THE YOUNG PRETENDER
Adam Lambert on filling the shoes of Freddie Mercury on tour with Queen
‘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?"