American Idol Season 8 alum Adam Lambert concluded his run on FOX’s singing competition as the runner-up to Kris Allen in 2009. Years later, the 32-year-old used the momentum he gained from his Idol debut and went on to produce two solo albums, collect an army of Glamberts, and land a recurring guest role on Glee — amongst many other achievements.
Now, the “Whataya Want From Me” crooner, who was a mentor on Idol Season 13, will return to his stomping grounds during its New York auditions as a fill-in judge for Keith Urban, who is taking a temporary leave after his wife, Nicole Kidman, suffered the tragic loss of her father last week.
“It’s full circle and it’s kind of surreal. I’m sitting there going, ‘This is so strange,’ but it’s such a great opportunity because I feel like, as best as I can, I can try to help them kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel and keep the big picture in mind,” he tells On Air with Ryan Seacrest on Thursday. “Because you’re going through it, you’re sitting in that room, they’ve already been through two big rounds of cattle calls. It’s such a process. It’s not just the glimpse of what we see at home on TV. It’s a big deal.”
Playing substitute judge will require Adam to sit beside show veterans Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr., and be one of three authoritative voices that either advances or turns away a hopeful’s dreams.
“Whenever I watch the show, this [judging] is the part that [is] sometimes hard to watch because I feel so bad for the kids that come in there and don’t cut it, and their dreams are crushed in that moment,” he says. “So I’ve been trying to be sensitive to that, but you know, you got to be honest. And I also think that this is people’s livelihood and I think that if you can just give them some advice — even if they don’t make it through — maybe they can get better in the future.”
Season 13 of the Seacrest-hosted show not only gave rise to winner Caleb Johnson, but also to a contagious onscreen chemistry between the tight-knit judging panel: Keith, Jennifer, and then-rookie Harry. As a temp, Adam was able to capture a glimpse of this light atmosphere.
“I had met her very briefly before, and Harry too. They’re both a ton of fun, down-to-earth,” he shares. “Harry is a full comedian as I’m sure you know. He’s hilarious. And Jennifer was so cool … During one of the breaks, we had like this heart-to-heart about life in the business, and this career, and she’s wonderful. I was so blown away by her.”
Seeing the competition through the opposite side of the table has allowed the For Your Entertainment artist to review his Idol experience in hindsight. If he had the chance to do it all over again, he says he would have done things a little differently.
“I was really proud of the body of work I did on the show. I had a great time. I think it takes a second to kind of get comfortable,” he explains. “And I look back on it and there were a couple of the songs that I picked and a couple of choices that I made that I was like, ‘Oh, woah,’ that I would probably do differently now knowing what I know now.”
Fortunately, his choices on Idol paved the way for his next stripe: Frontman for the legendary rock band Queen. The Adam-Queen collaboration began in 2009 when the rockstars teamed up on Idol for “We Are the Champions” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He later became a fill-in for the late Freddie Mercury on their joint 24-date tour in 2014.
“I was pinching myself every step of the way. I mean, this is an iconic rock band,” he gushes. “It’s an honor to be up there singing the songs that Freddie helped to write and made famous and we sold out all of these arenas. It was nuts. It was thousands of people, I couldn’t believe it.”
Adam’s honor to front for the “Under Pressure” rockers was not taken lightly, rather, he approached the consecrated position with discretion.
“That was the thing that was intimidating about it. I knew that this is sacred ground and I kind of went in cautiously because I was a little concern about that,” Adam says. “I had to, with the band, figure out how to do it respectfully and make sure that we were communicating that I’m also in love with the first image of this band that we all know and love.”
After a show, Adam says he kicked back with Roger Taylor (drummer) and Brian May (guitarist) like it was the 1970s.
“I think Roger is still a little bit more a party animal. Brian is a doctor, you know,” he says. “But they both know how to let their hair down … We had a lot of fun on the plane rides in between. We would finish a show and literally jet out the back, and you know, sweaty, still in a bathrobe, and drive right to the private jet, which I’ve never used a private jet … We would get on this jet, you know, have a couple glasses of wine and just cackle and laugh about the show and they would start telling stories. I just can’t believe I get to hear these. I mean that is like the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll.”
As a solo act, Adam is piecing together his follow-up solo album to 2012’s Trespassing. After parting ways with former record label RCA, the singer-songwriter says he’s collaborating with a new label for his third project.
“I’m not going to say too much because I try to keep things under wraps,” he teases. “I’m working on this album, I’m really excited about it. I got signed to another label, which I’m not going to reveal right now, but it’s a really good deal and it’s a good project. I’m working with an amazing executive producer. Again, I can’t say too much, but it’s going to be really good.”
As for his inspiration, the “Lay Me Down” singer says, “I listen to everything. I think it’s my responsibility.
“You got to hear what’s going on and what people are doing. And I think genre is kind of becoming this like — I don’t think it matters anymore,” he continues. “You can’t sit there and go, ‘You’re pop, you’re rock, you’re dance.’ I think it’s all blending and I think that’s what’s magic.”
Make sure to catch Adam on American Idol during New York Auditions when Season 14 returns to FOX in January 2015.