THE YOUNG PRE­TENDER

Adam Lam­bert on filling the shoes of Fred­die Mer­cury on tour with Queen

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

‘I’m not Fred­die,” in­sists the bearded young Amer­i­can, loung­ing in a bro­caded black and gold jacket, tight leg­gings and knee-high lace-up boots. “I’m not try­ing to be Fred­die, or com­pete with Fred­die. But I do feel some kin­ship and I’m seiz­ing this op­por­tu­nity to try and make his mu­sic come to life again.” On the first day of 2015, the most searched for term on Google UK was “Adam Lam­bert”. It seemed the na­tion had been stirred into col­lec­tive cu­rios­ity about the iden­tity of the singer who wel­comed in the new year with Queen. As fire­works ex­ploded, 12mil­lion view­ers rocked to the sound of Bo­hemian Rhap­sody and We are the Cham­pi­ons on BBC One. This week, the group em­bark on a UK arena tour, per­form­ing to 160,000 fans be­fore rolling on to the con­ti­nent. It is all quite im­pres­sive for a band whose iconic lead singer, Fred­die Mer­cury, passed away 24 years ago. So who is this young whip­per­snap­per swing­ing the mi­cro­phone in front of white bearded 65-year-old drum­mer Roger Tay­lor and frizzy haired 67-year-old gui­tarist Brian May? “Adam is a phe­nom­e­non,” says May of the vo­cal­ist he first spot­ted on TV show Amer­i­can Idol. “We weren’t look­ing for another singer but Adam is kind of a gift from God. He has a tech­ni­cal abil­ity beyond 99.9 per cent of singers in the world. You see that and can’t help but think, ‘I won­der what would hap­pen if we opened that box again?’” “My nick­name for him is Camp Elvis,” says Tay­lor. “His pres­ence and charisma re­minds me of Pres­ley in so many ways, the look, the show­man­ship, the overtly sex­ual at­ti­tude. He is ab­so­lutely scin­til­lat­ing on stage, a voice in a mil­lion, and the same was true of Fred­die. There are almost fright­en­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties, es­pe­cially so­cially, as an overtly gay man full of wit and ban­ter. There are mo­ments back­stage when it seems like noth­ing has changed at all.” “F--- yeah, I had doubts! It was re­ally in­tim­i­dat­ing,” the 32-year-old Lam­bert pro­claims, re­call­ing his first per­for­mances with one of rock’s leg­endary bands. “Fred­die is like a myth, how do you live up to that?” Lam­bert was just nine when Mer­cury died. He dis­cov­ered the band through his par­ents’ record col­lec­tion. “Every­body knows Queen pe­riph­er­ally, you hear them at sport­ing events and sta­di­ums, my dad helped me make the con­nec­tion be­tween the mu­sic and the peo­ple mak­ing it.” So he was al­ready a fan when he got a chance to sing We are the Cham­pi­ons with May and Tay­lor dur­ing the fi­nale of Amer­i­can Idol in 2009. “I was pinch­ing my­self. Th­ese guys were part of the golden era, you are look­ing at their pic­tures in books and mag­a­zines, then you look up and they are in the dress­ing room next to you.” They got along well enough for Queen to in­vite Lam­bert to join them for a 15-minute set at the MTV Europe Mu­sic Awards in 2011. “I made the mis­take of go­ing on­line and read­ing some of the com­ments after, and oh man, there were diehard Queen fans that were ruth­less. I thought I’ve got to step up to the plate here.” When it was pro­posed that they play gigs to­gether in 2012, he says: “I knew it would be an up­hill climb ev­ery night, a big chal­lenge on a per­sonal and per­for­mance level.” They played six shows, in Rus­sia and the UK. “I was wing­ing it, that’s what it felt like.” But when they re­united to tour Amer­ica last year, some­thing clicked into place. “I re­alised it’s no use be­ing awestruck be­cause we are in this to­gether. I’d done my home­work. I read ev­ery biog­ra­phy, watched ev­ery doc­u­men­tary, lis­tened to ev­ery al­bum. It’s like I’ve crawled into the mu­sic, its part of my blood now, I don’t have to think about it, I can just be. You let in­stinct take over and that’s when things get re­ally in­ter­est­ing.” Lam­bert has fan­tas­tic vo­cal range and con­trol. “He’s a very dar­ing singer,” ac­cord­ing to May. “He goes for notes he’s got no right to reach.” Although still not par­tic­u­larly well known in the UK, Amer­i­can Idol made him a house­hold name in the US where he has had two hit al­bums, even though he hasn’t en­joyed the kind of block­buster ca­reer his tal­ent prob­a­bly war­rants. “I don’t think pop mu­sic is re­ally about how high you can sing,” says Lam­bert. “I’ve learnt a lot in the last five years. It’s not about tech­nique, it’s about: are you cool? Are you like­able? Are you in­ter­est­ing? Is there some­thing about you that grabs peo­ple? And oh yeah, you can sing too? That’s nice.” Charm­ing, chatty, good hu­moured, Lam­bert com­ports him­self with a light camp­ness, wear­ing his sex­u­al­ity eas­ily. “Lis­ten, I’ve been out of the closet since I was 18, and I’m not get­ting back in,” he as­sures me. He was raised in San Diego in a cre­ative, lib­eral house­hold, and there was al­ways a lot of mu­sic around. From the age of nine, Lam­bert be­came in­volved in the­atre. When it be­came ev­i­dent that singing was his strength, he took voice lessons and stud­ied opera. From the age of 19, he was mak­ing a liv­ing in mu­si­cal the­atre, per­form­ing in pro­duc­tions of Hair, Bri­gadoon and Wicked. “I kind of slowly fell out of love with the idea of be­ing on­stage eight shows a week do­ing the same thing ev­ery per­for­mance, over and over again. Cre­atively, I re­ally get off on spon­tane­ity, im­pulse and nov­elty but those big Broad­way shows be­come kind of cor­po­rate, locked-in things.” In LA, dur­ing his 20s, Lam­bert fronted short-lived in­die rock bands with a glam rock bent. “Bowie and Queen were what I dug into, the way they per­formed, the an­drog­yny, the the­atri­cal, campy per­sona. When I was com­ing up, there were a

'Fred­die is like a myth, how do you live up to that?"

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