Here is the second part of Adam Lambert: The Ultimate Interview. I love the way Adam candidly reveals his feelings about his career progression, the offstage experiences, and makes us privy to the ins and outs of how things run. We don’t often hear anything but what the top brass wants us to know, and in this interview Adam gives us the dirt.
In Part Two of this four-part interview with Adam Lambert, the “Idol” runner-up discusses his early experiences in show business and the experience of hanging out with Val Kilmer when they appeared in “The Ten Commandments” together.
Your first job was working on a cruise line when you were 19. Which cruise line?
Holland America. That was through Anita Mann Productions. Usually their leads were older guys, like leading men. And they had one guy they had to get rid of at the last minute. They needed somebody and I went in there and auditioned. I was so green. I had no idea what I was doing, but Anita really liked my voice. She said, “You can sing. You’re going to play the lead part.” Everybody else in the cast was looking at me like, “He’s going to be the lead? He’s 19.” So it was a tough situation. We were rehearsing and I didn’t know what was going on. It was totally over my head. She’s saying, “Just imagine that person will be there, that person will be there and that person will be there.” It was fast. It was overwhelming. It was the most information that I’d ever had to take in and I was not quite confident enough yet to own it. I felt a little intimidated by it. So I got out there on the ship and they weren’t very nice to me and they were really catty. Finally we did the first night’s performance and I kicked ass and they were like, “OK, we’ll leave you alone.” My career thus far has always been about proving myself in these weird moments, and then once I prove myself, people are like, “Oh, OK.” So that was my first job, and I went around the world. I was on the ship for 10 months.
What was it like being away for so long?
Incredible. I saw the world when I was 19 and 20. I was in Russia and Scandinavia and the Mediterranean and then we did the East Coast and we pulled into New York on Sept. 7, , right before Sept. 11. We were doing the tourism thing and when [the attacks] happened, we were up near Nova Scotia and we had to stay out on the water for three days because of security. It was pretty wild, pretty scary. Did that, then did the Caribbean, then went across the Pacific. Hawaii, down into Australia and New Zealand. It was amazing.
You were working at night, so your days were free?
Yes, I got to do a lot of sightseeing and tourist type activities. I really wanted to go live the culture. I wanted the nightlife. I wanted to be able to go and meet young people and go drink.
After 10 months, did you leave the ship?
I came back home and started auditioning again. Did some Civic Light Opera shows in Orange County and here.
And home was Los Angeles at this point?
I came back to L.A. and I was just auditioning for things. A couple Broadway auditions came through. I signed with a manager and she hooked me up with some jobs and then I was cast in a European production of “Hair.” And so I was in Germany for six months, and that was a great experience because I was longing to go back to Europe and really live there. That was a huge turning point for me personally, because I finally got comfortable in my own skin – or started to.
You were also at the right age to become your own person.
Yes, I was about 21, 22, and it was a big eye opener for me. I think anyone who does “Hair” gets really invested in the meaning and the message and the whole community feel of it. I was really close with everybody and there was a lot of discovery and a lot of free-love mentality. I was discovering a lot about myself. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, a lot of it.
How long were you in Germany?
Six months, and it was Berlin, mostly, but then Hamburg and Munich. We went to Italy for a week and performed there. I went to Amsterdam for a week.
Were you performing “Hair” in English?
Most of the time, and then midway through the production, the producer decided that he wanted us to do all the dialogue in German. No one spoke German, so they had a dialogue coach come in and teach us phonetically. No one knew what they were saying and so if someone dropped a line, we’d have to switch to English. It was an absolute disaster, but again, what an experience. I look back on it now and think, “That was crazy.”
Did you have to re-establish yourself every time you came back to California?
I did. I was out of the loop, but it was good for me. I really liked traveling and I don’t like routines. I’m not into the same-old. I like novelty, so I think it was really good for me and it helped me grow.
So up to this point, you hadn’t sung rock, just theatrical songs?
It was mostly theater music at this point. There was one little thing — there was a girl involved with the theater company and I knew her family. Her parents and my parents got along really well. They had similar views. They were really liberal and just wanted to have a good time. They would have parties and we would hang out and everybody would jam and it was all like our parents’ music. That’s how I got into the ’60s and ’70s stuff. Her dad was a classical guitarist and my dad plays the keyboard a little bit. So we would sing the Stones and Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and all that stuff. They really loved the Doors. So I was exposed to all that music. And then, it wasn’t anything serious but we decided to form a band. It was like a little garage band with her dad and her and me and my dad and we wrote some original stuff together and recorded it on a six-track tape deck. We were called the Gutter Rats. Or Vicarious Lives.
How far did you take it?
We never performed. We just did it for ourselves, but it was cool because it was definitely not musical theater. It was definitely very ’70s feeling because of our parents and they were showing us what to do. We had fun.
What other work did you do before you were cast in “Wicked”?
I auditioned for more TV and film projects. I was never fond of the auditioning process. I’d never really considered myself the strongest actor, so I never really went for it. I did a couple more theater things. Did something at Reprise over at UCLA.
What was the Reprise production?
“On the Twentieth Century” with David Lee as the director. He was great. I did a production of “Brigadoon” in Texas at Theatre Under the Stars, so I had my Equity card finally, which felt like I had arrived. I was a professional now. I was getting paid enough money to live on, to really pay my bills, and it was going to lead to more work. I did a production of “110 in the Shade” at the Pasadena Playhouse and then I got cast in “The Ten Commandments” at the Kodak Theatre with Val Kilmer and that was a big turning point for me professionally because I had my own song and I was a character.
Who did you play in “The Ten Commandments”?
Joshua. Everything was copacetic by the end, but in the beginning, I was doing all this promotion for them to get interest built for the show and singing the song everywhere. I was on the Chabad Telethon and I was in love with being a rock star and I was going to rehearsal with nail polish on and eyeliner from the night before, and the director came up to me and said, “Could you take all that off?” and I asked, “Why?” He told me, “The producers are a little uncomfortable with it. They don’t really get it,” and I said, “But we’re not in costume yet. Why does it matter?” He said, “They feel like you’re supposed to be the leader of the Hebrew army by the end of this and they’re really uncomfortable with the way it looks.” And I told him, “This is theater. This is a pop musical. What … is your problem?”
So I faced more opposition, like I did on the cruise ship. It was that same type of thing repeating itself where I felt like they just didn’t believe in me, which was really hard for me. I found out later they had been seeing other people trying to replace me. When the show opened, I was one of the only people that got good reviews, so it was the best victory ever. You were worried about my nail polish and I’m getting better reviews than [others], so that was a big moment for me.
It was interesting hanging out with Val Kilmer because he took a liking to me and a couple other people and we would always go and eat together and we would go hang out at his house and he just really wanted to have a group of friends during this experience. I’ve lost touch with him, but he’s very cool. Eccentric but cool, and it was interesting being in the shadows with him in public. It was my first taste of what it must be like to be a celebrity and have people want your autograph and having people take pictures of you. It was a good eye opener for me, what it must be like to be a celebrity and to be famous.
Fame has its positives and its negatives.
It taught me a lot. I realized Val had to really watch what he said. Then I was kicking around Hollywood … and going to clubs like Hyde and seeing famous people and getting photographed here and there. Right after “Ten Commandments,” I did the Zodiac show, the first one at the Music Box, and I sang “A Change Is Gonna Come” in a full glam-feathered outfit.
The same Sam Cooke song that Simon Fuller chose for you to sing on “American Idol.” Did Simon know that you had performed the song earlier in your career?
I don’t know. We never talked about that, but what was interesting about that was I changed a lyric in it. Instead of “I’m afraid to die,” I sang, “I don’t see what’s wrong with a little glitter around my eyes,” because I wanted the song to be about what I was dealing with on “The Ten Commandments,” this weird, ignorant, “Why are you wearing nail polish?” Like this weird discrimination because I was expressing myself and having people feel uncomfortable with that and then everything tying into my sexuality and just being alternative in any way and wanting the song to be about that. It’s interesting that that came full circle with “Idol.” Really weird and the same issues. Maybe more far-reaching this time and less personal.
And then “Wicked” happened right after the Zodiac show. Toward the end of our run on “Ten Commandments,’ there was an audition for the first national company and the casting director had heard of me because of the reviews for “Ten Commandments.” That really set me up for that. I don’t think I would have gotten hired if it hadn’t been for that. I was hired as an understudy for Fiyero on the national tour and we rehearsed in New York and that was a blast. It was a great moment for me because I felt like I’d finally arrived. Even though it was the tour, it was a Broadway production. It was the highest caliber thing that I had been a part of. “Ten Commandments” wanted to be that and had all this money behind it, but it was a disaster. So this was a successful hit show that I was now a part of and it felt validating to get that job.
You were in the ensemble, so you were on stage every night, even if you didn’t go on as Fiyero.
Oh, yeah. I was an onstage cover. And we rehearsed it in Toronto for about a month before we opened and we ran there for about 2½ months. So I spent time in Toronto and then we went to Chicago. Spent a couple of months there and then here in L.A. a couple months and then San Francisco. And at that point, it was about six months into it and I felt, “I think I’m done,” and I got to this point where I thought, “This is what I’ve been working toward my whole high school career and my early 20s. This has been the goal, Broadway,” and I knew that I could probably go into the New York production the minute a track opened up but I wasn’t satisfied. Probably because I was in the ensemble. I’m not going to lie. It was probably a step down from “The Ten Commandments” situation. Bigger show but not as featured, not as much attention. Not doing what I felt I was supposed to be doing.
How often did you get to play Fiyero?
I went on as Fiyero a couple times and it was really fun. I thought I did well, but it was only a couple times. The guy hardly ever missed. So I dropped out. I thought, “I want to be a rock star.” During “Ten Commandments,” I had a friend who encouraged me to play around with Garage Band and come up with my own stuff, so it all happened at once. I started messing around with the idea of recording. I got really interested in that while I was on the road with “Wicked.”
— Fred Bronson