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06.10.09

Cashing In on Coming Out

Adam Lambert’s admissions of his homosexuality and drug use in this week’s Rolling Stone may come as a shock to few, but his confessional attitude is publicity gold.

Everyone who watched American Idol this past season knew that Adam Lambert was gay—fans didn’t need to see the tabloid pictures of the Idol runner-up tonguing his boyfriend and dressed in drag to know. These days, even Middle America’s gaydar is pretty finely honed when it comes to that sort of thing.

So the current cover story of Rolling Stone, featuring a seductively posed Lambert—complete with his signature guyliner and a strategically placed garden snake licking at his crotch—wherein he comes clean and comes out, definitely isn’t a big shock. “I don’t think it should be a surprise for anyone to hear I’m gay,” he said in the piece. He’s right—it wasn’t.

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What the story did do, though, was re-brand the 27-year-old star in a way that Idol contestants have rarely branded themselves—as an “other,” hence insuring him the kind of celebrity rarely heaped up the second-place finisher of the competition. The story all but guaranteed that Lambert wouldn’t be the punchline that 2003 Idol runner-up Clay Aiken had become since playing hide-and-seek with the press about his sexuality for five years.

“I didn’t want the Clay Aiken thing and the celebrity-magazine bullshit. I need to be able to explain myself in context,” Lambert told Rolling Stone. And explain he did, in what was the best public-relations stunt that Lambert could have pulled to maintain his relevance over other Idol also-rans like Justin Guarini, Diana DeGarmo and Sanjaya Malakar.

“He said ‘Yeah so I am going to tell you everything and I want to say it all once, and this is the way it is going to be.’ And then he just completely re-branded himself.”

“He didn’t lie. He was transparent and honest,” explained brand futurist Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology, and market-trend analyst. “The gay thing these days is a brand in itself and his appeal to the tween market that drives the sales for Idol products these days will be huge. The biggest trend for tweens isn’t to be in the crowd these days, it is to stand out in it. That is what Lambert has done by branding himself this way. And that is what is going to drive his record sales.”

And Lambert didn’t just raise the gay issue in his Rolling Stone interview. He dropped another bomb on America by openly discussing his former drug use, admitting he dropped mushrooms at Burning Man—the trip, he added, ultimately led to the revelation that he had to compete on American Idol.

“We’ve seen the gay issue with Idol contestants before here and in the British version, but we have never seen someone be so open about drugs. That is also going to give him points and gives him an edge that we haven’t seen with Idol,” said Lindstrom.

Lambert has proved himself adept at getting the tweens and the cougars on board. Writing on Newsweek’s PopVox blog, Joan Lambert gushed that she and her middle-aged friends “…love Adam, truly, madly, deeply, in a kind of weirdly Mrs. Robinson sexual way.” The fact that Lambert is homosexual helps to make him an even more “safe” sexual fantasy. Just as Clay Aiken inspired a creepy tribe of middle-age, Midwestern Claymates who waxed obsessively about the singer on blogs and message boards and viciously defended him against rumors of his homosexuality, Lambert appeals to an older female demographic hungry for young meat that doesn’t seem overtly intimidating.

It seems like Lambert’s publicist Roger Widynowski, who also works with Idol’s Katharine McPhee and the recent winner Kris Allen, is one smart cookie. Mere hours after Lambert’s admission hit the media maelstrom, on Wednesday morning, the singer signed a deal for his solo record debut with RCA Records to be released in the fall.

“I’m not so sure Adam didn’t come up on with it on his own. No publicist would have said ‘Hey talk about your druggie experiences.’”

But Rolling Stone contributor Vanessa Grigoriadis, who interviewed Lambert for the piece, says she thinks it was Adam himself and not his publicity machine that decided how and when to spill the juice.

“Adam is really smart,” Grigoriadis told The Daily Beast. “It was clear to me that his people knew that this was a good strategy for Adam, but I’m not so sure Adam didn’t come up on with it on his own. No publicist would have said ‘Hey talk about your druggie experiences.’”

And his admission also came as a shock for the magazine, she notes, denying the rumor that Rolling Stone set this all up as a publicity stunt to sell copies in a market saturated with celebrity gossip.

“It was through no part of my own did I get this story.” Grigoriadis says. “I went to the finale and waited around forever. We knew he had the cover, but that was it. I went to the party and I went to his publicist’s offices and by that point I was like ‘He had better say something fucking good,’ and then he came out [of the room] and he actually came out. He said ‘Yeah so I am going to tell you everything and I want to say it all once, and this is the way it is going to be.’ And then he just completely re-branded himself.”

Who isn’t going to be jumping on the Lambert bandwagon now? Straight women like myself, tweens, cougars (maybe even a few Claymates), and straight guys who think Burning Man and mushrooms are the key to happiness all have a reason to get behind this guy.

Lambert's star power will no doubt eclipse that of actual Idol winner Kris Allen. Despite his phenomenal singing voice and boyish good looks, Allen is a well-adjusted homebody, who is married and sweet-tempered. And who wants that in their celebrity when they can have someone with smart media knowhow, the swagger of a champion, and a desire to confess all his secrets to the world… and knows where to score the good drugs?

Johanna Piazza wrote the Full Disclosure column for the New York Daily News. A master's candidate in religious studies at NYU, she has contributed to the New York Times, Glamour, Blender, and is a regular contributor to CNN.