Adam Lambert's musical journey: From American Idol and Queen collaboration to the release of 'Velvet'
The all-conquering music superstar with the ridiculous range has made quite a name for himself, all by marching to the beat of his own drum
Adam Lambert will be releasing his fourth studio album 'Velvet' this weekend, on March 20. The 38-year-old singing sensation has already released the first half of the album as a six-track EP called 'Velvet: Side A', and based on those funky, slinky sounds, critics are heralding it as his best album to date. And that should come as no surprise. If you look back at his musical journey, Lambert was earning rave reviews well before he made a household name around the world.
Born to entertain, the musically-inclined youth first cut his teeth at the tender age of nine by performing with the MET2 and the Broadway Bound Youth Theatre Foundation. In high school, he immersed himself in theater, choir practice, and the school's jazz band, before singing in several musical theater productions of 'Hello, Dolly!', 'Camelot', 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat', and 'Grease', among others. Those experiences gave Lambert his first real taste of what it felt like to be in the spotlight, and that hunger for the big stage and sense of theatricality has never left him since.
After just five weeks at California State University, Lambert decided to pack his bags and move to Los Angeles, realizing that he really wanted to be an entertainer. "Life is all about taking risks to get what you want," he said, reflecting on the decision that changed his whole world. His natural talent meant that he was soon bagging roles in musicals like 'The Ten Commandments: The Musical', '110 in the Shade', and 'Wicked', where he was chosen as the understudy for Fiyero. Besides this, he was also fronting underground rock band The Citizen Vein and doing studio sessions work, all of which convinced Lambert of his true calling. “It's just been kind of a natural progression. I know now that I want to make it in the recording industry,” he revealed in an early interview. Of course, even he couldn't predict what would come next.
Deciding to take the plunge into the world of 'American Idol' was a pivotal step for the then 26-year-old young man. Acutely aware that his theatrical flair perhaps wasn't exactly what they were looking for, Lambert decided to be himself no matter what. Fittingly enough, his audition song was 'Bohemian Rhapsody', a tribute to the transcendental Freddie Mercury, one his biggest and brightest musical inspirations growing up. And from that moment on, the wheels of destiny started turning. As everyone knows by now, Adam famously didn't win that season of 'American Idol' — he lost to Kris Allen in the Season 8 finale, sparking nationwide outrage and an entire thread dedicated to homophobia on 'American Idol' messageboards, but none of that mattered in the end.
Thanks to weeks upon weeks of consistently dazzling performances, he seared himself into the public consciousness of America as a performer with astounding vocal chops and some pizzazz to spare. Even more crucially, he'd gotten the attention of the members of Queen, who had been quietly following the young man with the incredible voice on 'American Idol' as the competition for the top spot thinned out. Intrigued by his talent and potential, Brian May and Roger Taylor accepted an offer to perform at the 'American Idol' finale with Lambert and Kris Allen in 2009.
The chemistry between the Lambert and the members of Queen was obvious even back then, so when they got a chance to reunite at a show in Belfast in 2011, things really started clicking in place. As Brian May recalled, “We all thought it would be a blast to appear together, just to see what happened," he said. "So we did a couple of days of rehearsal and then, totally live, as we always are, on British TV, we played ‘The Show Must Go On,’ ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are the Champions.’ The response was stupendous. It was pretty much unanimously, ‘This works.’ So immediately we started thinking, ‘Let’s try some gigs, just to see what happens.’”
After playing a handful of shows in 2012 and 2013 as Adam Lambert + Queen, things took off in a big way from 2014 onwards, when the band decided to grant him free rein and give him complete liberation in the lead vocalist role. And the results showed, with everyone soon realizing that he was the best possible fit for the band. “He has this amazing range, a gymnastic, beautiful tone and he really fits our material so well,” Roger Taylor revealed. “He has all the elements — he has the passion, he has the humor, a little bit of camp," Brian May agreed, "And when the shots are down, he has the power. It’s incredible.”
After a $70 million-grossing world tour that extended into 2015, thanks to the positive reception from fans, Adam & Queen haven't looked back since, doing even bigger and better world tours, including a show-stopping performance at the 2019 Oscars. “I’ve figured out how to make those songs work for me," Lambert revealed. "I’m not playing a part, I’m interpreting them from my viewpoint and a lot of what Freddie was exploring is stuff I’m exploring."
Along the way, he's also discovered how to tap into his own audience. He earned a Top 10 hit with 'Whataya Want from Me' in 2009, following that up with a No. 1 album, 'Trespassing' in 2012, a seismic first for an openly gay man in the entertainment industry.
And now, after some creative marination, Lambert's coming out with the super-smooth 'Velvet', his first LP in five years since 'The Original High' debuted at No. 3 on the charts in 2015. "I've leaned really far into my queerness on this," he said of the new album. "I'm very much marching to the beat of my own drum, but my hope is that I've written things in such a way where people realize that they can all find themselves in these songs no matter who you are."