When I first learned that Adam Lambert would be performing on the American Music Awards, but that his Idolmate Kris Allen would only be presenting, I felt bad for Kris. But now I feel bad for Adam. Kris got off easy. It seems like the pre-show scrutiny really got to Adam, and for the first time ever, the seemingly Teflon-coated superstar-in-training appeared rattled. He seemed like a rock human, not a rock god.
All week long leading up to the AMAs, there was a massive amount of megahype surrounding Adam's first televised performance of his single "For Your Entertainment"--in the AMAs' coveted "pimp spot" (to use an well-worn Idol phrase), closing the show. All the speculation regarding how he'd pull it off seemed a little odd to me, since really, if anyone wanted to get an idea of how he'd do, all they had to do was just rewatch any of his American Idol performances, right? It's not like the man ever had less than total command of the stage, or inexperience performing under pressure on live TV. Plus the AMAs this year were held at the Nokia Theater, the same place where he so memorably practically upstaged Kiss and Queen on Idol finale night. Why was there ever any doubt that Adam would kill it on the AMAs?
But maybe the hype was just a little too much, even for Adam. Before every commercial break during the AMAs broadcast, for nearly three hours, the announcer was hyping Adam, intoning: "Get ready for the performance that will CHANGE YOUR LIFE and HAVE YOU SEEING GOD and MAKE YOU GET STIGMATA and ALTER THE STATE OF POP MUSIC AS WE KNOW IT and BLOW YOUR DANG MIND TO SMITHEREENS and MAKE YOU GO GET A FULL-BODY LAMBERT TATTOO and SHAVE HIS NAME INTO THE SIDE OF YOUR HEAD." Well, I paraphrase, but you get the idea. The whole intention of this performance, obviously, was to get people talking on the all-important eve of Adam's album release. Glambert always gets people talking, after all. It's just what he does.
But then again, even during his most controversial, watercooler-chattered Idol performance ("Ring Of Fire," duh), Adam never simulated oral sex with a (male) backup dancer, sucked face with his (male) band member, fondled the nether regions of a (female) backup dancer, or surrounded himself with leatherbabes on leashes a la Soft Cell's infamously censored "Sex Dwarf" video--as he did at the AMAs. It would have been kind of awesome if he had, just to see how Simon Cowell would have reacted...but if a little black nail polish and guyliner was enough to freak out much of middle America, acting like the dark overlord of an S&M den probably wouldn't have gone over too well back then.
But obviously Idol is over, and Adam's been letting his fully unfurled freak-flag fly high ever since, whether he's gluing rhinestones on his eyelids, dodging airborne brassieres and adult novelties onstage, making out with women in the pages of Details, or granting shockingly frank interviews about his personal life that'd render even Cowell speechless. Season 8 of Idol wrapped up in May, but people haven't stopped talking about Adam Lambert since. And they'll certainly be talking about his AMAs sexed-up spectacle tomorrow (seriously, it made "Ring Of Fire" look like a David Archuleta performance)...but will they be saying positive things? I am not so sure.
I'm sure there are people who will say he's finally gone too far, alienated too many potential record-buyers with this latest "shocking" stunt, which actually may be his most no-boundary'd yet (and that's saying something). Some may argue that he was perhaps trying too hard to be controversial and scandalous for controversy and scandal's sake, or that maybe he was trying to make a statement about whether or not he is "gay enough" according to Out magazine standards (at least you can say this performance will shut up Out editor Aaron Hicklin for a good long while). And then, there was what appeared to be an actual, literal stumble. (To his immense credit, Adam recovered like pro--as did Jennifer Lopez, who also fell during her routine. Did the AMA stagehands grease the stage or something?)
I personally appreciated that Adam really, really WENT for it, censors be damned, and that he was so unapolgetically himself. That was brave. My only gripe is that all that raunchy stuff detracted too much from Adam's greatest asset--his amazing, amazing voice. It just wasn't necessary. Singers with less talent (Britney, cough) may need to resort to such shock tactics, but not this guy. However, at times his uncharacteristically shaky vocals on the show indicated that he actually was a little nervous, as if all the hype and pressure got under his perfectly pancaked skin. (His somewhat disappointed facial expression at the song's conclusion was another giveaway--he didn't even look that bummed the night he was in the Idol bottom two.) Just remember, Adam Lambert is human, after all, despite his seemingly impenetrable rock-godlike façade.
Still, keep in mind that detractors have been warning that Adam might be "destroying" his career for months now--when he performed his risky "Ring Of Fire" cover, when he came out as gay in Rolling Stone while posing with a green trouser snake, when he gyrated like a Chippendale's himbo on the Idols Live Tour, when he released an album cover so glittery that if the camera had panned out to a wide shot it probably would have been revealed that Adam was straddling a unicorn, etc. But so far, none of this has slowed his momentum...if we are to judge his career in terms of media coverage, Twitter hyperactivity, and office breakroom chatter, that is.
We'll just have to wait for next week's sales figures to see if Adam's AMAs performance was a career killer, or if it was the launch of a promising new superstar. My hope is it was the latter, and that his loyal fans will have his (spiky-shouldered) back this time.