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Interview with Pop Star Adam Lambert

Aired March 9, 2011 - 06:30:00   ET


ANJALI RAO, HOST: Two years ago, he could only have dreamed of walking the red carpet. These days, Adam Lambert has come a long way from playing an understudy in a musical.





RAO: It was on the TV talent show, "American Idol" that saw the then 26- year-old win over a legion of fans. And, with this performance --


RAO: -- he also won over the famously hard-to-please Simon Cowell. Despite not winning the title, he secured a record deal and climbed singles charts around the world with this song:


RAO: And his first album with this title track --


RAO: -- has now sold more than three quarters of a million copies. But he's not just known for his music. Adam Lambert also made headlines when he publicly acknowledged during an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine that he's gay. And when he kissed a male band member during a performance at a recent awards ceremony.

This week on "Talk Asia", we're in Hong Kong with Adam Lambert during his first world concert tour.

Adam, welcome to Hong Kong.


RAO: Welcome to "Talk Asia".


RAO: So this is your first headlining tour, "Glam Nation", and it's just selling out concert venues everywhere you go. And, since "Idol", you have been this sort of juggernaut, just powering through. Is this what they call "living the dream"?

LAMBERT: Yes. And this is called working really hard to try to hang on to it. I think that that's the thing that a lot of people don't see in the music industry is that you finally get that chance. And if you don't have the work ethic and the drive to keep it up, I think that it can slip right through your fingers.

RAO: Exactly, because, you know, there are so many "American Idol" contestants before who, you know, did really well on the show. LAMBERT: Yes.

RAO: But they're all these "whatever happened to so-and-so" stories. Were you concerned that, "oh, my God, that might be me"?

LAMBERT: Of course. You know, I thought, you know, I didn't know what to expect after the show ended. I knew there was a lot of interest and excitement and I'm just thrilled that I had two singles that did well in the U.S. and, even more than that, that are doing well internationally.

And, to me, that's like a sigh of relief because I go, "OK, I did something right, songs are working, that means the record company is still going to want to hang on to me and I get to keep doing what I love."

RAO: Your debut album, "For Your Entertainment", it has done really, really well.

LAMBERT: Yes, it's been great.

RAO: And it features, you know, some of the biggest acts of today. You know, Pink was on there, Lady Gaga was on there -- Tell us about the experience of making your first record.

LAMBERT: I didn't really know what to expect because I had to do it so quickly. You know, you come off of Idol, and then they schedule a tour for you to do, so we had to get it done in about two and a half months. All the recording. And that's very little time for the 18 songs that were recorded.

And so, I was tired and I was run down. It was really interesting, too, because I didn't quite know exactly what direction I wanted to go in. On "Idol", I performed a lot of classic rock, some songs from the '80s.

But the majority of everything was older, it was retro, because I feel like maybe I'm more of a throwback. That was kind of my take on the direction I wanted to go in for that show, because it was all cover music.

When it came time to do original music I thought, "Well, you can't really do a whole album that sounds like classic '70s rock because it's so specific. Maybe a couple songs should, but you know, I'm not going to get a song on the radio if it sounds like it's from 1975. I want to do something current, I want to do something contemporary, but then blend it with my influences."

So, that was a big challenge. To take the old and the new and kind of marry it together for today's music.

RAO: You've certainly come a very long way for a guy who said that he was, you know, afraid of rejection and terrified at the idea of taking risks. Because "American Idol" must have been just absolutely jam packed with both of those things.

LAMBERT: Yes. I mean, it was -- I remember the first couple episodes I was so nervous. I was, like, shaking. Hopefully, no one saw that, like I had the game face on.

RAO: You couldn't tell.

LAMBERT: But I -- you know, after a couple of weeks, I finally relaxed a little bit and really started having fun with it. But yes, I mean, I couldn't believe I was actually doing it. I would get off the stage and be like, "I can't believe I just performed on camera for 30 million plus people. That's insane."

And so I stopped trying to wrap my head around it, because that just made me even more nuts. You know, so I was like "OK, just ignore the cameras. You're on stage doing what you've always done. This is just a game, it's a challenge, and you're trying to win, so keep going."

RAO: You did come across as very confident, even at your audition. You did "Rock With You" and "Bohemian Rhapsody".


RAO: You couldn't tell in the slightest bit if you were nervous.


KARA DIOGUARDI, AMERICAN IDOL JUDGE: What are you going to sing for us?

LAMBERT: "Bohemian Rhapsody".



LAMBERT: I was so nervous during that audition, man. But I was also really tired. I'd been waiting all day and that kind of helps kind of dull the nerves down a little bit.


RAO: What was it like, standing up there week after week, after you've sung your heart out, waiting to hear whether the judges -- especially Simon -- were going to love you or just trash you?

LAMBERT: You know, I realized very quickly that I couldn't put too much weight on their response. Because they're just three people and opinions are subjective. Everybody has them. I know, as a viewer of the show, so many times I would sit there and disagree very passionately with the three judges when I watched it.

So, I thought, "Well, you know, if I take what they say to heart too much, then, you know, the audience is going to see that and --" I don't know. I know what I just did was either good or bad and sometimes it was a mess. And I would go, "Yes, that was kind of crazy."

You know, sometimes I actually was really thrilled with a performance and I would get a mixed bag reaction and I'd be like, "Well, I liked it. I had fun. I know the audience had fun, you know." And just be who I am up there.

RAO: Simon always said, "Oh, you know, you're too stagey".

LAMBERT: Right, right. Well, it was my favorite thing in the beginning with the first audition that Simon said, "Well, you're theatrical". And I said, "Well, is that a bad thing?" I don't -- I mean, some of my favorite pop stars are theatrical. So, I really wanted --

RAO: Such as?

LAMBERT: Such as Madonna, such as Michael Jackson, such as even Justin Timberlake and Usher and Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and Pink -- you name it. Pop is a little bit theatrical. That's the whole vibe. That's the point -- is that it's great music, great melodies, great hooks. But, on top of it, it's a presentation. There's a showmanship about it. And that's why I wanted to be a pop star.

RAO: You became such a recognizable personality on that show. And it even became known as the "Adam Lambert Show" for that particular season. It was like everybody knew that you were going to win. That was it -- that was just fact.

LAMBERT: I didn't know.


RYAN SEACREST, AMERICAN IDOL HOST: The winner of "American Idol 2009" is - - Kris Allen.


RAO: And then you didn't.

LAMBERT: Yes. Well, I didn't -- I mean, that was the thing that was so funny is that, like, in the bubble I wasn't really aware of how I was being received. I knew I kept making it through. I would read things here and there and be like, "OK, people are liking what I'm doing". But you didn't really get a sense of what people were talking about, what the buzz was.

And so, since then, I've heard a lot of people say, like, "Oh, we all thought you would win." And I'd be like, "You did? I didn't." I didn't think I was going to get past seven. I thought, you know, I'm going to just creep in there for a couple of weeks and then I'm too weird and I'm going to --


RAO: So you genuinely weren't shocked when Kris Allen beat you?

LAMBERT: No. I wasn't shocked at all. In fact, I kind of -- I wasn't surprised. You know, I was surprised that I got to the final. That, in itself, to me, was winning for me. Getting to the finale -- getting to the very end of the show, being as different as I was and I knew that it wasn't necessarily about the title.

It wasn't about first or second place to me. I knew, at that point, that I would get an opportunity to be signed. I knew that I would have management. I knew that the door had been flung wide open for my career. And that's why I auditioned for the show. I wanted further opportunities. And so, I was thrilled that I made it that far and that I got to sing that many songs for America and for the world.

RAO: One of the things that's sort of a pitfall, I suppose, of being on a reality TV show, is that when you come off it, you can't escape the association. And that credibility can be a big problem for some people. Was that something that ever bothered you?

LAMBERT: I had started to do research on the record industry and how to make it as an artist. And I started writing demos and working with producers. And what I came to find very quickly is that it's very hard to break into unless you're a sure thing.

And I didn't have any luck. I would try to make some connections, no one was interested. So, I thought to myself, you know, I really just need a platform. I need to, like, do it quickly. I need to get myself out there. I need to gain some notoriety and have a form of celebrity, because I feel like that's the only way a record label is going to take a chance on me.

I think, had I not auditioned for it, I wouldn't be anywhere. So, I'd rather live with maybe a little bit of stigma or a little bit of the "cred issue" as opposed to living in my studio apartment in Hollywood and still making demos on "Garage Band".


RAO: One of the things that really just wasn't a shock was when you came out to the world as gay.

LAMBERT: Yes, right? Surprise.


RAO: Yes, right.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the most earth-shattering news to come out of Hollywood in ages.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Adam Lambert, American Idol's flashy runner-up confirms in the new issue of "Rolling Stone Magazine" that, yes, he's gay. And people everywhere are expressing their shock.

OK, maybe people weren't exactly surprised by the news.


RAO: One of the things that really just wasn't a shock was when you came out to the world as gay.

LAMBERT: Yes, right? Surprise.


RAO: Yes, right. Hello? And that was in an article for "Rolling Stone Magazine". Were you at all concerned about the reaction that you might get on the back of it?

LAMBERT: Well, I mean, I knew that there were going to be certain people that didn't know, although those people I would question their awareness. But I think, you know, I think it was more important for me to just be honest and be open about who I was. That's always been something that's been very important to me.

I came out of the closet at 18. I was out to everybody. It wasn't a big secret. I was just never --

RAO: Yes. Your mum says she knew forever.

LAMBERT: Yes. I know. And it was like, you know, I've been doing musical theater. I had been going out and socializing in the gay community in Los Angeles. And so, it wasn't a big secret. I wasn't' hiding anything. No one ever asked.

A lot of people I've talked to since, you know -- even people within the gay and lesbian community look at it like, "well why were you hiding it?" And I'm like, "I didn't hide it." I didn't flag it around; I didn't put it on a bullhorn because I didn't feel like that was part of what I was doing there.

You know, I auditioned for "American Idol" to be a recording artist and an entertainer. I didn't audition for "American Idol" to be a spokesperson for the gay and lesbian community.

RAO: Some have surmised that, you know, even the vague suggestion that you might have been gay affected your chances on "American Idol" and I know that you've even said, "It's probably true".

LAMBERT: Probably.

RAO: Does it sadden you that, you know, that view does still exist, or do you just have to shrug your shoulders and get on with it?

LAMBERT: I think that's exactly it. It's like, "Well, it is what it is." That's the current state of the country I live in. It's, you know, it's a hot issue right now. It's something sensitive. We are a minority. I mean, there's, you know, social political things happening surrounding the gay community right now.

It was very timely, I think, that it did come up when it did. I think it reflected pop culture. But I think, you know, at the end of the day, you can only focus on the positive and just kind of push forward.

And now, since having come out with an album, having two hit singles on the radio, I think that that's further proof that people are willing to look past it. So, I think that we're progressing.

RAO: Do you see yourself as somebody who can, I suppose, help promote gay rights in America, or would you rather leave the crusading to other people and just concentrate on the music?

LAMBERT: You know, I haven't really decided yet, to be honest with you. I definitely have my opinions that I'm very vocal about and I'm not afraid to put them out there. Now, the thing is, is that I know that I have people listening to me and that's one of the great things about fame, is you have an audience.

So, if I can do something good with it and if I can lend my support to the cause, then great. But I'm kind of in the middle. I can't -- I haven't decided exactly which path I want to go down, you know?

RAO: You do seem to have the publicity thing down.

LAMBERT: I just talk a lot, that's the problem.

RAO: Well, I mean, you know, I suppose nowhere was that more evident than at the American Music Awards in 2009.

LAMBERT: That was a really interesting experience.

RAO: Indeed. For everybody.

LAMBERT: Yes, yes.

RAO: Because, you know, for anybody that doesn't know, you snogged a male band member.

LAMBERT: Oh, yes.

RAO: And, you know, you did really well in the complaints department.


RAO: 1,500 right off the bat.


RAO: "Good Morning America" cancelled your appearance.

LAMBERT: Yes. Oh, yes.

RAO: What did you make of the whole fuss?

LAMBERT: You know, in the -- at the time that it happened, I was pretty overwhelmed, as I'm sure you can imagine. I mean, this was my first big TV appearance post-Idol. But the thing was is that, in my mind, my journey -- there was so much more that led up to that moment.

I was on tour all summer and what I encountered on my tour in the United States was that I had a very, very passionate group of fans. We call them the "Glamberts". And these women, most of them are women, were throwing bras at me on stage and screaming. And I would do one little hip roll and they'd freak out.

And so, I came to think, "Oh, that's what my audience wants from me. My audience wants me to be this, like kind of sexy guy." And I was like, "They get a kick out of it, and that's my gig is entertaining, so -- OK, alright, that's who I am as an artist. OK, I'm getting it."

Came out with my first single, which had lyrics that were very suggestive and risque. And I put together a number that just reflected those lyrics, reflected the type of artist that I thought my fans wanted me to be. And I got a little carried away on stage. These were things that kind of happened impromptu. The kiss, some of the raunchy choreography --

RAO: I know what you mean.

LAMBERT: That was something that just kind of happened. It has consequences on live TV, apparently. And it was something that, in the aftermath of it, I thought, "Oh, my gosh, did I screw up? Did I mess up?" And looking back on it now, like a year later, I realize that it might have been a little too soon, timing wise, for people.

I mean, I have so much I could say about it, it's crazy. That whole thing was crazy because I still think that there is a little bit of a stigma because of that one performance. And, you know, I think people are going to think what they're going to think and, hopefully, I've been able to redeem myself.

RAO: Really think that people are still sort of holding a grudge about that?

LAMBERT: Maybe not about that particular performance itself, but maybe that performance maybe took some people and alienated them and maybe go, "That guy's not for me".

RAO: And did you feel like it was a double standard? I mean, of course --

LAMBERT: Oh, yes.

RAO: -- like Madonna and Britney Spears, Madonna and Christina Aguilera, etcetera, etcetera.

LAMBERT: Well, I mean, and that's something, you know, at the time I reacted like, "wait a minute, wait a minute". You know, Madonna, Britney, and Christina, they all kissed on stage and no one had a problem. I mean, people didn't freak out about that.

And I knew it was because I was a gay man. You can identify as a gay man, but the minute you show it to people, they're like, "Oh, don't put it in my face". You know, "Oh, you're pushing your lifestyle on me". And that's something I hear a lot.

And it's like, "Well, you know, the straight lifestyle is pushed on me every time I turn on TV."

RAO: Good point.

LAMBERT: So, I mean, are we after equality? Are we after comfort? Who knows? But I've learned a lot about what people are comfortable with, what they're not comfortable with. And, yes, I'm subversive. Yes, I want to push buttons. Yes, I want to expand boundaries.

But, at the end of the day, I want people to just have a good time. I don't want to make everybody uncomfortable. I want people to enjoy music and dance and smile.

RAO: Coming up, before the glam. We find out about the young Adam Lambert. Plus:

LAMBERT: Why is he wearing shorts and flip-flops? Lambert in flip-flops? Yeah, I'm a person.


RAO: Now you grew up in a conservative area of San Diego. It's not that easy to picture you in any sort of conservative setting, to be honest.


RAO: What was life like as little Adam Lambert?

LAMBERT: It was, you know, even in San Diego, it was a little conservative. Maybe not as bad as certain areas of the United States, but I was definitely kind of the weird kid, for sure. I remember for a while I was wearing all black and, you know, like large sweatshirts and, like, tight sweatpants and, you know, slicking my hair over.

I don't know, I was so strange. But I was that kid, you know, that was just trying to express himself. And I was very drawn to the arts at an early age. My parents put me in a theater group when I was about 10 years old. And I excelled in theater and really took to it.

And not only did I love the art form of it, but I think the social interaction that I got from it was really important for me. Because, kids at my public school were kind of like, "This kid is so weird." So it was good for me to find people that were also eccentric and artistic.

And yes, I grew up and I knew at about sixth grade that I probably liked boys more than I liked girls. And I kept it to myself. I kept it kind of private because I knew that it would be difficult. Because I didn't know anybody else that was open about their sexuality and alternative sexuality.

And so, as soon as a graduated high school, I kind of, like, liberated and came out and said, "OK, you know, by the way, I'm gay." And everybody went, "Yes, we know."


LAMBERT: "We figured."

RAO: so, when you were hiding your sexuality, do you think that that was what was responsible for your well-publicized self-esteem issues?

LAMBERT: Probably, yes. That's probably a big part of it. I didn't have any way to get any sort of validation. You know, I think, especially, like your teenage years, I think people, you know, start going on dates and have their first kiss and all these rituals that we have when you're coming of age.

And I didn't really experience any of those. But the thing that I look back on is that the only place that I felt confident was on stage. That was like the -- that was safer for me than regular life. That was the place where, like, I knew that I was good at it. I knew that people were looking at me, so I was getting my validation.

I could be whoever I wanted to be. I didn't have to be myself. I could wear a costume and makeup and all this, so I didn't have to be me. I could put on a disguise. And, at the time, that was really, really protective for me.

RAO: Then, of course, there was the transformation to the Adam Lambert that the world knows now. What's the transition been like for you, going from pretty much anonymous to barely being able to walk down the street and having reporters banging down your door?

LAMBERT: It's strange. Fame is a very strange animal. At times, it can provide a lot of benefit. I mean, I get to, like, go amazing places and, you know, travel first class and go to this restaurant. And there's things that are really fun and kind of ridiculous about it.

But then there is the pitfall of it. And the anonymity thing -- I do miss it sometimes. I miss being able to just have a normal day. Or just go where I want -- having freedom. I mean, it definitely puts, like, a clamp on your freedom.

RAO: Without the paparazzi following you?

LAMBERT: Yes. Paparazzi and fans and people. And I realize that all of it's good. That it's all -- they're just curious, they're just interested. But one of the things I've experienced with paparazzi and media in general is that, unless you do like a really deep full, like, interview like we're doing right now, it's so easy for people to take things out of context or paint you in a very one-dimensional light.

And that's been one of the frustrating things about it, is that I think that it's so easy to look at somebody from the outside and go, "Oh, that person's this." And they write them off or they label them or we, you know, we paint them as this thing. Where, in actuality, I have a lot of sides to who I am.

No, I don't wear leather pants and eyeliner and glitter on the beach. Of course not.


LAMBERT: Of course I don't. You know, I hear people -- you know, like, "Why is he wearing shorts and flip-flops? Lambert in flip-flops?" Like, yes. I'm a person, you know?

RAO: Without his guy liner?

LAMBERT: Yes. And I think -- I think that's the thing that's so funny to me, is that we, like, build up these personas as one dimensions, and, as people that we feel can't be anything else. And I think people want to see me as this -- just this strange gay singer. And, in actuality, I'm just a regular guy.

You know, I do walk around in a t-shirt and jeans. And I do kick it on the weekends with friends and go eat and have a glass of wine. You know what I mean? Like, I do normal things. I just chose to look a little bit strange. And, when I'm on stage or shooting a video or recording a song or doing a photo, I express myself by being outlandish. But that's just all performance.



RAO: You've described your music as "70s and '80s glam rock put into a time capsule and blasted off into the future".


RAO: Beautiful imagery.


RAO: Speaking of futures, what do you want for yours?

LAMBERT: I just hope that I can hang on to what I've got right now. And hopefully grow it. I'm very, very lucky to be performing nightly right now on my tour. I have an album out. I have music videos. I have fans that are looking at what I'm doing and enjoying my music. And I just want to be able to hold on to that. Because it can so easily slip out.

So, I'm just going to keep making more music and keep entertaining people.

RAO: Adam, it was a great pleasure to meet you.

LAMBERT: Thank you.

RAO: Thank you so much for spending time with us today.

LAMBERT: Yes. My pleasure. Thank you.