Adam Lambert, arguably one of the most popular and important openly gay figures in pop culture today, is featured on the cover of the new December/January issue of Out magazine as part of the "Out 100" special, in which he is excitingly named this year's Breakout Star. This is quite a coup for both Adam and Out...but behind the glossy cover shot (which also includes Cyndi Lauper and Out Entertainer Of The Year Wanda Sykes), there's a shockingly frank letter from Out editor in chief Aaron Hicklin, claiming that the magazine's photo shoot did not go as smoothly as planned--because Adam's reps were allegedly skittish about their star client being featured in a gay publication.
In a bold letter that begins "Dear Adam," Hicklin writes: "Although you narrowly lost to Kris Allen, you were the real winner for those of us who saw your success as a test of America's growing tolerance. That's why we're proud to have you in this year's Out 100, along with all the other men and women who don't believe their sexuality should be a barrier to success. It's unfortunate, therefore, that your record label and management don't share the same view.
"We're curious whether you know that we made cover offers for you before American Idol was even halfway through its run. Apparently, Out was too gay, even for you. There was the issue of what it would do to your record sales, we were told. Imagine! A gay musician on the cover of a gay magazine. What might the parents think! It's only because this cover is a group shot that includes a straight woman that your team would allow you to be photographed at all--albeit with the caveat that we must avoid making you look 'too gay.' (Is that a medical term? Just curious). Luckily, you seemed unaware that a similar caution was issued to our interviewer."
Hicklin also gripes about hypocrisy in the media, in that straight celebs aggressively court gay audiences these days but actual gay performers often do not. "The irony is that right now it would be easier to get Kris Allen to do a solo cover shoot for us. But only because he's straight," Hicklin writes, adding: "It's odd, because this magazine has done covers with Pete Wentz and Lady Gaga--getting straight men and women to do Out is easy these days. It gives them cred. Getting gay stars like yourself is another matter. Much easier to stick you in Details, where your homosexuality can be neutralized by having you...saying, 'Women are pretty.' So are kittens, Adam, but it doesn't mean you have to make out with them."
In his editor's letter, Hicklin is quick to not lay blame on Adam himself, saying that the controversial Idol was "gracious and frank" in his Out interview and is an undoubtedly important icon in gay culture. "We don't mean to diminish your achievements this year," Hicklin writes to Adam. "That's why you're in this issue. You're a pioneer, an out gay pop idol at the start of his career. Someone has to be first, and we're all counting on you not to mess this up. You have to find your own path and then others can follow. We just hope it's a path that's honest and true and that you choose to surround yourself with people who celebrate your individuality."
I honestly cannot take a side here. I do not know Hicklin personally, nor do I know what went down behind the scenes at the Out shoot. I was not there. However, considering that Adam's people "allowed" him to make an album with collaborators like Lady Gaga and a fearlessly glamtastic cover in which he is wearing more mascara than the late Tammy Faye Messner--and that no one stopped him from performing on the American Idol finale in Bob Mackie angel wings and platform boots, OR from coming out on the cover of an even more widely read publication, Rolling Stone--it seems like he has at least a few people in his camp who happily celebrate his individuality.
I just find it interesting, and actually a little amusing, that even when Adam Lambert poses for a seemingly innocuous group photo, he somehow creates controversy and conversation. And when people of all sorts--from regular folks gathered around the watercooler to editors of major magazines--can't stop debating about someone, that's the sign of a true superstar.