A few weeks back, pictures emerged on the internet showing American Idol contestant Adam Lambert making out with anonymous men. There wasn’t much uproar. Sure, a handful of people were put off, because two dudes making out is still bothersome to a subset of the population, plain gross to others and a kick in the crotch to mankind for a small, but significant population of modern zealots. But, the truth was clear: Adam Lambert, in all likelihood, is a gay man. There were the telling cliches from the beginning of his emergence into the spotlight (the hair, the make-up, the theater background, the slightly effeminate way of speaking, all the things that set off a layperson’s gaydar), but it wasn’t an accepted truth until those pictures were released. The matter-of-fact way in which this information has been handled by internet folks is encouraging, a sign of an evolving populous, accepting and open to the homosexual lifestyle, a transition that has been ongoing in our culture, despite occasional atrocities like Prop 8 in California. American Idol has a somewhat shameful past regarding gay contestants, however, and Adam Lambert presents the Idol enterprise with an opportunity for atonement. Will they take that opportunity, or will they ignore it?
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What many would consider a complex issue really isn’t. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. But, it all starts with Adam Lambert. It hinges on two assumptions: 1) Adam Lambert actually is gay, and 2) Adam Lambert, in his personal and family life, is openly gay. The first assumption hasn’t been up for much debate since the make-out pictures came into being, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that Adam is secure enough with his heterosexuality that he has no trouble making out with dudes. Unlikely, but not impossible. For arguments’ sake, however, let’s just assume he’s gay. The second assumption is trickier. We’ve seen his family, both on tape and live for the American Idol tapings and they’ve seemed incredibly supportive of Adam and what he brings to the table. Given his other-worldly confidence (and, believe me, to do what he does on stage, the songs he sings and the way he’s performed them, the man’s confidence is not lacking) and age (he’s 27) it seems likely that if Assumption #1 is true, that Assumption #2 is also true. I wouldn’t bet my life on it, but since he comes from California (an easy place, relatively, to come out of the closet) and he’s been in musical theater since a very young age, it just logically makes since that Adam is out of the closet.
Some history: Jim Verraros, American Idol’s first openly gay contestant, competed on the show’s first season. On his own FOX website profile for the season, Verraros initially alluded to his sexuality, but FOX quickly forced him to remove anything regarding him being gay from the profile, causing controversy in doing so. Verraros has since stated that FOX forced his hand in order to level the playing field, that they didn’t want to give him a leg up on the competition. This logic has never made sense and strikes me as shoddy damage control. Moral of the story is that American Idol has, in the past, avoided the gay issue at all costs with their contestants. While the idea that American Idol wants to only focus on the singing and has no desire to delve into its contestants’ romantic relationships is reasonable enough, Idol’s past doesn’t back it up. Throughout Idol’s history, we’ve witnessed behind-the-scenes footage of singers’ loved ones, girlfriends, boyfriends, divorces, children – basically anything and everything in an Idol’s past and present has been fair game. If Adam Lambert had a hot girlfriend, she would have been featured already.
American Idol could change this path, embrace the cultural openness we’ve been careening towards for years and allow Adam Lambert to come out of the closet on national television. It could be a seminal moment, though I suspect it’s the furthest thing from Executive Producers Simon Fuller’s mind. American Idol, being the ultimate post-modern entity that it is, cares only about creating a product. With Adam Lambert as the out and out favorite to win this season of American Idol, the FOX brass and 19 Entertainment only want to make Adam Lambert a viable commercial commodity. Don’t be fooled – American Idol is not concerned with finding unknown talent and unleashing it upon the world for our sake. They want to find an unknown talent that they can exploit and make money off of. This isn’t cynical, it’s the truth. If and when it works, it works for everyone. Adam Lambert, therefore, is a tricky case. Would his homosexuality, if it were to come into the open, hinder American Idol’s ability to sell Adam as a product?
None of us know Adam Lambert. All speculation is only that – speculation. Does he want to come out of the closet to America? It’s probably more complex than we imagine. For one, Adam, if we are to read into the crowd reactions to his performances, is emerging as a sex symbol. His combination of looks and talent are exactly the ingredients that send young girls into fits of confused hysteria. Adam is like the rebel Jonas brother who threw his purity ring in the toilet. How would certain female regions of his ever-increasing fan base react to the sudden reveal of his sexuality? Even if this question isn’t on Adam’s mind (though I would imagine it is), it is most definitely on the minds of the American Idol executives who not only, as we’ve discussed, see Adam as a product, but look at his legion of young female fans and see the consumers of that product.
Adam Lambert may not be acutely aware of such an issue, but he at least has to sense the possibility of it being potentially significant. Not all gay people are vehement promoters of their “cause.” Actually, it’s probably far less than most would assume. They’re like everyone else, if it wasn’t obvious enough, and most people just like to live their lives and opt not to ruffle feathers unless absolutely necessary. For Adam Lambert, the path of least resistance is to do what American Idol wants him to do, and what American Idol wants him to do almost certainly involves not mentioning the fact that he’s gay to the public. But, what if Adam doesn’t want to hide it? What if Adam sees the passion with which young female fans cheer for him, knowing there’s an attraction there, and decides he no longer wants to perpetrate such a ruse?
With the hectic schedule of an American Idol contestant, there might not be time to even consider such grandiose social issues such as these. Adam is mostly concerned about what song he’s singing next week, and focused on giving great performances to a live audience 25 million strong. American Idol, as we’re often reminded, is a singing competition. Everything else is just filler. There may be no inherent value in bringing a contestant’s sexuality to the forefront. It just seems hypocritical that something like Danny Gokey’s personal history is featured so voraciously and matter-of-factly, when Adam Lambert’s personal life remains shrouded in mystery. Again, it could be Adam’s choice to keep it from the masses. More likely, it’s a tenuously mutual decision.
I’d like to believe that if Adam Lambert came to the Idol producers and told them he wanted to come out of the closet to America in a non-sensationalized manner, perhaps in a tossed-off video package, that Idol would adhere to that request, no questions asked. Unfortunately, that probably wouldn’t happen. What irks me is that I get the feeling that Adam will be completely open about who he is once American Idol is over. I don’t see him pulling a Clay Aiken. And, if that’s the case, that he will be upfront about his personal life once the season ends, any desire by Idol to hide his sexuality for the sake of money-making becomes moot. Might as well let him tear the Band-Aid off now.
While this all could be construed as creating an issue where there is none, I believe its worth discussing. If Adam Lambert is gay, it’s a big part of who he is, just like Michael Sarver’s wife and kids are intrinsic to his persona, just like Megan Joy’s divorce and motherhood is key to her story, just like Lil Rounds’ family has informed her journey. To keep Lambert’s story from the viewers is disingenuous, especially if it’s a story he’s willing to tell.
I hope that you don’t think I’m creating a straw man out of American Idol. While one could see “American Idol” as a cypher for a significant portion of America that clings to their Puritanical values, it isn’t. It’s a specific entity that can act as it so chooses. It airs on the same network that shot good taste in the back of the head by creating The Moment of Truth and the upcoming Osbournes train wreck. In spite of those shows, FOX has been, and will continue to be, progressive. When it comes to American Idol and its gay contestants, though, the evidence speaks for itself. If America is ready for a black president, it can surely handle a gay American Idol winner. Unfortunately, the fact that this is even an issue means that we still have some work to do.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of FOX)