Adam Lambert: The Billboard Cover Story & Video

Robert Sebree
Adam Lambert

Less than a year after the 'American Idol' wild child burst onto the scene in an explosion of glitter and leather,

But in a year when the clubby stylings of


All of this is the end result of a heady year for Lambert. At this time in 2008, he was waiting for the Hollywood elimination rounds of "Idol" to start. In TV time, it takes six months for "Idol" to crown a winner, but the production process runs year-round.

Despite the artifice of the show, it does drop-kick contestants into the media spotlight-a valuable lesson for any pop star. "They put you through it to see if you can hang," Lambert says.

The 2009 season of "Idol" attracted an average of 25.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen, the lowest average in several years; but it's still the most-watched show on TV, as it has been since 2004. The finale where Allen was proclaimed the winner over Lambert was watched by 28.8 million viewers-10 million more than the 2009 Grammy Awards.

"The finale of 'Idol' was pretty epic," Lambert says. "I got up there and was singing with Queen and Kiss-I got to put on a costume. I really feel the finale summed up what I'm trying to do, and what I'm going to do. I think that being onstage with legendary people like that reminds you of what showmanship is."

Weeks after the "Idol" season wrapped, the top 10 contestants embark on the Idols Live tour-a valedictory sprint of 52 cities in three months that grossed $30 million this year, according to Billboard Boxscore.

While group numbers are a standard part of the show, each high-finishing "Idol" contestant gets his or her chance to shine in a solo. Lambert did a medley of David Bowie's "Life on Mars?," "Fame" and "Let's Dance." He saw it as a chance to stage-test the sound he had in mind for his debut. "I always wanted to do Bowie songs, and I never did them on 'Idol' because it wasn't ever the right fit," he says. "We did a different, slightly modern production, which is basically what I'm doing on my album."

And much like the TV show, the "Idol" tour puts its participants through the wringer. "I've done theater for years and I've sung for a long time, but I've never done a solo set in concert night after night while traveling," Lambert says. "It was a good way to learn about how to take care of yourself and how to pace yourself while on the road."

With the fame comes accompanying challenges; Lambert has become a favorite subject of the tabloids and paparazzi. "Yeah, it's weird," he says. "You know, it's like, 'Hi, I'm just walking to my car-why do you care?' "

It's very likely that they care because of the wink-wink, nudge-nudge game that was played in the media about Lambert's sexuality during his "Idol" tenure. Lambert demurred on the questions about whether he was gay until the Rolling Stone article; since then he's unwittingly become Adam Lambert, Icon for Gay Youth. It's not a mantle he shoulders easily.

"I don't want to be a spokesperson for anybody, no matter who they are," he says. "I'm not following this career path to be a role model or to be a poster child for anything except for music. If there's an indirect impact that my presence has on certain issue, then I think that's a good thing."

It's a mature point of view to take as Lambert's private life becomes inextricably linked to his public persona. It's an issue that will get raised again and again-as he walked the red carpet for "2012," for example, he was asked if he brought a date. His laughing response? "My date is my jacket, actually."

A few days after the premiere, Lambert is sitting in Fuller's office, swiveling back and forth in a white office chair as he prepares for another long day of media interviews. The movie, as it turned out, was a blast, and "Time for Miracles" was warmly received. "People stayed and listened," he says, honestly happy. Of course they did. That's entertainment.