Adam Lambert first captivated the world with his rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" at his "American Idol" audition, impressing the judges with his astonishing vocals and his extraordinary range. The show catapulted Lambert to stardom, but his journey to fame hasn’t always been easy.
Lambert had a happy childhood, telling Us Weekly that he had a "great, easy upbringing" in a "supportive" family. While the singer said that he didn’t have to overcome many obstacles in his path to becoming an entertainer, once he became famous, things were a lot different. His sexuality — Lambert is the first openly gay artist to have an album hit No. 1 on the album charts — was scrutinized early on in his career, to the point that he told Time that he questioned whether his career was even making him happy anymore.
Lambert continued to pursue his passion in spite of his hardships, and he is stronger for it. From his early days on the stage to his status as an iconic rock star who takes charge of his career, here’s a closer look at how Adam Lambert has transformed over the years.
He grew up singing ‘the classics’
Adam Lambert has been creative since he was a little boy — and not just when it comes to music. His mother, Leila, told People that, as a kid, Lambert was into "any kind of arts and crafts" and wanted to be involved with "anything to do with being creative."
Lambert’s performing chops were evident from a young age as well. As noted by Music Theatre International’s website, Lambert started acting with the Metropolitan Educational Theatre Network at the age of 8, and continued to train and perform with the theater group for the next eight years. The singer also started vocal training during his childhood, telling Variety that his voice teacher "was like a mentor" and trained him in "the classics" like Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, and Cher. A video uploaded to YouTube of Lambert singing at his high school graduation showed off his killer vocals, proving that all of his hard work and training paid off early on.
Lambert ‘didn’t have any friends’ growing up
He may be an internationally recognized music star today, but Adam Lambert was nowhere near as popular when he was growing up. The singer told HuffPost Live (via Pressparty) that, while he wasn’t exactly bullied growing up, he also wasn’t one of the cool kids. He described his middle school self as "kind of a loner," saying that he didn’t have too many friends or much of a social life. Even though he wasn’t targeted by bullies, Lambert admitted to spending a lot of time worrying about his social standing and that he deliberately "avoided a lot of social contact" because he was so afraid that he would be bullied.
Fortunately, things got better for Lambert in high school. He said that his social life improved a lot once he got to ninth grade because he was able to join clubs and find "people who had shared interests."
He came out when he was a teenager
Adam Lambert has long been secure with his sexuality, and he came out to his friends and family as gay when he was 18 years old, as noted by The Guardian. He told People that his mom, Leila, was the one who encouraged him to come out, saying that "she kind of initiated" the conversation, "which was hilarious." He added that he was "kind of an out-there kid" but that he was never made to feel bad about his sexuality and that his family was fully supportive of him.
In a speech that he gave to young members of the LGBTQIA+ community at London’s Mosaic Centre in 2018 (via NME), Lambert said that coming out "was a relief" and that being honest about who he is helped him improve his relationships.
After coming out, Lambert became more confident and never looked back. He told Rolling Stone that he is "proud of [his] sexuality" and "embrace[s] it."
He skipped college to focus on his performance career
While many performers go to college in order to hone their skills through advanced training, Adam Lambert decided to launch his career fresh out of high school. As noted by The Guardian, Lambert moved to Los Angeles and began to land gigs. One of his early jobs out of high school was a ten-month stint on a cruise ship, but it wasn’t long before his theatrical career took off.
According to his biography at the Jewish Virtual Library, Lambert landed the role of Joshua in "The Ten Commandments: The Musical" in 2004, starring alongside Val Kilmer at the Kodak Theater (now the Dolby Theater) in Los Angeles.
From there, Lambert landed several more stage credits. That same year, he starred as Phil Mackey in "110 in the Shade" at the Pasadena Playhouse. He was also part of the touring cast of "Wicked" in 2005 and its Los Angeles cast in 2007 as the understudy for Fiyero.
Lambert was ‘overwhelmed’ by his American Idol fame
In 2008, Adam Lambert auditioned for "American Idol," transforming his life forever. Even though, as he told Entertainment Weekly, Lambert thought auditioning for the show was a "long shot" and that he wasn’t the right "type" for the show, he decided to take a risk.
Since the show stipulated that a contestant couldn’t be under an entertainment contract and Lambert was still attached to a production of "Wicked" at the time, he had to quit his job after his first two auditions in front of the producers went well so he could compete in the televised auditions in front of the "American Idol" judges. Fortunately, he nailed that audition and Lambert made it on to the show and came in second place in the show’s eighth season.
Lambert’s big break led to a lot of change. "I was really overwhelmed in the very beginning," he told Billboard, as reported by People, adding that everything happened "so fast." Before he knew it, Lambert was in the spotlight and was gracing magazine covers. It was an exciting time, but it also left Lambert "dealing with the personal adjustment I had to make."
He had to battle homophobia early in his career
While Adam Lambert never made a secret of his sexuality, he didn’t publicly discuss it on "American Idol." Several outlets declared the reason Lambert — an early favorite to win — only came in second was because of homophobia. "Adam Lambert Loses, Homophobia Wins," wrote HuffPost in 2009. Lambert told The Guardian that, as the competition progressed, speculation about his sexuality "was becoming bigger" than his singing, which he described as "fundamentally … f***ed up."
He ended up publicly coming out in a Rolling Stone cover story shortly after the "American Idol" finale, but his struggle for acceptance was just starting. His first album, "For Your Entertainment," was effectively launched with a performance at the 2009 American Music Awards in which he kissed a male member of the band, something that was censored.
His label, RCA, was afraid that focus on his sexuality would hurt album sales. Lambert wrote in a 2017 Instagram post that "the powers that be" issued an alternative cover for his first album "for retailers who felt ‘uncomfortable’" with his preferred cover, in which he said he "was feelin my gender fluid … glam rock fantasy."
Lambert carried on Freddie Mercury’s spirit as Queen’s frontman
In spite of all of the drama that marked Adam Lambert’s early career, he still caught the attention of some pretty notable people. In Brian May’s book "Queen in 3-D," May explained how Lambert became a part of the iconic band Queen. May said (via Louder) that he was inundated with messages about Lambert’s talent after he performed the Queen song "Bohemian Rhapsody" at his "American Idol" audition, saying that Lambert was "the natural successor to Freddie [Mercury]" and that Lambert would be the ideal choice to go on tour with Queen as their new frontman.
Lambert first performed with Queen when May and fellow Queen bandmate Roger Taylor were asked to go on "American Idol" to perform with the finalist. Lambert’s chemistry with the band was immediately apparent, and, as noted by Rolling Stone, he performed his first concert with the band in 2012.
Lambert told Australian radio station Triple M (via Blabbermouth) that, while he’s not trying to replace or "imitate" Freddie Mercury, he is honored to be able "carry on [Mercury’s] spirit."
His third solo album showcased a whole new sound
Adam Lambert’s sound has changed a lot over the course of his career. His "American Idol" audition established him as a powerhouse and his first album, "For Your Entertainment," was a major hit. HuffPost described his debut as "a disco/glam aesthetic of escapism and liberation" that, while ambitious and impressive, embodied a decidedly mainstream sound.
Lambert has slowly moved away from that sound over his career, making a big departure with his third album, The Original High, which The San Diego Union-Tribune praised for its "musical maturity," hailing the album as an "assured, sophisticated and carefully calibrated work."
Lambert told the outlet that the shift in sound was deliberate and that he wanted to move away from the "ridiculous, thematic pop" of his first two albums. He said that he wanted a sound that was truer to himself that would "connect" with his audience "in a real way" on his third album. Lambert’s vocals were noticeably more subdued — but no less powerful — on "The Original High," with Lambert saying that he had realized "less is more."
Why he took a break from his solo career
Nearly five years passed between the release of Adam Lambert’s third studio album and his fourth. While part of this hiatus was because Lambert was busy performing with Queen, the break was also partially due to personal reasons. As the singer explained to Entertainment Weekly, he wanted to give himself time "to get inspired." He also wanted to focus more on the creative details of making a new album "and protect it from the business." A lot of growth happened in those years. Lambert said his shift in how he approached his music was "from a place of self-worth" and a determination "to take back my power."
In an interview with BBC News, Lambert admitted that he was "fried and disillusioned," as well as "detached in my personal life," during his hiatus. He revealed that he needed to get back on track and find his love for music again before he was able to record another album.
Lambert said being an openly gay artist has changed a lot since he began his career
While Adam Lambert’s sexuality was a hot topic when he first became famous in the late 2000s, the fact that he’s gay is something that most people don’t pay attention to anymore. This, said Lambert, is all part of a major — and much needed — shift in the music industry, which is now more accepting of LGBTQIA+ artists. "It’s a totally different landscape," Lambert told Variety. He added that there is now "much more visibility," making it less scary for openly gay artists.
Lambert said that, while everyone he met in the music industry supported him "personally," they were worried that Lambert being openly gay would make him less marketable. Now, however, it’s clear that the public is accepting of LGBTQIA+ artists, which has made a big difference and is "allowing a lot more diversity to be pushed through."
Lambert is glad that his sexuality is no longer a popular topic of discussion, especially as it’s not something he ever considered to be that big of a deal. "It’s just who I am," he told the Independent.
Lambert’s sound changed yet again with his fourth album
In 2020, Adam Lambert released "Velvet," his fourth studio album. "Velvet" marked another shift in Lambert’s style, with Variety describing it as "less glamorously amorously entertaining" than his previous work and "more grimily soulful and sleekly funky." The outlet praised the album as "his most accomplished solo work to date." Velvet didn’t just mark a shift in Lambert’s style, but it was also a testament to his personal growth.
Ultimately, Lambert told Entertainment Weekly that "Velvet" is an album of self-exploration and identity. "I’ve leaned really far into my queerness on this," he said, sharing that he was "very much marching to the beat of my own drum" on the album.
Lambert also said that he wants other people to find themselves and their own empowerment in his music. The album was a deeply personal one for Lambert and is hopefully indicative of the kind of music we will see from him in the future.
He made the move to an indie label
Adam Lambert’s fourth studio album, "Velvet," was notable because it was his first at an indie label. Lambert decided to make the move from his previous label, Warner Bros, to the independent label Empire.
Lambert made up his mind to change labels after realizing he didn’t like how a lot of Top 40 music sounded, telling BBC News that he found himself "gravitating towards indie stuff" rather than most of the pop he was hearing. In search of a more "adventurous and moody" sound, Lambert moved labels so that he could create music that wasn’t based largely on what was trending.
Lambert explained that moving to an indie label gave him more control over his music. While, at a major label, he said that his music was controlled by "ulterior motives" which were primarily related to money, switching to an indie label put him more in charge of his sound.
Lambert tried his hand at film and television
Adam Lambert started his professional performance career in the theater, so it’s surprising that he hasn’t done more theatrical acting since he appeared on "American Idol." Instead, Lambert branched out and started acting for film and television.
Lambert has racked up a modest list of credits over the years. From 2013 to 2014, he had an arc on "Glee," playing Elliot "Starchild" Gilbert. He also played Eddie in the live 2016 TV performance of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again," and he had an uncredited cameo in the 2016 Freddie Mercury biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody." Lambert has also done voice acting, providing the voice of Emperor Maximus in 2019’s "Playmobil: The Movie."
Lambert hopes to do more acting in the future. In an appearance on the Australian TV show Studio 10, as reported by PopCulture, in 2019, Lambert seemingly hinted that he’d like to portray Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s film about the icon, saying that he’d been compared to the king quite a bit. While the role ended up going to Austin Butler, as noted by Deadline, we will hopefully see more of Lambert on the big screen in the future.
Lambert’s ‘idea of success has evolved’ throughout his career
Things have changed a lot for Adam Lambert over the years. Not only has he become more accepted in the industry, but his priorities have shifted quite a bit over the course of his career. Lambert told BBC News that his happiness used to be tied to how successful he was commercially. "It was unhealthy," he admitted. "I had to rethink things."
Things are a lot different now. In an interview with Variety, Lambert said that his "idea of success has evolved." Instead of defining his worth by his commercial success, Lambert is happy just to be able to do what he loves to do. "Being allowed to continue being a creative as a career — and live comfortably — is a blessing," said the singer. Though Adam Lambert is worth a lot of money these days, he added that "personal satisfaction" matters far more to him now than popularity and financial success.
He started dating Oliver Gliese
In November 2020, the Daily Mail published photos of Adam Lambert with a "mystery man" on vacation in Mexico, speculating that he was the singer’s new boyfriend. His new beau, Oliver Gliese, made things Instagram official the following Valentine’s Day when he posted a picture of himself and Lambert captioned with a black heart.
As of this writing, the duo still seems to be going strong, although not much is known about Gliese. According to Global Fashion Agenda, he is an innovation forum assistant for the organization. He also previously worked for Danish fashion brand Ganni. Although involved with an internationally recognized superstar, Gliese keeps a relatively low profile. It’s clear he’s smitten with Lambert, though, referring to him as "my ride or die" in a 2021 Instagram post. Lambert also seems quite happy in the relationship, periodically posting pictures with his partner on his own Instagram page.
He signed on to be a judge on Starstruck
Adam Lambert got an up-close look at what it’s like to be on the judging side of a singing competition when he joined the panel of "Starstruck" in 2022. The British competition features undiscovered singers who undergo a makeover and impersonate real-life singing idols. "With an expert glam team to oversee their extraordinary transformation, impressive staging and a spectacular sound and light show, our singing stars will be getting the complete ‘superstar experience," said the show’s network, ITV (via Metro).
Contestants compete in groups of three, with a winner being declared at the end of each episode. This makes for a change of pace from "American Idol," which only has one winner per season, and Lambert told What to Watch that he enjoys seeing a rotation of victors. "You get that rush watching a contestant you have been rooting for from the beginning episode to the end which is really fun," he said.