Adam Lambert, the singer
Many responses have hit my e-mail inbox about my recent musings on Adam Lambert. Some readers appreciate my explorations of the musical scenes that inform his approach; others find them irrelevant, even disgusting. A few e-mail writers seem to think my mentioning Lambert's ties to gay culture is an attempt to discredit or demean him — as if being gay equals being corrupt or "less than." I find this disturbing. More justified, I think, is the question some others ask: Ann, what about his singing? Isn' t that what makes Lambert so special, after all?
Yes, of course! Lambert's voice is a rare instrument. Without it, his performances would merely be glitzy entertainment. To put it another way, he'd be Normund Gentle. Confrontational style attracts controversy, but it can't raise deeper emotions. For that you need real talent, the kind that can move even those who never meant to pay attention.
Lambert sings in a certain way partly because he learned that method doing musicals and cabaret as well as glammy rock; he's been working onstage since childhood and is well-trained. But a very particular gift allows him to go beyond the average show tune belter — or the average heavy-metal squawker. I think this gift puts him in a league with some of the best singers of the rock era. It has to do with the passaggio — his ability to transition from the lower register to that killer falsetto.
A friend who is a singer pointed this out to me (thank you, Erika Gunn!). She noted that many of the vocalists we find most unearthly and stirring can go from their earthy chest voice to the more piercing head voice without stumbling into the weak, constricted zone that often plagues singers as they make the leap. One blogger described it this way: The voice is like a stick-shift car, and the passaggio is the area of shifting, that risky spot where you'd better be both flexible and totally in command.