Over the entire season, you have been one of the best, most original contestants we’ve ever had on the show. And the whole idea about doing a show like this is that you hope that you can find a worldwide star. I genuinely believe with all my heart that we have found that with you.
— Simon Cowell, AMERICAN IDOL
s Adam Lambert the best vocalist in the world at this moment?
Adam Lambert sprang fully formed onto the international scene with his scintillating AMERICAN IDOL performances in 2009. Why then have I only come to this panegyric six years later? One word: QUEEN.
When I heard Queen was touring with some guy named Adam Lambert (long after Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers had decamped), well, put it this way: If Sean Penn thinks you’re a good enough actor to be cast in a movie he’s directing, then you’re not just “good enough” – you’re great! Likewise, if Brian May thinks you’re good enough to front his musically superlative band, you’re not just “good enough” – It’s a Kind of Magic!
The incarnation “QUEEN + Adam Lambert” having toured for two years now, I thought it time to look into this Lambert fella, and see what all the fuss is about. (YouTube, you font of archival memorabilia!) And this young necromancer’s sheer mastery of his craft overwhelmed me, hurled me backwards with his unbridled virtuosity. And with shock, with sadness, I realized… my own vocal heroes from ages past have been superseded by this newer model. (And what a model!)
Lambert is “in a league of his own” and it’s a wonder the AMERICAN IDOL freeloaders who call themselves judges actually used that phrase to describe him. (Maybe they’ve used it on other people – I wouldn’t know, I don’t watch that glorified karaoke dreck – but they actually got it right with this unique vocalist!)
The Simon Cowell quote leads this article not because I need him to corroborate my opinion, but because I’m shocked that even an unqualified numbnuts like Cowell can recognize the searing talent of Lambert. But why stoop to numbnuts? Hear the high praise from a god among men, Brian May:
That is a voice beyond any expectation. Some people realize, but I don’t think the world at large quite realizes how amazing Adam is as a singer.
— Dr. Brian May, Queen
Some might opine: Of course it behooves May to extol Lambert’s ability – to sell tickets for their shows. But those cynics miss the point: Brian May would not let anyone INTO his band as the frontman – the person most scrutinized due to Freddie Mercury’s enduring legacy – UNLESS that person was of such monumental caliber. (And if you want to focus on the capitalistic angle: If May did let a flounder in, word would get out, ticket sales would flop, chaos and looting in the streets…)
As with anything “new,” we approach with wariness: “Well, Brian May’s probably getting too old, and wants to just play his songs and…” But the truth creeps up our spine unbidden simply by watching Lambert perform on IDOL… Jackson’s Black Or White (Hmm, excellent rendition! Gives us an appreciation of how powerful Jackson’s performance was and – now I’m singing Lambert’s version in my head, instead of Jackson’s), then Aerosmith’s Cryin’ (Oh my! Those highs actually outscale Tyler’s range!), and finally gut-punches us NOT with more power-screaming, but with Robinson’s Tracks Of My Tears (allowing it to simmer with his own passion; subtlety and soulfulness that shocked even Smokey himself). Then, while we’re down and blithering, another sucker punch with Cash’s Ring Of Fire (pulled apart and done so uniquely that Cowell replied from his limbic caveman brainstem that he couldn’t understand it). Those are a few high points in a season filled with jaw-dropping performances that left his “competition” floundering at his heels. (And what high heels!)
Yet he lost. (Democracy at work. Allowing the Great Unwashed to vote – never a good thing.)
Runner up to… to… uh… Don’t look him up! I dare you to tell me from memory who won the 2009 AMERICAN IDOL season. Know him or not, that winner is not without his own worth as a vocalist. Hell, he made the finals and actually slipped through a crack in destiny and won! But he is the epitome of the traditional idea of a modern average rock and roll vocalist: a good controlled voice with a modicum of emotive appeal, and a surfeit of introspection, like a James Taylor or John Mayer.
Adam Lambert, on the other hand, is a SUPERSTAR. In every respect. In the last IDOL performances, he teamed with two of my heroes – KISS and Queen! (By Brian May’s account, the IDOL finale performance is where they met Lambert for the first time. From there, the relationship would flower hesitantly over a few years.) Throughout – from his audition to the final night – somewhere somehow the IDOL judges (Cowell in particular) would “accuse” Lambert of too much “theatricality,” whatever that means. The fact that he rose up as a child singing musical theater strengthened him as a fearless performer. And how much more comfortable did he seem than his co-finalist amongst the uber-theatricality of KISS and Queen? He could rightfully claim “theatricality” only worked in his favor with those world class acts. It’s in the bloody title of your lame show, dorks – you’re not looking for some singer who can sing in tune while wearing jeans and looking at his shoes, you seek an American IDOL – someone who purveys grandiosity, largesse, grand gesture showmanship! Funnily enough, Cowell and Co. would accuse The Other Guy of being too bland and not having enough charisma. Shit or get off the pot, you ignorant wankers!
Cowell tries to keep his feet on the ground being “objective” but he was turned early, and we could peek through the cracks of his douchebag facade to the closet Glambert beneath – because Lambert is a force of nature that will not be denied; Randy Jackson has an abiding love for Lambert: “a combination of Steven Tyler meets Fallout Boy meets Robert Pattinson from TWILIGHT. Dude, you should be a rock star right now.” The pointless vanilla chick cannot believe how he hits high notes and can speak afterwards. And Paula Abdul just wants to fuck him.
In finding the pitch and pocket to so many diverse songs, Lambert proves it is not just about singing high notes for the wow factor, but knowing when to utilize that limitless power; not just about singing the words or striking the poses, but possessing an innate understanding of putting the song across as emotively as possible. His timbre at all ranges is unmatched by most singers in rock today, and by most singers of the past. And by most singers in rock today at their peak in the past. Yes, I’ve just blasphemed against all your heroes – AND MINE.
People are throwing virtual tomatoes at me even as I run for cover…
…Relax, I’m not dissing your heroes. They’re my heroes too! The heroes that made us cry in inspirational fervor, made us vow to die for our art. I’m saying that someone has joined their ranks in a most decisive and explosive way.
What gives me the right? Well, I’m not some tweenie looking for a new fix and I’m not an unqualified AMERICAN IDOL judge; I’m an old, cynical musician who’s heard it all – the good, the bad, the lip-synched, the auto-tuned – and Adam Lambert vocalizes like an Olympic torch amongst this white noise of putrid mediocrity. We live in a society inured to superlatives, so I simply state my case. Adam Lambert – the whole package: voice, looks, demeanor, CD sales, attitude, work ethic, wardrobe, image, performance – is the best vocalist in the world today. AND he’s got the stage strut, the arrogance, the humility, the self-effacing humor, the intelligence, the charm, the glam, the thrust, the hair, the heels…
Striking eyes, black-laquered fingernails, three-day growth and Elvis pompadour, classy interview subject, consummate performer – and those glam-slammin’ high heels. No matter he is an imposing 6’1″ – add those five-inch, jewel-studded heels and he towers like the inferno he is.
APPLES TO APPLES: At their peak, Lambert is better than most of my idols, living or dead, and most of yours too, if you are truly objective. Of course, you LIKE Bon Scott’s road-rash voice better (so do I), but at an academic level, Adam Lambert can sing higher and clearer, and more powerfully. You may THRIVE on Dio’s hell-rageous timbre (I do), but Lambert brings a diversity to his range (which is wider than Dio’s) and timbral intensity that would make Dio praise Jesus not Satan. You may BLOW EARGASMS over Halford’s power-falsetto (I do), but though Lambert can do Halford (oh, do tell!), Halford cannot come down to Earth and coax a ballad as poignantly as Lambert. And I personally PREFER Queen’s last plus-vocalist, the gritty Paul Rodgers, on many Queen songs to Lambert (as many Queen fans PREFER Queen Extravaganza’s vocalist Mark Martel’s uncanny renditions), but Lambert – again – is THE WHOLE PACKAGE.
You may be enamored with Frank, Elvis, Dino, Sammy, Pavarotti, Jagger, Gillan, Springsteen, or enjoy the unique vocal stylings of Lindsey Buckingham, Tom Petty, Robert Plant, Don Henley, Geddy Lee, Sebastian Bach, Chris Cornell, Josh Groban, Steve Perry… All these men have distinctive voices that perfectly suit the music they purvey, and that’s what makes each of those voices equal and special. I am not arguing the case to replace their voices with Lambert’s on any of their recordings. No. Those songs, those artists, those performances remain thunderous jewels in the musical firmament. However, Lambert – at this moment in time – effortlessly trounces them all.
Then there are those whose time has sadly passed (Paul McCartney, Paul Stanley, Joe Elliott, David Coverdale, Roger Daltrey) whom Adam can now sing circles around. Here’s the rub: Lambert is in his early 30’s; even at those artists’ peaks (their late 20s to early-40s), they could not match Lambert’s power and range. He truly is the new breed of genetically superior X-man. I don’t say any of this lightly. I grew up wanting Paul Stanley’s epitome of the rock and roll voice; the same with Daltrey (so in love am I with that way of singing and phrasing, tonality, raunch, accent, everything). so it is with sorrow and regret that I see my heroes, my lodestars, pummeled by this homo superior. (And what a homo!)
You’ve got a bit of a Saturday job – as the lead singer of Queen.
— Alan Carr, Chatty Man (talk show)
Suddenly Queen have a legion of new fans by plussing Adam Lambert. And Adam’s no innocent naif: I’m sure he salivates over the legion of Queen fans coming in the other direction – fans starving for anything Queen or Queen-adjacent, now rollicking their dollars into the Lambert camp on CDs and merch.
And the greatest blasphemy/hardest truth to face: Is Adam Lambert better than Freddie Mercury? The temple comes crashing down, chaos and looting in the streets, the sun shivers, the planets quake… Because that’s the wrong question. The question should be: Is Lambert filling Freddie’s shoes, purveying the Queen catalog respectfully? Freddie is irreplaceable as the force of nature he was; the songwriter, pianist, frontman, vocalist, arranger, original driving member of Queen. But as a live vocalist, Freddie had his shortcomings. (Queen apologists seem to have a tonal deficiency when defending Freddie against anyone else, not just Lambert.) Adam Lambert fulfills Freddie’s vocal duties better than Freddie at his peak. More tomatoes.
And Adam’s gay! Out, proud, loud. Meaning his natural campiness – that he lets run wild with Queen onstage – coupled with his distinctly macho delivery, puts him closer to Freddie than any other singer in the universe. (His risque original song and suggestive video For Your Entertainment puts him 10 more notches closer to Freddie…)
Again, dangerous tomatoes.
But you don’t get to sing Who Wants To Live Forever (with its original melody lines, something which even Freddie – who voiced the original recording – could not do live) and NOT be one of the greatest singers in the world.
Adam Lambert has truly set Queen back In The Lap Of The Gods.
love the singer, not the songs.
By the way, I am not enamored with Adam Lambert’s original material. (Respite from Queen fans, vitriol from the Glamberts.)
1) I’m not in an age group any more that is impressed by rock star product. It’s not special or relatable to life experience any more. The tweensters and creamsters who hang on his every breath are affected by Lambert’s music at this formative stage of their lives, so it will live with them as classic material. It is catchy and danceable and bawdy. Nothing inherently wrong with it at all. All his solo albums have shot to the top of the charts. I begrudge him nothing. He deserves it all. It’s just not a genre/sound that I enjoy.
2) Lambert’s pop-dance original material is in a milieu where we are so used to hearing perfectly-pitched auto-tuned recorded vocal performances, that we must remind ourselves Lambert can actually replicate these exacting, searing vocal lines live (without lip-synching, without five backing vocalists singing the main melody under him, without auto-tune). On his recordings, Lambert’s voice is lost in the thick “production fog” of danceabiliousness. His acting in the music videos is commendable, the production values are top notch, but the songs sometimes feel like background filler. While he finds his feet as a songwriter, he throws down fluff for his fans to retain the synergy of his meteoric rise.
A final word on what I love about this guy: In June 2015, in an early morning gig for Good Morning America, Lambert performed his originals in Central Park, New York, stripped down to a four piece band and a simple red shirt and leather pants – no giant lightshow, no explosions or smoke machine, no campy costumes, no high heels! He shows us he is secure enough not to be tied to an image, secure enough not to hide behind ANYTHING. And, unlike the recorded versions, he punches out powerful versions of his songs that make them POP. Being interviewed by the GMA hosts: though he’s rocked the world – literally – with Queen, with IDOL, with startling and controversial TV performances, he comports himself with a grace that belies his vast experience and young age. This is not some troll piggybacking off the fame of a boy band and manufactured excitement; no wigga hand movements, no street talk; this is as real as an artist gets. A true original.
I have no doubt this young comet will produce something worth crying for, something worth dying for, in his spectacular future.