"Adam Lambert: The Ultimate Interview", LA Times, August 2009 (Four-Part Interview)

By Fred Bronson for the LA Times

(Terra’s note: Best interview ever. Reading this interview I just wanna give him a hug or something — and not in a creepy way pls people — Quite an inspiring interview, really! Fred Bronson, you’re my favourite music journalist from now on. The RS interview has been pwned!)

Part I: The Early Years

06:24 PM PT, Aug 4 2009


American Idol” runner-up Adam Lambert sat down with writer Fred Bronson for a wide-ranging interview. In Part One, Lambert talks about his early musical influences.

We know from watching “American Idol” that you were raised in San Diego, but where were your parents living when you were born?

I was born Jan. 29, 1982, in Indianapolis, Ind. I believe I was conceived on their honeymoon in Puerto Rico. I should have a little T-shirt that says, “Conceived in Puerto Rico.” They had me about nine months after their wedding.

My parents moved me out of Indianapolis when I was about a year old. My mom and dad said: “This isn’t the right fit for us. We want to go somewhere else.” So a job opportunity opened up for [my dad] in San Diego and we moved.

Where in San Diego did you grow up?

North County, mostly. When we first moved out there, it was Rancho Bernardo and then we ended up moving when I was 4, maybe 5. Right around the time my brother was born, [we moved] to Rancho Peñasquitos, which is just inland of Del Mar, and that’s where we settled.

What is your earliest memory of music?

My dad was a college DJ, so he had a really huge record collection and he is very proud of it. There was always music playing in the house, all vinyl. He was a Deadhead, so there was some Grateful Dead, which I never really got into. There was a lot of classic rock. Bob Dylan. Bob Marley was playing a lot. My dad has really good taste in music.

Do you remember playing his vinyl albums?

At some point later in my life he would let me touch the records. That was a big deal though because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Where else did you hear music? Did you listen to the radio or shop at a local record store?

I never was a big radio listener, probably because my dad listened to his records. As I got older, I had a stereo and I had tapes. I was more into playing the tapes than the radio.

I remember going to the Wherehouse and buying the two-for-one CDs. The first tape I remember having was Paula Abdul’s “Shut Up and Dance” remixes tape, which I was very into. I remember having an Elvis karaoke tape.

And singing along to it?

Oh, yeah. This karaoke machine was really cool. I also had Wilson Phillips, Mariah Carey’s “Emotions.” These are my first CDs. I remember them quite clearly.

When did you realize you had musical talent?

At 10 years old, I was put into a musical theater company, a children’s theater company. I was really creative early on and I think my parents were trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I had a lot of energy. I was hyper and they put me in indoor soccer and T-Ball and I didn’t really love it. I was in the Cub Scouts at one point. They tried everything — swimming lessons and other activities — but I was very creative at home and wanted to play dress-up and make believe and recite things, so they figured that theater was a natural fit.

I got into all the musicals and the first time I realized [I had talent] I was doing a production of “Fiddler On the Roof” and there’s this scene where this Russian guy has a featured solo in the “L’Chaim” number. It’s like a bar scene. He’s the big guy that holds the note forever. It’s that big showoff moment, and I was playing that part.

How old were you at that point?

I was 12 or 13 and I really enjoyed singing it and all of a sudden, everybody was saying, “He’s got a really great voice,” and there was all this buzz. All the parents were saying, “He can really sing,” and the director said, “You sound great. Do it again,” and he was showing me off, having me do it for all the other kids. That was when I started taking voice lessons and knew this is something I really like. I’m good at it.

And that was kind of my thing. I didn’t like doing stuff unless I was good at it and I didn’t like trying to get good at something. I wanted to just do what I was already good at. Like soccer, I was having to work at it so I didn’t like it. I didn’t like to practice piano, it was so foreign to me. But there was something about singing — the idea of using my voice, I was very comfortable with that.

A lot of my early singing was more mimicking. I copied things. That’s how I learned how to sing at first, by copying.

What were you copying? Songs from musicals?

A lot of theater stuff. I listened to a lot of cast albums. I had “Les Miz” and “Miss Saigon.” I was obsessed with “Phantom of the Opera.” I remember when the revival of “Grease” came out, I had that CD. Right as I was going into high school, “Rent” came out. That was a big deal. The cool thing is that my dad had the concept recording of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and showed it to me, and “Tommy.” That was really cool for us because it was his world and my world kind of coming together, the idea that they were musicals. He loved that we had something in common and we both loved the “Jesus Christ Superstar” recording and we sat and we listened to it a couple times.

In 1994, there was a production of “Tommy” at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, and that’s how it became a Broadway show. We went together and he got really into it.

Was “Tommy” the first Broadway show you ever saw?

No, I remember seeing “Phantom of the Opera” in L.A. when I was a kid and it was very exciting and I think “Les Miz” came through the Civic Theater in San Diego. “West Side Story” was on tour. I remember seeing a couple national tours come through. When I was a kid, because I had gotten into theater, my younger brother started getting into it, too, and my mom got us head shots and an agent up here in L.A. So we would commute for auditions all the time.

For theater?

Hardly ever for theater. It was for commercials, TV, jobs like that. I did one commercial when I was a kid and you can hardly tell it was me. My brother got a ton of work. He was luckier than I was.

What was the commercial?

It was a Century 21 commercial. I must have been 11. I ran around with a dog in the front yard and they did a crane shot. I was out of school for the day and I thought it was the coolest thing. That was the first professional thing.

Were you cast in any of your high school’s musicals?

Yes, back in San Diego, as an after-school activity. Plus I was in the Metropolitan Educational Theatre for eight years. It was run by a man named Alex Urban.

Is that the theater group we saw you visit on “American Idol”?

Yes. That was a highlight. I also worked with a woman named Lynne Broyles, who is my voice teacher. And she had a little community theater company and we did some performances with that. Then in high school, I was in chorus and I was also in the drama club and I sang with a jazz band, so I had a bunch of different outlets. And there was also a thing that they did in high school called Air Bands. It’s a big deal in San Diego and it’s almost like a staged music video. Everybody lip syncs but it’s like a performance. It’s hard to explain. It’s like a choreographed staged costume concert. You know, if you look at Janet Jackson or Madonna or Michael Jackson, their concerts are really stylized. And it was like kids taking music and creating medleys and costuming and building sets and creating a storyline through them. It was this big competition in San Diego and I got really involved in that in high school and I look back now and realize there was so much that went into it and I got so passionate about it that I think that kind of mentality of putting together a show from start to finish is definitely going to come in handy in the future. It did on “Idol,” [the idea that] I had to put a number together.

What did you learn from taking voice lessons?

I reconnected with my voice teacher because of “Idol” and I invited her to come to the show. I asked her, “What was it like when I first came in? What was going on?” And she said, “You had this seamless sound to your voice, but you wanted to understand it. You wanted me to explain physically how it worked all the time and when you couldn’t hit a note, you wanted to know why and you wanted to fix it.” She told me, “You were really intense about it,” and that was very interesting to me. I remember [bringing her] the “Jesus Christ Superstar” recording and all those high screams that they do, and I said, “Teach me how to do this,” and she replied, “You don’t teach that sound. That’s something you just make. I think you might have to get older to make that noise.” So I waited.

Aside from the commercial you did when you were a child, what other early professional work did you do?

At about 16, I auditioned for the Starlight Theatre, which is an outdoor theater company down in Balboa Park. It’s a semi-professional thing; we got paid a little bit but it wasn’t union. We would literally have to freeze for planes going over because it’s right in the path of the San Diego airport. So there were little stoplights in the orchestra pit and if a plane was coming, it would go yellow and red and you would freeze. It was crazy.

I was in the ensemble for both “Hello, Dolly!” and “Camelot” and then the next summer, I did shows at Moonlight Amphitheatre, in Vista up in North County. I did “The Music Man” and “Grease” and I played Captain Hook in “Peter Pan.”

While you were doing this theater work, were you also listening to rock music?

In high school I started watching MTV and listening to pop music. As random as it sounds, I was really into Missy Elliott and I remember that Britney and Christina had just come out and ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys. I liked all the dance remixes.

You mentioned being in a jazz band during high school, so you were exposed to all kinds of music.

When I was younger, I listened to a lot of musical theater and then as I got older, I wanted to hear cool pop music.

The jazz band would have guest singers for their concerts and that was a really good educational experience too because that was the first time that I was singing with a full band. Even in the theater company, we didn’t have an orchestra. It was all piano because it was cheap. But then at Starlight, there was an orchestra and all the school musicals had an orchestra, so I started finally getting experience working with a full band. But the jazz band was cool because it wasn’t musical theater. It was swing standards, so that was a departure for me and I did some Sammy Davis Jr. You know, standards like “Paper Moon.”

Were those standards new to you?

I had heard them here and there but a lot of them were new and I would have to learn them. We did some blues. It was very educational. And then in choir, we were like a classical choir. So we were doing a lot of Latin and various languages and it was all a cappella and very orchestral and complicated. That taught me a lot about using my ear and harmony.

At this point, did you know what you wanted to do with your life?

I wanted to perform. Even in high school, I was saying, “I want to be on Broadway. I want to go do theater.” So I had this dream that I was going to go to New York and do Broadway and go to college first. My grades weren’t ever amazing because I was so distracted with all the outside activities that I never really cared enough. I was like, “Eh, I don’t want to do my homework. I don’t want to study for the test.” I just got by. I was a B student and so I didn’t have good enough grades to get into the good schools for theater. I wanted to go to NYU. I wanted to go to Cincinnati. I applied to them and I didn’t get into any of them. I did get into California State Fullerton.

Were you a drama major?

I went into the school as a musical theater major because they had a BFA program for musical theater and right as classes began, I had started rehearsals for “Grease” at Moonlight and it was my first time playing a part. I was Doody and I was so excited that I got to sing my own song and that I was going to be in the show and featured and I was so distracted that I didn’t go to class at all. And so by the fifth week, I didn’t really want to go to school. The show had closed and I wanted to learn on the job. I thought I could get more jobs, and it was kind of wishful thinking. It was a little idealistic. Youth, you know, but I thought, “How can I be in school anymore?” The last 18 years of my life, I’ve been learning and I want to live and I want to go and be in the real world. And I had sat through a couple classes and I thought, “I’m not going to learn anything here. They’re saying stuff that I already know.” I was being a little bit ridiculous, and I learned the hard way that it doesn’t really work that way. I left school and my dad said, “I’m not paying your bills. You’ve got to get a job.” So I got a job working at Macy’s in Orange County at the Main Place mall right near Fullerton. I was doing retail and I stayed there for about six months and then I moved to North Hollywood. I had a couple friends that had moved up. I hung out with them and I was miserable. I couldn’t find a job. I couldn’t work. I was fat. I was a little lonely, and then I got my first job, which was on a cruise ship. I was 19.

Part II: Showbiz Beginnings

09:39 PM PT, Aug 5 2009


In Part Two of this four-part interview with Adam Lambert, the “Idol” runner-up discusses his early experiences in show business and the experience of hanging out with Val Kilmer when they appeared in “The Ten Commandments” together. Part One of the interview can be read here.

Your first job was working on a cruise line when you were 19. Which cruise line?

Holland America. That was through Anita Mann Productions. Usually their leads were older guys, like leading men. And they had one guy they had to get rid of at the last minute. They needed somebody and I went in there and auditioned. I was so green. I had no idea what I was doing, but Anita really liked my voice. She said, “You can sing. You’re going to play the lead part.” Everybody else in the cast was looking at me like, “He’s going to be the lead? He’s 19.” So it was a tough situation. We were rehearsing and I didn’t know what was going on. It was totally over my head. She’s saying, “Just imagine that person will be there, that person will be there and that person will be there.” It was fast. It was overwhelming. It was the most information that I’d ever had to take in and I was not quite confident enough yet to own it. I felt a little intimidated by it. So I got out there on the ship and they weren’t very nice to me and they were really catty. Finally we did the first night’s performance and I kicked ass and they were like, “OK, we’ll leave you alone.” My career thus far has always been about proving myself in these weird moments, and then once I prove myself, people are like, “Oh, OK.” So that was my first job, and I went around the world. I was on the ship for 10 months.

What was it like being away for so long?

Incredible. I saw the world when I was 19 and 20. I was in Russia and Scandinavia and the Mediterranean and then we did the East Coast and we pulled into New York on Sept. 7, [2001], right before Sept. 11. We were doing the tourism thing and when [the attacks] happened, we were up near Nova Scotia and we had to stay out on the water for three days because of security. It was pretty wild, pretty scary. Did that, then did the Caribbean, then went across the Pacific. Hawaii, down into Australia and New Zealand. It was amazing.

You were working at night, so your days were free?

Yes, I got to do a lot of sightseeing and tourist type activities. I really wanted to go live the culture. I wanted the nightlife. I wanted to be able to go and meet young people and go drink.

After 10 months, did you leave the ship?

I came back home and started auditioning again. Did some Civic Light Opera shows in Orange County and here.

And home was Los Angeles at this point?

I came back to L.A. and I was just auditioning for things. A couple Broadway auditions came through. I signed with a manager and she hooked me up with some jobs and then I was cast in a European production of “Hair.” And so I was in Germany for six months, and that was a great experience because I was longing to go back to Europe and really live there. That was a huge turning point for me personally, because I finally got comfortable in my own skin – or started to.

You were also at the right age to become your own person.

Yes, I was about 21, 22, and it was a big eye opener for me. I think anyone who does “Hair” gets really invested in the meaning and the message and the whole community feel of it. I was really close with everybody and there was a lot of discovery and a lot of free-love mentality. I was discovering a lot about myself. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, a lot of it.

How long were you in Germany?

Six months, and it was Berlin, mostly, but then Hamburg and Munich. We went to Italy for a week and performed there. I went to Amsterdam for a week.

Were you performing “Hair” in English?

Most of the time, and then midway through the production, the producer decided that he wanted us to do all the dialogue in German. No one spoke German, so they had a dialogue coach come in and teach us phonetically. No one knew what they were saying and so if someone dropped a line, we’d have to switch to English. It was an absolute disaster, but again, what an experience. I look back on it now and think, “That was crazy.”

Did you have to re-establish yourself every time you came back to California?

I did. I was out of the loop, but it was good for me. I really liked traveling and I don’t like routines. I’m not into the same-old. I like novelty, so I think it was really good for me and it helped me grow.

So up to this point, you hadn’t sung rock, just theatrical songs?

It was mostly theater music at this point. There was one little thing — there was a girl involved with the theater company and I knew her family. Her parents and my parents got along really well. They had similar views. They were really liberal and just wanted to have a good time. They would have parties and we would hang out and everybody would jam and it was all like our parents’ music. That’s how I got into the ’60s and ’70s stuff. Her dad was a classical guitarist and my dad plays the keyboard a little bit. So we would sing the Stones and Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and all that stuff. They really loved the Doors. So I was exposed to all that music. And then, it wasn’t anything serious but we decided to form a band. It was like a little garage band with her dad and her and me and my dad and we wrote some original stuff together and recorded it on a six-track tape deck. We were called the Gutter Rats. Or Vicarious Lives.

How far did you take it?

We never performed. We just did it for ourselves, but it was cool because it was definitely not musical theater. It was definitely very ’70s feeling because of our parents and they were showing us what to do. We had fun.

What other work did you do before you were cast in “Wicked”?

I auditioned for more TV and film projects. I was never fond of the auditioning process. I’d never really considered myself the strongest actor, so I never really went for it. I did a couple more theater things. Did something at Reprise over at UCLA.

What was the Reprise production?

On the Twentieth Century” with David Lee as the director. He was great. I did a production of “Brigadoon” in Texas at Theatre Under the Stars, so I had my Equity card finally, which felt like I had arrived. I was a professional now. I was getting paid enough money to live on, to really pay my bills, and it was going to lead to more work. I did a production of “110 in the Shade” at the Pasadena Playhouse and then I got cast in “The Ten Commandments” at the Kodak Theatre with Val Kilmer and that was a big turning point for me professionally because I had my own song and I was a character.

Who did you play in “The Ten Commandments”?

Joshua. Everything was copacetic by the end, but in the beginning, I was doing all this promotion for them to get interest built for the show and singing the song everywhere. I was on the Chabad Telethon and I was in love with being a rock star and I was going to rehearsal with nail polish on and eyeliner from the night before, and the director came up to me and said, “Could you take all that off?” and I asked, “Why?” He told me, “The producers are a little uncomfortable with it. They don’t really get it,” and I said, “But we’re not in costume yet. Why does it matter?” He said, “They feel like you’re supposed to be the leader of the Hebrew army by the end of this and they’re really uncomfortable with the way it looks.” And I told him, “This is theater. This is a pop musical. What … is your problem?”

So I faced more opposition, like I did on the cruise ship. It was that same type of thing repeating itself where I felt like they just didn’t believe in me, which was really hard for me. I found out later they had been seeing other people trying to replace me. When the show opened, I was one of the only people that got good reviews, so it was the best victory ever. You were worried about my nail polish and I’m getting better reviews than [others], so that was a big moment for me.

It was interesting hanging out with Val Kilmer because he took a liking to me and a couple other people and we would always go and eat together and we would go hang out at his house and he just really wanted to have a group of friends during this experience. I’ve lost touch with him, but he’s very cool. Eccentric but cool, and it was interesting being in the shadows with him in public. It was my first taste of what it must be like to be a celebrity and have people want your autograph and having people take pictures of you. It was a good eye opener for me, what it must be like to be a celebrity and to be famous.

Fame has its positives and its negatives.

It taught me a lot. I realized Val had to really watch what he said. Then I was kicking around Hollywood … and going to clubs like Hyde and seeing famous people and getting photographed here and there. Right after “Ten Commandments,” I did the Zodiac show, the first one at the Music Box, and I sang “A Change Is Gonna Come” in a full glam-feathered outfit.

The same Sam Cooke song that Simon Fuller chose for you to sing on “American Idol.” Did Simon know that you had performed the song earlier in your career?

I don’t know. We never talked about that, but what was interesting about that was I changed a lyric in it. Instead of “I’m afraid to die,” I sang, “I don’t see what’s wrong with a little glitter around my eyes,” because I wanted the song to be about what I was dealing with on “The Ten Commandments,” this weird, ignorant, “Why are you wearing nail polish?” Like this weird discrimination because I was expressing myself and having people feel uncomfortable with that and then everything tying into my sexuality and just being alternative in any way and wanting the song to be about that. It’s interesting that that came full circle with “Idol.” Really weird and the same issues. Maybe more far-reaching this time and less personal.

And then “Wicked” happened right after the Zodiac show. Toward the end of our run on “Ten Commandments,” there was an audition for the first national company and the casting director had heard of me because of the reviews for “Ten Commandments.” That really set me up for that. I don’t think I would have gotten hired if it hadn’t been for that. I was hired as an understudy for Fiyero on the national tour and we rehearsed in New York and that was a blast. It was a great moment for me because I felt like I’d finally arrived. Even though it was the tour, it was a Broadway production. It was the highest caliber thing that I had been a part of. “Ten Commandments” wanted to be that and had all this money behind it, but it was a disaster. So this was a successful hit show that I was now a part of and it felt validating to get that job.

You were in the ensemble, so you were on stage every night, even if you didn’t go on as Fiyero.

Oh, yeah. I was an onstage cover. And we rehearsed it in Toronto for about a month before we opened and we ran there for about 2½ months. So I spent time in Toronto and then we went to Chicago. Spent a couple of months there and then here in L.A. a couple months and then San Francisco. And at that point, it was about six months into it and I felt, “I think I’m done,” and I got to this point where I thought, “This is what I’ve been working toward my whole high school career and my early 20s. This has been the goal, Broadway,” and I knew that I could probably go into the New York production the minute a track opened up but I wasn’t satisfied. Probably because I was in the ensemble. I’m not going to lie. It was probably a step down from “The Ten Commandments” situation. Bigger show but not as featured, not as much attention. Not doing what I felt I was supposed to be doing.

How often did you get to play Fiyero?

I went on as Fiyero a couple times and it was really fun. I thought I did well, but it was only a couple times. The guy hardly ever missed. So I dropped out. I thought, “I want to be a rock star.” During “Ten Commandments,” I had a friend who encouraged me to play around with Garage Band and come up with my own stuff, so it all happened at once. I started messing around with the idea of recording. I got really interested in that while I was on the road with “Wicked.”

Part III: Finding His Groove

05:33 PM PT, Aug 10 2009


In Part Three of this four-part interview, the “Idol” runner-up talks about his time performing in the cast of “Wicked” and his decision to audition for “American Idol.” Part One of this interview can be read here. Part Two can be read here.

So you left “Wicked” to become a rock star?

I came back [to Los Angeles] and took some promo shots and started rehearsing. We had a handful of songs. I don’t know if any of them were great, but it was a start. At the time, we believed in them. We did a couple gigs here and there. The band was called the Citizen Vein. We performed at the Knitting Factory one night, the Cat Club on Sunset, and a club in Hermosa Beach. We did three gigs and that was it and we recorded a couple things, like rough recordings, and I don’t know, it didn’t quite click. We kept writing and doing things, but then I got into my first relationship and I fell in love and I was going out a lot. I was dressing up, just living my life and having a great time. Falling in love was major. It changed everything, because up until then, I was 25 and I hadn’t been in love. I felt like there was a part of me that was like, “I don’t understand something about life, like a big thing.” I listened to these songs on the radio or CDs or I’d see these musicals about people being in love with each other and what that feels like and what heartbreak feels like and the joy of what love is and I had sex but I’d never been in love and just didn’t get it. It was really interesting because during and after that relationship, everything changes. It’s like, “Oh, that’s what they were talking about.” I thought that was so corny before and now I am crying because I totally identify with what that feels like. So that was a big turning point for personal growth.

I went to Burning Man, which was another big eye opener. People living in this utopian society and how beautiful that idea is — and after Burning Man, I looked for social outlets here in L.A. that were part of that underground scene, not the typical bar scene but more of a neo-hippie movement. You know, these underground clubs downtown. That was a really fun community to become a part of. Then I did a production of “Debbie Does Dallas” in Lake Tahoe. It was a topless revue at Harveys Casino. I was desperate. I could not find a job. It was going to pay me. They were going to put me up. It was with Anita Mann, the woman who did the cruise ship. I went up there and I was missing the person I was with and I was miserable because I was in a long-distance relationship and the show, when it was pitched to me, sounded like it was going to be a different situation and it tuned out to be not the most professional situation in the world. There was hardly an audience. They wanted to see boobs. They didn’t want to hear me sing, so they would talk. It was not a good gig.

I heard they were rehiring for the Los Angeles company of “Wicked,” and it had been about a year since I had been out of the touring company. They were going to form a new company and I thought, “I don’t know why I left. That was so stupid. I need to get that job.” And so I begged. They said, “Why did you leave? We don’t know if you’re just going to leave again. It’s a liability for us.” I told them, “No, no, no. I was stupid. I was lonely on tour. I wasn’t satisfied and had outside opportunities. I really want to be in a sit-down company and then I can work on all my outside stuff and still work on the show,” and they said fine. So I came back and I opened the L.A. company of “Wicked.”

As Fiyero again?

The understudy, yes. Exactly the same thing.

For the same actor?

This was a different guy. He was out a little more often, so I got to go on more, during the almost two years we were open here.

So you stayed for the entire Los Angeles run?

I stayed. I lived right down the street from the theater, and I really enjoyed being a part of it. It was a great job, and it was nice to have money again in the city and live my life. There was a producer I started working with. He was forming his own publishing company for placement in film and TV and advertising campaigns, so they hired me to be a songwriter. And so I would go down there a couple days a week during the day and lay stuff down and write and really started to build a nice collection of music and I felt like it was at a much better level. I’d learned more about writing, about pop hooks, how it all works. Through trial and error, we got some good stuff. I was doing some session work here and there, so I was really starting to move toward, “I really think I should go for this now.” I felt more confident and I started getting frustrated with “Wicked.” I felt they weren’t promoting me and it wasn’t satisfying. I started performing at clubs, just to get my name out there. I was going to release music. I really got into the idea of becoming a solo act. I think a couple years before, the idea of that really scared me because I was concerned about, “How are people going to think of me?” and “I’m never going to have a private life if I do that.”

I didn’t think I was ready for that. I didn’t think I could handle it and then I really got into the idea of it. I had turned 26 and felt, “I’m getting old and I still haven’t been to New York yet.” I knew there was work for me in the theater and I could move to New York and probably work there, but I’m particular and I never really considered myself the best actor in the world. I wanted to be myself, so I was less and less enchanted with the idea of musical theater. There weren’t a lot of shows that were interesting to me musically or conceptually. I wanted to do my own thing. So I started experimenting, doing club acts and the pop/dance thing.

I sang and I had two dancers and we were wearing really wild clothes and then I was doing stuff with Upright Cabaret. It was like the New York tradition of having all the show actors and people in town come together and sing, like Joe’s Pub [in New York]. I met a lot of great people through that and got a lot of attention.

Where did you think this was all leading?

I put my faith in the producer that I was working with, Monte Pittman, that when all this music was finished, he was going to do all the work to get it out there, and he did do a lot of work. But he had just come from New Zealand. He was really established there, but he was new here, like an outside player. So I didn’t know how quickly that was going to happen, and I wondered, “What are my other options?” And last year when “Idol” was on, we were all watching it at “Wicked” and everybody would discuss their opinions of who did better and why, and then somebody said, “Adam, you should audition for that,” and I thought, “Yeah, maybe I should.”

This happened during Season 7?

Yes, but I watched a lot of the seasons. Not all of them, but a lot of them.

When did you first watch the show?

I watched the first season. I remember Kelly [Clarkson] was on and she was great. I was really excited, but I didn’t think they were going to like me. I thought I was too out there.

You are a little out there!

I am a little out there, but I’m kind of a strategist in that I knew what I could get away with and what I probably couldn’t get away with, so I tried to dumb myself down for the first couple auditions. You know, look a little more normal, dress a little bit more low key.

Where did you audition?

In San Francisco. I drove up with two of my best friends. The next morning I had gotten an hour’s sleep because I was really anxious, and right as I auditioned, I reached this epiphany where I thought, “You’re about to be 27. What do you have to show for yourself? You’ve done a couple shows. You’re working. You know you can pay your bills but do you want to do something great? Do you want to do something major and launch yourself? Yeah, I do,” and I knew that “Idol” was going to be, if I could get it, such a platform. I’d seen people that had been on “Idol” and were eliminated playing leads on Broadway, and I knew that’s the way New York is now. If you’re on TV and you’re a celebrity, you can get a lead in a Broadway show. I thought that’s what I should do because they don’t seem to want to promote me at “Wicked.” The worst-case scenario is that it would enhance my career in the theater and the best-case scenario is that I could do really well — and I didn’t know what it was going to be.

You knew the odds were against you, but that was OK, right?

Yes. I walked into the first audition with the judges, and Simon and Kara said, “You’re theatrical.” I had a feeling it was going to go down like this. They’re going to be, “Oh, he’s too Broadway,” even though I don’t feel like I actually am when I sing. I’m theatrical, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily musical theater.

What did you sing at your first audition?

I sang “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley and then “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and they said, “Don’t sing ‘Crazy’ at the next audition because they can’t get the rights to it and everybody tries to sing it.” I sang [“Rock With You” by] Michael Jackson and they wanted to hear another one so I sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” and that’s the one they ended up showing on TV.

Were you a Queen fan?

I’m a huge Queen fan. Freddie’s the man. He’s the voice. Just the musicianship required to sing that kind of music is really high. It’s very melodic and rangy and dramatic and I appreciate all that.

Could you ever have imagined while auditioning with “Bohemian Rhapsody” that a few months later you’d be on stage singing lead vocals with Queen?

Weird. It’s weird full circle stuff all around. It’s thrilling, but it almost loses its impact in a funny way, like, “Oh, of course I’m onstage with Queen.” What the hell’s going on? “Of course, KISS.” I can’t believe it. This can sound very pretentious if taken the wrong way but I almost feel like I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. I do feel this is what I’m supposed to be doing and I have a fatalistic view on life that things happen for a reason. I feel like everything that’s led up to this point has prepared me for this. It’s the whole “Slumdog Millionaire” thing, where it’s like his whole life like leads up to that moment and the only way he gets through that moment is because of all of his experiences. I went to see “Slumdog” as this was all happening and I was just in tears because I was so touched by the concept of that movie. And I wouldn’t have done what I did on the show had it not been for what I’ve gone through and my experiences in my life and what age I’m at. I wouldn’t have been that confident. I would have been second guessing myself. I would have been really busy people-pleasing as opposed to just doing what I do. It was meant to be now.

Part IV: The “Idol” Chapter

7:09 PM PT, Aug 11 2009


In the final segment of this four-part interview, the Season Eight runner-up discusses his “American Idol” experience. Part One of this interview can be read here. Part Two can be read here. Part Three can be read here.

Let’s talk about some of the songs you performed on “Idol.” One of my favorites was your interpretation of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears” during Motown week.

My first impulse was to do “War” by Edwin Starr. I love that song.

That makes sense — Bruce Springsteen recorded it, too.

He has? I haven’t heard that version. I want to hear that. And Randy Jackson produced a Motown album with Boyz II Men and they do a version of it. It’s great, but the week before I had just done “Ring of Fire,” so I already caused controversy and pushed the buttons and polarized everybody and I’m really happy about it because I liked what I did and I got to be weird and set myself apart, so I felt I should probably go the complete opposite direction and be super-cleaned-up and kind of pretty and acoustic and organic. That was me being strategic, because I don’t really see myself singing in an acoustic style but I knew I could and it was fun. Because it was Motown, I always wanted to dress fitting the song, so I said, “Let’s get a suit and brush my hair and take off the makeup and the nail polish and do like a real classic look because it’s fresh.” It got everybody talking and I realized I could play with image on the show more than I thought I could.”

How did you work with the stylists?

They were really good. Miles and Art were very, very, very collaborative and receptive to every idea that I had and they really supported me. I mean, a lot of it was me saying, “I want to do something like this,” and they’d say, “OK, let’s go shopping,” and then we would put together [my look] as a team.

Not every contestant comes up with their own ideas for how they’re going to look.

I’m the L.A. guy. I like clothes and visual presentation and playing dress-up. I think that definitely was an advantage.

You mentioned singing an acoustic song. Your version of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” was a great example of that. How did you choose to sing that?

The theme was year of birth. They gave us a list and that song popped out at me and I remembered the Gary Jules version from the movie, “Donnie Darko.” It’s haunting and beautiful and it gets in your head and the words are amazing and I wanted to do it because I knew it would be different and very non-“Idol” and not showy. I wanted to pull back and sound really vulnerable and just do the song justice and they came up with a great arrangement of it, kind of this ambient, acoustic thing.

How closely did you work with [“Idol” Music Director] Rickey Minor on arrangements?

I worked with the vocal team first and my team was Dorian Holley and Michael Orland. We would look at the song and cut it to make it fit in the time of one minute and 45 seconds. We would figure out which parts of the song we liked the most, how to make it flow, what key to put it in, vocal things to do with it, style things to do with it and if I had an idea in my head we would figure it out and they would make notes and they’d send that off to Rickey’s arranger. Then Rickey would get it and develop it. So the first time we hear what it’s going to sound like is the Sunday before, because they give us rough mixes for our iTunes recording which happens the next morning, Monday morning, before our band rehearsal. After a couple weeks of that, I got Rickey’s number and I asked if I could just call him. He’s super-talented, awesome. So I was really happy that we got to skip all that process and talk one-on-one.

You mentioned the Johnny Cash classic, “Ring of Fire.” Tell me about choosing that song and the very non-country arrangement of it.

I was really inspired by David Cook’s approach to the show the year before. I thought he was really smart in that he didn’t let the theme weeks throw him off, whereas a lot of people conform to the theme, so it turns into this talent show, whereas he kept his cool points because he always made it work for his style and he was very true to his own artistry. I just took a page from him. When it came to country week, I thought: “This is one of those moments where you can take a song and make it work for you,” like he did with “Billie Jean.”

Country music is like the furthest thing from me but I remembered an electro version of “Ring of Fire” I had heard a couple of years ago. I didn’t remember who it was by. It was sexy. The words are hot. The melody’s good. I knew that’s the one I should do. It’s dark and kind of risqué and I liked it. I searched iTunes for different versions of it. That’s basically what Cook did, he found covers and used those arrangements, which he got a lot of [criticism] for. There’s no reason why he should have. We’re singing covers, so what’s the difference?

I’ve never understood why anyone would be upset that a David Cook would sing Chris Cornell’s version of “Billie Jean” instead of Michael Jackson’s original arrangement or that a Chris Daughtry would sing Live’s version of another Johnny Cash song, “I Walk the Line.”

I never got that either. If you asked him who it was by, he would tell you. It’s not like we’re trying to trick anybody.

There was a woman named Dilana who sang “Ring of Fire” on the “Rock Star: Supernova” show and that was the way she did it. She had a recording of it out with the Middle Eastern dub kind of feel to it. I loved that style. I love world music, especially when it’s in that dub electronica kind of vein. I really love that, like Thievery Corporation’s a good example of that. I was really excited to be able to do a song on “Idol” that sounded like that and I knew it was probably going to be like, “What?” Vocally, I felt like I nailed it. And of course I read the press and people were saying, “He’s screeching,” and I’m thinking, “That’s not really screeching. I don’t really know what that is to you.” But everybody has their own opinion.

So while you were on “Idol,” you were reading what people were writing about you. Did it affect you?

I’m pretty objective, pretty resilient to that kind of thing. I didn’t take it personally. I try to take it as research, like how people were responding to it, and I felt the same way about the judges. They had objective opinions and everybody has one. Listen to their comment and if it’s a good critique, take it. Make notes. Fix it if you agree, and if not, just keep doing your thing.

It’s not about them and what they think. It’s about that I get to be on TV in front of millions of people and I get to sing. It’s about the opportunity and the experience and it’s not about “Did the judges like it?” I didn’t want to be too concerned with that, and by having a sense of humor about it, it made me more OK.

Back to David Cook for a moment. You’ve said you were inspired by the way he looked at the songs he did over the season as a “set list.”

I definitely approached the show in the same way, creating a lot of variety with the songs I chose. If I did an acoustic down tempo soft falsetto ballad the week before, then I wanted to contrast and go completely the other direction the next week. I wanted to keep everybody guessing and I wanted to make it a really dynamic set of songs.

Was “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” a song you knew from your father’s record collection?

Yes, and my mom’s a huge Stones fan. She’s gone to their concerts. I was going to sing “Cryin’” by Aerosmith that first week and had rehearsed it and cut it down and gotten a rehearsal track, but at the last minute, the publishers weren’t comfortable with one of the details in the contract and didn’t really know who I was yet, so they pulled it and I had to come up with something really fast. I needed to do something that would establish me as a rocker, because I looked at my group and I knew that there were a lot of poppier R&B and country [singers], and I wondered, “How do I make myself different and stand out?” There was a girl rocker and I thought I’ll be the boy rocker.

Kris [Allen] and Allison [Iraheta] were both in that group with me and we went through together and did all our press together and all three of us are signed now. It’s a beautiful thing that, for reasons that are beyond us, we’ve been cool. And the three of us get along really well, which is nice.

Anyway, I picked “Satisfaction” because I knew the song and it was a song that everybody knew. It was a rock song and I wanted to associate myself with icons, with famous rock stars. And Hollywood Week was a good time for me to do my research into how [people] were going to see me. It was an experiment. What happens when I sing this way? How does it go over? What happens if I do this?

We did our second round of a cappella group choreography and we sang “Some Kind of Wonderful” by Grand Funk Railroad and I got to really wail and go high and go crazy and they loved it. So I knew I could go nuts and they’re going to like that. Simon said, “You can sing. I didn’t know what the big deal was before. OK, you’ve got pipes.” That helped establish myself and then the final day of Hollywood Week was pick your own song off this list and I wasn’t feeling any of the songs. I asked, “Can we sing from the girls’ list?” and they said yes. I knew I had to get up early the next morning and know the song and be prepared. I didn’t want to worry about learning words. I wanted to be able to sing the song. What song on this girls’ list do I know that no one else is doing? “Believe” by Cher. I remember loving that single.

It was the first time I had worked with Dorian and Michael and I asked them, “Is it too gay? Is it too ridiculous?” And they were like, “Uhhh…” [Adam shrugs his shoulders while looking up and rolling his eyes]. I said, “What if we make it a rock-pop ballad, not a dance song? What if it’s totally different?” And they said, “Let’s try it.” I sang it and I felt good about it. It set me apart. None of the other guys were doing ballads. I knew the [judges] would remember me, because there were 75 people. I needed to stand out so that they would put me on the show. I knew that that was how it was going to go down.

Looking back at the season as a whole, what do you know now that you didn’t know before you were on “Idol”?

I learned a lot by watching myself back. Like, less is more. I don’t have to do quite as much every time, because when I watched some of the first performances, “Satisfaction,” “Black or White,” they get a little manic and that was because I was excited and had all this adrenaline. By getting used to working on the soundstage and getting comfortable and not being as nervous, I learned what works and what doesn’t.

How did you like working with this season’s mentors?

Slash was really cool and very flattering and Smokey was amazing. That was an honor. All the mentors were great, like being onstage with Queen and Kiss was so cool. And I learned a lot about dealing with the cameras. I had never really worked with a camera and the director on the show, Bruce [Gowers], is amazing and really fun and we got along really well. He would tell me, “I’m going to do this with the camera. Just play with that camera.” He gave me some directions here and there and it helped me make the most of that format, because I was used to being onstage and not being intimate. And Ken Warwick, the producer, is the most supportive and warm and so is Mike Darnell, from Fox. I mean, he’s amazing. I never felt stifled. They really encouraged everything, all of it. It was really, really nice.

And now you’re recording your debut album. What is your vision for your first record?

I want to do pop-rock electronic, like dance rock. I want it to be rock and roll, a nod to all the ’60s and ’70s rock that I love, the classic and the glam rock, but with a very current, futuristic sensibility for dance floors. I want people to have fun. I don’t want to sound like I have this social cause, but I think that music in the ’70s was so cool because it was about partying. It was about bringing people together and celebrating and not about all this dark sad [stuff]. I want to bring back the fun stuff. I want to bring people together and get them to dance and smile and feel sexy and celebrate our similarities, not our differences.

Subjects: Film, Television & Anime 映像, Music 音楽

Mood: Gratifications

Tags: Adam Lambert, Fred Bronson, interview