Adam Lambert captivated America in 2009 when he almost won American Idol. Lambert was brash, likable and glamorous, but he soon became better known for being the first openly gay Idol contender.
Though Lambert finished as the runner-up, his popularity and talent won him a recording deal. He released his second studio album, Trespassing, this week — just a few months after his 30th birthday.
"I think, for the majority of my twenties, I was always so concerned with what I didn't have, or what I still wanted," Lambert tells NPR's Guy Raz. "It was always about a chase and going after something. This year I've focused more on being thankful for what I already have — being content with what I've already accomplished, or who is already in my life, not what I've yet to find or get."
Trespassing's second single, currently making the radio rounds, is the glam-pop throwback "Never Close Our Eyes" — written by fellow pop star Bruno Mars.
"Nowadays in pop, there's not a lot of men that are singing big and loud and high — it's not as common as it once was," Lambert says. "So I got this track from Bruno and I thought, that's a great melody, great lyric — I know how I want to sing it. I want to sing it big."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. In just a few moments, we'll announce our winner from Round 8 of Three-Minute Fiction. Hang tight. But now, it's time for music. And our story today is about Adam Lambert, the young man who quite literally captivated America in 2009 when he almost won "American Idol."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")
KARA DIOGUARDI: Are you our next idol?
ADAM LAMBERT: I think so.
DIOGUARDI: You sure?
LAMBERT: I can sing.
DIOGUARDI: You can sing?
PAULA ABDUL: All right.
DIOGUARDI: What are you going to sing for us?
LAMBERT: I'm going to sing "I Wanna Rock with You" by Michael Jackson.
RANDY JACKSON: Good one.
LAMBERT: You guys ready?
DIOGUARDI: We're ready.
LAMBERT: (Singing) I wanna rock with you all night. Let you in today.
RAZ: Adam Lambert was brash and likeable and, well, glamorous. But he soon became better known for being the first openly gay "Idol" contender. He didn't win, but his popularity and his talent did win him a recording deal, and this is the product of that deal.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRESPASSING")
LAMBERT: (Singing) Well, I was walking forth some time when I came across this sign saying who are you and where are you from? We don't like when visitors come.
RAZ: This song is called "Trespassing," and it's the title track off Adam Lambert's new record. Mr. Lambert is at our studios at NPR West. Adam Lambert, welcome to the program.
LAMBERT: Thank you.
RAZ: Adam, you have turned 30 this year.
LAMBERT: I did.
RAZ: Congratulations, by the way.
LAMBERT: Thank you. Thank you. I made it.
RAZ: You made it.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
RAZ: I hope there was never any doubt about that. How has it been treating you so far?
LAMBERT: It's been good. It's been really good. You know, I think for the majority of my 20s I was always so consumed with what I didn't have. This year, I focused more on being thankful for what I already have, not what I've yet to find or get.
RAZ: I mean, you were single minded in your pursuit of stardom and success from an early age. I mean, long before you were on "American Idol," you were doing high school musicals, and then you were doing real musicals and performing in theater in San Diego and Los Angeles. I mean, this was your focus. You were going to make it.
LAMBERT: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And I am a pretty intense personality. I got a lot of horsepower. And when I do get single-minded and I pour everything into one thing, you know, you can end up accidentally ignoring other things, relationships and your health.
RAZ: Adam, when - and I want to ask you about "American Idol" in a moment, but anybody who saw you there, I think, would've just been blown away by your confidence. You had this command of the stage and this presence. And I wonder did you always feel confident when you were a kid in high school musicals and when you were trying to break in? I mean, did you always feel like, this is going to happen to me, and I can do this.
LAMBERT: Not at all. Actually, I struggled with confidence a lot, even on "Idol." I mean, there were a lot of moments where I felt completely insecure.
LAMBERT: I mean, if I convinced you otherwise, that's show business.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LAMBERT: And I guess, over the years, one of the things I've learned is how to put on a really good game face.
RAZ: Do you think part of that struggle was also your struggle with sexuality?
LAMBERT: Of course. Yeah. That was totally wrapped up into my identity. When I was younger and, you know, in a situation like my teenage years where I really wasn't in a place where it was all that open...
RAZ: You couldn't talk about it.
LAMBERT: ...and I wasn't talking about it - yeah. It was - of course, that secret kind of made that very difficult. And then at about 18 at the end of, like, high school when I had made peace with it and I was ready to talk about it, I did. And luckily, my family was very cool and my friends were not surprised.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LAMBERT: It wasn't a big secret. And then, you know, moving to L.A. shortly thereafter, it was really exciting, because all of a sudden, it was like, oh, this is a part of my identity that I've been kind of hiding and now I can embrace it.
RAZ: Your performances on "American Idol," of course, led to a recording contract. You didn't win - you were the runner-up - but still came out with a contract and you cut an album, and then now you've got this new record "Trespassing." The single you've released off, it's called "Never Close Our Eyes." And this is a real kind of tribute to this kind of glam pop style of the mid-'80s.
I'm hearing in this song, you know, Queen, Erasure, Duran Duran, this sort of period of synthpop from the early '80s, and I'm wondering if you were trying to capture that on this record.
LAMBERT: You know, you have your Wheelhouse, and you have, like, what makes you a performer. And it just kind of naturally goes there. And I think that for me, it's easier to kind of compare me to maybe some throwback stuff because nowadays, in pop, there's not a lot of men that are singing big and loud and high, you know?
RAZ: No. Yeah. Yeah.
LAMBERT: It's just - it's not as common as it once was. And then there's a couple artists that are around right now that break that rule, either someone like Bruno Mars, who actually wrote "Never Close Our Eyes," and he's an exception. You know, he's got this beautiful, soft, like, buttery voice. He's amazing. I'm a big fan.
So I got this track from Bruno, this song. And I thought, you know, that's a great melody, great lyric. I know how I want to sing it. I want to sing it big.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER CLOSE OUR EYES")
LAMBERT: (Singing) You know, I wish that this night would never be over. There's plenty of time to sleep when we die. So let's just stay awake until we grow older. If I had my way, we'd never close our eyes, our eyes, never.
RAZ: I'm speaking with the singer Adam Lambert. His new record is called "Trespassing," and it's in stores now. The last track on the record is called "Outlaws of Love." And in it, you sing: Nowhere to grow old. We're always on the run. You say we'll rot in hell. Well, I don't think we will. They've branded us enough, outlaws of love.
You, of course, are gay. You're openly gay. I can't help but hear those lyrics and wonder whether you're addressing that issue or a memory of that.
LAMBERT: Yeah. And when I wrote that song, I wrote it with two very talented people: BC Jean, who's our writer, and a guy named Rune Westberg, who's a great producer. And we all kind of - we started putting our thinking caps on about what we wanted to write about. There had been a lot going on with, you know, the gay marriage, kind of going back and forth in California.
And I was talking to them about being a member of the gay community, because neither of them are gay, and just expressing some of my frustration with the situation. And it just made me sad. And so I wanted to write something about that sadness, about that feeling where sometimes it's like a hopelessness that kind of comes over you when you look at the situation, how you're probably not going to change these people's minds because they're set.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUTLAWS OF LOVE")
LAMBERT: (Singing) Everywhere we go we're looking for the sun. Nowhere to grow old, we're always on the run. You say we'll rot in hell, well, I don't think we will. You've branded us enough, outlaws of love.
RAZ: Do you feel because of your visibility, because you're a famous person and you're gay that you have to make sure that you are also kind of like an inspiration to, you know, maybe younger people who are struggling with their sexuality or worried about coming out and things like that?
LAMBERT: I think when everything first happened, and I first kind of got put on the map, there was a certain expectation of that. And at first, I was a little bit frustrated by that because I thought, you know, I'm a singer. I'm a performer. And being gay is merely a part of who I am. I've come to terms with it. It started overshadowing a lot of my musical stuff because it's all the media wants to talk about.
In every interview, it's what they focus on. You know, I've heard little bits of criticism from people here and there, oh, you know, if he wants to make it in this industry, we don't care about his sexuality. Why is he always talking about being gay? It's always about his sexuality. And that's not my choice.
RAZ: It's not your agenda, yeah.
LAMBERT: I don't actually have control over that. No.
RAZ: You're saying you're always asked about it.
LAMBERT: I'm always asked about it. I'm always asked about everything. I answer everything openly. And a lot of the times, that part is out of my control. So at the end of the day, what's been hardest about it is that I really feel like I can't win one way or another. Either I'm not gay enough or I'm too gay. And that's been the toughest thing to try to figure out.
RAZ: Tell me, Adam Lambert, what you want your fans to get from this record.
LAMBERT: All the tracks in the album are told from kind of a first-person perspective. They're my view of the world that I live in. And I think what the listener is going to get from it is I think they're going to get to know me better. You know, it's easy to do an interview and to tell you facts and to tell you where I'm at and my opinion on things, but music really translates emotion better than words do. And I think after listening to the album, you'll understand how these things make me feel.
RAZ: Well, it's a great record. And congratulations on it.
LAMBERT: Thank you. I appreciate it.
RAZ: That is singer Adam Lambert. His new record is called "Trespassing," and it's out now. Adam, thank you so much for coming by to talk to us.
LAMBERT: Oh, yeah. My pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER THAN I KNOW MYSELF")
LAMBERT: (Singing) 'Cause if I wanted to go I would have gone by now but I'm going to need you near me to keep my mind off the edge... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.