor to front the band and to experience that with them.