What was Good Morning America thinking when they decided to cancel Adam Lambert’s performance, scheduled for Wednesday morning?
According to ABC, it was a no-brainer. “Given his controversial live performance on the AMAs, we were concerned about airing a similar concert so early in the morning,” a spokeswoman said when reached for comment.
But among prominent gay men, the reaction was swift. They’re excoriating the show for what they see as pandering to the religious right, which swamped ABC with calls following a performance Sunday night on the American Music Awards. As Lambert sang the single from his debut album, he made out with one of his male musicians onstage. He also carted another bloke around with a noose and stuck the guy’s face in his crotch.
Said Mickey Boardman, the editorial director of Paper magazine: “I’m shocked that GMA would do this,” he said. “It’s caving in to pressure from extremists. I wouldn’t protest them having Ann Coulter on the show and I think she’s Satan.”
Michael Musto of the Village Voice, said: “I’m horrified. I guess they would have canceled Elvis in the '50s or '60s for bumping his pelvis. Why is an obvious expression of sexuality worthy of censure?”
Ironically, many gay men (including Musto) weren’t terribly impressed with the performance itself, which seemed like a belabored attempt on the part of a slightly schlocky performer (think: Freddie Mercury by way of Supercuts) to inject his image with some edge.
Mark Harris, a columnist for Entertainment Weekly, said, “It seems like somebody at GMA needs a lesson in how to seize an opportunity.”
As Mark Harris, an openly gay columnist for Entertainment Weekly, put it to The Daily Beast, “It was a cheesy and needlessly vulgar move on a prime-time network show. If this was Adam Lambert’s attempt to show that he’s more daring than the mainstream popular movement right now, my response is: ‘Give me a break. You came up on American Idol.’”
But by banning him, GMA turned Lambert into a martyr and provided gay people with a potent reminder that people in America remain deeply uneasy with the idea of two guys getting it on, even in this post- Will & Grace era.
“It’s fine if the gays are rearranging your throw rugs, but when they express their sexuality it’s somehow too horrifying for people to see,” Boardman said.
He added: “I’m sure they wanted Kanye West when he made a spectacle of himself on the Video Music Awards this September. I just can’t see any reason they would not want him other than that he’s gay, he admits to being gay, and he acts gay.
The famed sex columnist Dan Savage saw it similarly. “I think it's a ridiculous double standard,” he said. “People are comfortable with us so long as we're not having sex or being sexual or doing anything that might cause someone who is uncomfortable with the idea of gay sex to have to wrestle with mental images of gay sex. It's one thing to be gay like Neil Patrick Harris on the Tony Awards (culturally gay). It's another thing to be gay like Adam Lambert was on the American Music Awards (sexually gay). Americans can handle gay people, they can look at us on TV, but they still have issues with gay desire, and they have a hard time looking at that on TV.”
Even Aaron Hicklin, the editor of Out magazine, is now rushing to defend him. A week ago, his magazine was locked in a war of the words with Lambert, who appeared on the cover of the magazine’s “Out 100” issue. In an open letter to Lambert, Hicklin lambasted the American Idol runner-up for agreeing to appear on the cover only after editors there agreed to put straight people on the cover with him. “Getting straight men and women to do Out is easy these days,” Hicklin lamented. “Getting gay stars like yourself is another matter. Much easier to stick you in Details, where your homosexuality can be neutralized by having you awkwardly grabbing a woman’s breast and saying, ‘Women are pretty.’ So are kittens, Adam, but it doesn’t mean you have to make out with them.”
Speaking to The Daily Beast on Tuesday, Hicklin called ABC’s decision to cancel Lambert’s GMA performance “cowardly.”
“They’re basically saying Good Morning America is not a legitimate news show or a show that’s willing to discuss controversial things,” Hicklin said. “They’d rather censor Lambert than have an important discussion about sexuality. And I think they undermine themselves and help promote the rise of the Web and alternative media outlets, where people are willing to have that conversation.”
EW’s Harris agreed, though for different reasons. He said that pushing Lambert off the show was just a bad business decision. According to him, when a performer runs afoul of public sentiment, the obvious thing to do is book them, get an interview, and see if you can’t get them to apologize on air a la Kanye West or Hugh Grant.
“It seems like somebody at GMA needs a lesson in how to seize an opportunity,” he said. “This is like anti-synergy. [Lambert] goes on the AMAs, he makes big news and then you don’t have him on the next day? I don’t get it.”
That’s apparently how the people at CBS saw it. Almost within seconds of ABC pulling Lambert off the broadcast, they snapped him up for The Early Show. The performance there was scheduled for this morning.
Jacob Bernstein is a senior reporter at The Daily Beast. Previously, he was a features writer at WWD and W Magazine. He has also written for New York magazine, Paper, and The Huffington Post.