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The Lambert Factor

The Lambert Factor


American Idol may have its first openly gay contestant, and while the blogosphere and American voters seem to be saying it doesn't matter, Dale Hrabi thinks it does.

COMMENTARY: As American Idol 's eighth season has unfolded, I've been intrigued by how blase viewers claim to be about front-runner Adam Lambert's apparent homosexuality: "It doesn't matter if he's gay!!!" strenuously indifferent tweens protested on message boards. "Who cares?!" self-described horny moms declared. Even Monica Crowley, a conservative radio host given to smearing President Obama, gushed, "The gay factor -- if, in fact, this is true -- is not going to have any effect!"

For all its irrelevance, Lambert's gay factor has been hard to miss. Leaked photos of the hunky, tweezed emo dude smooching another guy have flooded the Web. Videos of his pre- Idol performances hit YouTube, suggesting that he revels in Lycra and enjoys dry-humping male backup dancers. Gossips revealed that shadowy figures in the world of musical theater had recruited the San Diego native as a 10-year-old, casting him in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown as Linus, the only Peanut with a lisp.

While the extraordinarily talented Lambert, 27, hasn't acknowledged the rumors, he has added more diaphanous scarves to his outfits.

The blogosphere has not been entirely accepting. A few homophobes have boldly pointed out that not only did God not create Adam and Steve, he would never cast a gay man in Wicked (in which Lambert toiled for two years). Although such comments provoked some muddled outrage ("You're all queeraEUR|he's not gay!"), most bloggers continued to spew tolerance: Who cares, what's the big deal, it simply doesn't matter!

I'm not so sure.

A record 97.5 million votes were cast in last year's Idol finale, more than in the 1996 presidential election. To win Idol you need vast mainstream support of the broadest, most Hallmark-cardish, ham-and-grits sort. For someone as conspicuously unstraight as Lambert to do so would arguably represent change we can believe in.

Inevitably, many of the same Californians who invoked "family values" to deny gays the right to marry have been watching Lambert. They've seen his proud parents radiate a reassuring J. Crew banality. They may have grown confused. As if acknowledging this threat, Bill O'Reilly dredged up the Lambert kissing photos on the April 6 edition of his Fox News show, manfully wincing at the prospect that Lambert might win.

It doesn't matter!

Perhaps, but it may be worth mentioning that Idol itself has been a hotbed of gay panic throughout the Bush administration, as anyone who's watched Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest hurl closet puns at each other for seven years now. Insufficiently virile male contestants from previous seasons -- Clay Aiken, Jim Verraros, some guy named Mario who liked his hats -- lived in fear of Simon's coded "too Broadway" critique.

And this is where the question of Lambert's sexuality gets interesting -- and relatively easy for evangelicals to ignore. He's neither particularly fey nor straight. He's like a small-town quarterback who just happens to adore capelets. Given to smoldering stares and fond of raven-black hair dye, he eerily resembles Elvis (by way of the Jonas Brothers). And bigots love themselves some Elvis.

That might seem to assure Lambert a long career. Despite a slick, calculating side, however, he's not especially skilled at pandering. He looks like the King but performs more like Queen's Freddie Mercury. Lambert's supremely strange, snake-charmer version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" on Country Night left Simon speechless and probably cost Lambert a few Southern votes.

So, we'll see. If he can somehow hypnotize dissenters and resist the music industry's attempts to safely "package" him, Lambert could emerge as something truly new -- an aggressively sexual, unapologetically theatrical, non-child-molesting, gay American mainstream pop star with political potency. (Little Richard? Too cutesy. Michael Stipe? Too depressed. Rufus Wainwright? Half Canadian.)

Tweens may not think "it" matters, but the week after the gay photo scandal broke, Lambert let the country know his thoughts on the topic, snarling out a defiant version of Michael Jackson's "Black or White." Pugnaciously articulating lines like "I ain't scared of nobody when the goin' gets mean" and "I told them about equality," he offered plenty of subtext for those who wished to find it. By the time he got to "I saw you kicking dirt in my eye," he was full-scale pissed. It was one of the most authentic moments in Idol history.

Afterward, he listened attentively as Paula Abdul struggled to extol him coherently, something that takes real courage.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Dale Hrabi