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Comment: Is America ready for a gay Idol?

Omar Hassan May 22, 2009

Following gay singer Adam Lambert’s loss in the final of American Idol, Omar Hassan questions whether ‘Glambert’s’ sexuality dissuaded voters.

Despite freefalling ratings, last night’s American idol finale (the world’s premiere singing competition), tallied in more than one hundred million votes. For most fans, pop cultural enthusiasts and journalists alike, the expectation was that Adam Lambert, often dubbed ‘Glambert’ in the press – the man with the soaring voice, epic song productions and universal audience appeal, would undoubtedly take the title.

Indeed, for the first time, producers and audiences alike believed that Lambert had brought a genuine sense of musical credibility to the programme.

However, the Idol finale revealed that the winner was the affable Kris Allen, a married 23-year old Christian, known for his missionary work and his mild but pleasing performances.

With all of the hype that preceded the result, it is perhaps worth considering whether the probing media attention surrounding Lambert’s possible homosexuality played a role in his failure?

Certainly, in the weeks leading up to the finale, everyone from the New York Times to conservative pundits such as Bill ‘O Reilly were debating the significance of such a prominent gay pop icon.

This focus began months before when pictures of the flamboyant performer dressed in drag and kissing other men were released into the blogosphere and were later picked up by the mainstream US print and television media.

Surprisingly, much of the press coverage was positive. It seemed that an increasingly liberal America was willing to embrace a male homosexual pop icon. For a country that has yet to produce an openly gay mainstream singer this was a major step forward.

Many Britons won’t think that this matter is worth debate, after all, we have Will Young, George Michael, Elton, John, Dan Gillespie from The Feeling, potentially Mika and many more, who are all successful. But when we consider US chart achievements, the only thriving gay musicians tend to be females such as Melissa Etheridge or KD Lang.

So the question here remains. What backfired for Adam Lambert? Before the results, I teamed up with the editor of gay website After Elton to discuss some of the potential pitfalls that the contestant might face.

First of all, a point that we noted was that Adam’s not-so ambiguous sexuality, kept the press talking about the programme, which had been fledgling in the ratings.

Yet, when journalists queried Adam about his sexuality, he would come back with vague quotes such as “I know who I am…and I’m going to keep on singing”. Perhaps, what happened here is that Lambert became a political prop for the gay community? He wasn’t speaking out about his sexuality, but audiences were confused nonetheless. Teenage girls continued to scream and hold up posters asking him to ‘marry’ them, whilst others wanted him to come out on the record (which he never did, despite the explicit evidence suggesting his homosexuality). To fans, this insincerity might have swayed them.

Indeed, with nearly as many votes cast in an Idol finale as there are in an US presidential election, the illusion of sincerity is of the utmost importance. Undoubtedly, the discussion surrounding the Idol contestant’s orientation might have somehow isolated voters somewhere in the run up to the final.

On the other hand, a lot of attention should be focused on the gay contestant’s competition. As I mentioned before, Kris Allen is a married Christian man. And he’s not married to just any woman either. She’s a pretty, all-American blonde girl who eagerly cheers him on every week, alongside his parents, Kim and Neil.

Now, if the passage of Proposition 8 last November in California has anything to say about the American public, it is that they tend to relate to those who share the same traditional family values as themselves. Debatably, it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to assume that voters stuck with a conventional singer, who wouldn’t threaten traditional patriarchy.

Let us not forget that the USA is going through great social changes at the moment. Habitually conservative states such as Iowa and Vermont, which are often referred to as part of ‘The Heart of America’, have recently passed advances for same sex couples. To also suggest that the most visible pop icon will also be a homosexual during this very time might have been just a little too overwhelming for the public.

Some commentators will fail to understand the importance of this issue. But in the end, one must realise that the gay (male) community in America tends to lack a personalised visibility. An openly gay icon that Americans can adore, respect and cherish, who is not afraid to conceal his identity. Unfortunately, season 8 of American Idol did not bring the gay community the result that it had hoped for.

Still, there have been some advances. For instance, Simon Cowell in an interview with TV Guide noted that he has ‘never had an issue’ with Adam Lambert’s sexuality (whatever it may be) and he noted that Adam’s presence was a ‘huge step forward’ for the show.

Now that the competition is officially over (and producers have lost their stake in the contestants’ lives), it will be interesting to see how Mr Lambert tackles the issue of his sexuality in the public forum. One can only hope that he is able to articulate his sexual preference honestly and that he will still be able to continue to develop a successful musical career.

Omar Hassan is a UK-based writer and freelance journalist and has spent many years living in the USA. He contributes regularly to a range of publications including: Primer Magazine (as a Contributing Editor), What’s On Stage Magazine, Orange Music/Somethin’ Else Productions,, Push It Magazine, The Advocate, After Elton and Film International (forthcoming).

More: Americas

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