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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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EW on Adam Lambert: Does it matter whether or not he's gay?

May 11, 2009 |  1:01 pm

Adamlambert It's no secret that Entertainment Weekly, with its obsession with wacky list-making ("Top 10 'Terminator' Moments" and "Top 10 Funniest Actresses"), celebrity fertility ("Sarah Jessica Parker: Congrats on the Twins!") and stream-of-consciousness columns (Diablo Cody's Binge Think column often feels like a 900-word Tweet), seems to get fluffier and fluffier by the week. In fact, it if weren't for the presence of writer-columnist Mark Harris, I'd probably have to secure the magazine on my desk with a paperweight just to keep it from wafting toward the ceiling.

Harris delivered another great story this week, offering a fascinating meditation on our ambivalence (and hypocrisy) in dealing with gay figures in showbiz, cleverly disguised as yet another gauzy EW cover story on "American Idol" crooner Adam Lambert. The piece itself conforms to the EW formula, starting as a riff on the whole "AI" success formula, taking 500 or 600 words before getting around to mentioning the magic word "gay." But once Harris gets going, he builds up a real head of steam, shrewdly analyzing how Lambert has coyly sidestepped the "Is he or isn't he?" game while also noting how coy "American Idol" has been on its side of the equation in dealing with its contestants' sexuality.

Of course, this coyness, as Harris observes, has to end once you leave the carefully choreographed "AI" universe and go boldly into the mainstream pop music arena. As he observes:

"There's always been a fracture between how you succeed on 'Idol' (essentially by playing the game) and how you succeed beyond 'Idol' once you enter a world in which being the cookie-cutter product of a network series is a liability. But Adam has taken a (big, sequined) battering ram to that aesthetic. And he's doing so while playing out the big issue — the gay question — with a complicated mixture of caution and shrewdness."   

Is the fact that Lambert, though widely presumed to be gay, hasn't outed himself a step forward or a step backward? Harris, who is openly gay — he's married to playwright Tony Kushner — calls it a "huge" step sideways. While other "Idol" contestants have regaled viewers with far more information about their personal history than we could possibly want to know, Lambert's personal life has largely been off-limits, or as Harris colorfully put it: "He was apparently made by the hand of God and left in a basket backstage at 'Wicked,' where he was discovered, bestowed with a lifetime supply of black nail polish and raised by musical-theater queens." 

Is this progress? Harris ends his piece with a few provocative questions of his own, after pointing out that Lambert has handled questions about his sexuality with a disarming jokiness. He says: "Maybe it's still too costly to say who you are. It's certainly costly not to. Does [Adam] feel he can't? Does the show feel he shouldn't? Is his choice personal or strategic? Will it pay off? And does any of this represent progress?"

Good questions all. What do you think?

Photo: Adam Lambert. Credit: Jason Merritt / Getty Images.