'Tis the Season to Be Gay on Idol ?

By Dave White

Originally published on Advocate.com March 11 2009 11:00 PM ET

An actual conversation I had not so long ago with my heterosexual older brother:

Him: "Have you seen Wicked ? It's fantastic." Me: "No. I don't like Broadway stuff. You know that." Him: "You should see it. [His wife's name] and I saw it and it's amazing." Me: "When it was over, did you immediately begin having sex with men? Because it's a known fact of science that Wicked automatically turns you into a homosexual." Him: "Huh?" Me: "That was a joke. Since the show is so gay metaphor-ish and all." Him: "What's gay about it?"

After fully explaining every single possible thing there was to explain about Wicked to my clueless brother, he still thought I was kidding. What could possibly be gay about a musical that was based on The Wizard of Oz ? No, seriously. He said that. And he went to college. So there you have it, fellow queers. Straight America still doesn't see you.

And yes, OK, they see RuPaul. And they see Carson Kressley. And they see Rosie and Ellen and Melissa. All good. But they didn't see any of them until they got right up on the TV screen and said, "Oh, hi, by the way, have I mentioned I'm a homosexual yet? No? OK, well, then let me correct that. Because that's what's going on." It still needs spelling out a lot of the time. And you can blame the straights for that if you want. Why not? They blame us for stuff all the time. But in their defense, the world is kind of built by them and for them. They're still not used to having to notice us. Especially on a show like American Idol.

Why does Idol matter to this discussion? Because even though the ratings are slipping, it's still the number 1 show on American television. It's popular culture at its biggest, shiniest, dumbest, loudest, and blandest. People you know will be talking about it this week, whether you want to participate in the conversation or not. And they will be talking about former Wicked cast member Adam Lambert.

AMERICAN IDOL JIM VERRAROS OZ X390 (GRAB) | ADVOCATE.COM

They will talk first about how his voice might possibly be capable of shattering a human skull. Then they'll talk about his Christian Siriano-meets-Pete Wentz hair. And his Lizard King pants and foot-long tongue and black nail polish. And then, if they're bored and clicking all over the Internet at work, they'll talk about those pictures of him in drag and making out with guys that are all over the place right now.

But will American Idol talk about it? Ever? Up until now the show has what seems to be an unofficial rule that allows heterosexual contestants to talk about their lives ad nauseam -- here's my family, here's my baby out of wedlock, here's my wife, here's my dead wife -- but keeps gay contestants on a kind of lockdown . And while any possible lesbian singers seem to fly under the radar, the guys never quite accomplish that feat. Season 1 top 10 contestant Jim Verraros had the queer details of his life erased from his online presence until that season ended. He wasn't closeted until the show shoved him back in for a bit. Clay Aiken, torn between his Barry Manilow-like fame and the truth, waited for five years to say what everyone except for his most delusional fans had already figured out.

AMERICAN IDOL DAVID HERNANDEZ DANNY NORIEGA OZ X390 (FOX) | ADVOCATE.COM

But the show seems to be losing its ability to control contestants in its iron grip. Last season's Danny Noriega and David Hernandez are good examples of the door coming off its hinges. Hernandez was an all-American boy who displayed few if any of the flaming qualities that Family Guy 's "Family Gay" episode presented last week to a national audience. But he had worked as a bartender and go-go boy in a gay bar. Translation: probably not straight. And then he was gone from Idol before he had a chance to speak about his life. Who knows if he would have or not.

Noriega, on the other hand, didn't have to speak about his life because it was all up there onstage at CBS Television City. Every flip of his hair, every snap of his neck, every sassy word flung at Simon Cowell drew a very visible homo line in the sand. But again, he was voted off before he had a chance to take it as far as you know he wanted to. Something about him screamed, "I will make out with some random guy from the audience if given half the chance, and I will do it right here, live on national television, just to freak you out."

That would have been interesting to watch. Live television means anything can happen. And we're getting to the place where it just might. This season's Nathaniel? Same as Noriega, only gayer, and again, already voted off.

AMERICAN IDOL CLAY AIKEN OZ X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

That leaves Lambert. There's no need to debate much about his sexuality. He's not officially "out," but that's not the point. If something as formerly monumental as a public person's gayness can suddenly be seen as post-mattering, then that's what really matters now. Furthermore, it seems like the audience now cares less about flamboyance than it does about whether or not the flamboyant one can sing.

But if a "family" show like Idol wants to try to impose an old-school restriction on him -- a man seemingly unconcerned with hiding or changing at all -- then let them try. Lambert may or may not comply with whatever behind-the-scenes restrictions he's asked to abide by. But he's probably sticking around for the duration. And he's already a seasoned enough pro to know that there's a certain way to play the game to get what you want.

So if the Fancy-Haired One doesn't make an on-camera joke about his drag pictures or demand that a boyfriend (if there is one) be included in his weekly clip package, it'll most likely be because of careerism and not shame. Because he knows when to speak and when to sing.

Still, though, this is live television…