Entertainment & Arts

Adam Lambert: 'I'm not a diva!'

Adam Lambert Image copyright Warner Bros
Image caption Adam Lambert: "I feel more grounded than I did a few years ago"

Adam Lambert is one of those pop stars whose name is more recognisable than his music.

A former contestant on American Idol, he's probably best known in the UK for touring with Queen, where he substitutes for the late, great Freddie Mercury.

His formidable vocals and flamboyant stage presence certainly have the Freddie factor but that same taste for excess has often derailed his solo work.

That all changes on his third album, The Original High.

Perhaps as a result of his tenure with Queen, Lambert has tempered the histrionics, allowing the contours of his voice to mould the music's emotional punch.

Recorded with Swedish pop overlords Max Martin (Britney's ...Baby One More Time) and Shellback (Taylor Swift's Shake It Off), The Original High follows a turbulent period, where Lambert split with his record label after they suggested he record an album of cover versions.

"I feel like everything is set up properly this time, " the 33-year-old tells the BBC. "I'm really excited."

Sitting down to discuss the record in London, the singer talks about his time with Queen, rumours of diva-dom and his debilitating honey habit.

The album's been getting great reviews. How is everything going?

I feel really confident. First of all, the songs are really strong. But secondly, I have an amazing team. In the past there were moments where I wasn't too sure I was being looked after correctly and it made me nervous.

Really? What are the warning signs when something goes wrong?

When people don't know about your album. When people aren't interested. This time it's clear my fans are on board and we've got people's attention.

Image copyright Warner Bros
Image caption Lambert has scored number one records in America, but is yet to have a significant impact on the UK charts

What's the story with your old label?

I was a little disappointed when Trespassing [Adam's second album] had a shorter lifespan than I felt like it deserved. But I came back to New York and we had a meeting and it was like, 'ok, what are we doing next?'

I had some ideas, producers I wanted to work with and stuff like that. Then they were like, "Well, we have an idea, too... We want you to do a cover of 80s new wave hits."

And you know, I'm very open. I like taking chances - so I went home and thought about it. I listened to a lot of music from that period but it just didn't resonate with me. And then it's funny that I then ended up on tour with Queen - which is essentially doing covers but it's not an album.

There's a new clarity and intimacy to the vocals on your new record. How did that come about?

This project wasn't rushed. We started working in Stockholm, Sweden and that was all I had on my plate for two months.

That focus really allowed me to dive into the ideas. It gave me a lot of energy to keep just for the studio.

Another Lonely Night particularly stands out as a big, emotional moment.

Max really, really produced an amazing vocal. I know I can sing, but getting it right in the studio is not always easy - especially with a vocal that's more nuanced.

I'm really comfortable when it comes to the crazy, high-powered, intense vocals - it's like I flip a switch and it's there. But when you take it into something vulnerable, it's not as cut-and-dried for me and Max really helped me find the space for it to live in.

Do you record your vocals in one go, or piece them together?

I do complete takes, mostly. Then after a few full passes, I'll do the verse 10 times. But never line by line.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lambert came second in the eighth series of American Idol in 2009, losing out to Kris Allen

One of the songs is a duet with Tove Lo called Rumours. What's the strangest rumour you've heard about yourself?

I heard once that I'd died! And early on, when I first started, there was a rumour that I was like a giant, massive diva. And I was like, 'I think I'm pretty nice to everyone I meet'. Where did they get that?

A diva is just somebody that's demanding. A little crazy. Not in touch with reality. I don't like to be treated special.

I've seen celebrities where you're told "Don't look them in the eye" and I'm like, "Who would say that? It's ridiculous?"

For me, the thing about being a pop artist is, I want people to identify with me. If I'm placed in a bubble, living an unrealistic existence, how can I be close to my audience?

I think people want their pop stars to be a little bit deranged.

Maybe. Maybe. But there's a big distinction between the onstage persona and real life. I'm always myself on stage - but there's a certain something that comes out when the lights are on.

So what's the biggest demand you've made?

I'm a little snobby with the tequila! I like a top shelf and not a bottom shelf. But I don't have anything crazy on my rider. I ask for a scented candle, and I started asking for local honey when I found out it helps with allergies. Plus, it's tasty.

And low calorie, right?

Right! I didn't really think about that and I found myself backstage on the Queen tour eating a lot of honey between songs.

After a couple of weeks I was like, "I'm feeling kind of puffy and fat". And my assistant said, "You realise you're eating spoonfuls of honey throughout the entire show?"

So now it's one scoop before the show. That's all I get.

Image caption Lambert first played with Queen on American Idol and the 2011 MTV Europe Awards, before joining them for a full tour

Do you make sure you have people around you who can say "no" to you?

Yes, and they do. We get into debates all the time.

So when was the last time you were over-ruled?

It happens all the time.

That's not good enough. Let's have a specific example.

Well, lately, the trend with hats has been really problematic. A couple of the members of my team were like, "If you wear a hat on the red carpet, it'll put your face in the shadow and people aren't going to recognise you." And they were right. I was like, "OK, I'll wear the hats on my day off."

Does the release of this album mean an end to your time with Queen?

It's not the end. It's just a pause button. We have some other things we're going to be doing.

How much of a challenge was it to step into Freddie Mercury's boots?

It took a second for it all to click in. The first handful of times we did it, I pulled it off, but I was so intimidated by the legacy. I was thinking a little too hard, which I have a tendency of doing.

I noticed the tour started in North America and came to the UK last. Was that so you were battle-ready for the home crowd?

I think it was just a scheduling thing. The States was the first step because we did a concert in Vegas and people responded so quickly to it. There were offers right away. It was crazy.

But when we played Wembley Arena, the audience was on fire.

Finally, I notice that your home town of San Diego has declared 8 May as Adam Lambert Day. How do you celebrate?

I don't think it's an annual holiday! When you go to a city and they do a proclamation, it's just for that day, isn't it?

I got a certificate and a plaque and I'm very flattered - but I don't think it's taken seriously. I certainly don't celebrate Adam Lambert day!

The Original High is out now on Warner Bros. records.

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