Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Adam Lambert

He was not the winner of American Idol. He was not even the first Idol runner-up to later make the thoroughly unsurprising announcement that he is gay. (See Aiken, Clay.) But Lambert came first in generating attention: that eyeliner, that voice — ranging from a husky smolder to a granite-splitting glam-rock shriek — and those glittered-out, magnetic performances. And there was the way Lambert treated his sexuality, which reflected the tricky path of gayness toward mainstream acceptance. Lambert never confirmed his being gay until finishing Idol, but, importantly, he never denied it. And unlike Aiken's, his performances had an unmistakable erotic charge — he was a man, not a man-child. After Idol, he infuriated some viewers with a raunchy, grinding show at the American Music Awards on ABC. Rather than apologize, he charged a double standard for gay men while keeping a smile on his face: when Joy Behar told him, on The View, that he was "not exactly a nice Jewish boy," he quipped, "I'm a little different. My dreidel spins the other way." Lambert ended 2009 out, proud — and loud.

— James Poniewozik