In 2009, “American Idol” contestant Adam Lambert turned heads for both his voice and his appearance. Known for his bold fashion choices and eye makeup, judges saw a performer with true star potential. He would go on to destroy most of his competition in the contest and even moved judge Simon Cowell to give his first-ever standing ovation on the show. It looked as if nothing could stop him from winning, that is, until a photo of Lambert kissing another man leaked all over the Internet. Oops.
Wait a minute. You would have to be a direct descendant of Helen Keller not to see that Lambert is an extremely homoerotic performer. Even if you somehow thought he was straight, it should have come as no surprise when he confirmed that, indeed, it was Mr. Guyliner himself in the picture. Of course, the world is very naïve when it comes to its musicians. Everything is just for show … until it’s not.
Lambert would take home runner-up in that season of “Idol,” although many would argue he was the superior of the two finalists. With “Idol” getting lots of buzz from Lambert that season, could it be possible that they were looking for two new stars for the price of one? Maybe. It was Lambert, though, who became the international pop star. Since then, he has performed on numerous morning/talk shows, sang with the incredible Queen, and appeared on season five of the hit TV series “Glee.” He is a Grammy nominee and a GLAAD Media Award winner. Not too shabby.
Even though he is credited as the first openly gay male to be launched to pop stardom, he is not exactly groundbreaking. Once upon a time, there was a child prodigy on the piano named Bruce Campbell. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because Campbell was sort of shape-shifter throughout his entire life. He would mask his pain by changing his name and, with them, a new personality would emerge. Heading off to LA as Jobriath Salisbury, the amazing pianist would be cast as Woof in the hit show “Hair,” where he was able to showcase his vocal abilities.
Fast forward to late 1972, when a famous manager of the time named Jerry Brandt would listen to a demo recorded by Jobriath. Brandt saw both a unique talent and dollar signs when meeting the 26-year-old. Signing him as Jobriath Boone, Brandt would make the biggest marketing push of the time to launch the career of this up-and-comer.
Although Jobriath had never really talked about his sexuality much throughout his life, he was now labeling himself as “rock’s truest fairy.” Thousands of buses in multiple cities around the world had Jobriath’s album artwork. If you were in New York City at the time, you saw the name everywhere. Even with all the visibility that Brandt was able to bring to Jobriath, he never even charted.
But why? Kieran Turner, writer/producer/director of the documentary “Jobriath A.D.,” says three things lead to his immediate downfall:
- His music was much too complicated for mainstream success.
- People, straight AND gay, were terrified by the marketing push. Gay men were terrified of Jobriath because he represented everything they hated about themselves and were afraid to be seen as.
- He was shoved down the public’s throats and no one likes to be told to discover something. They like doing it themselves.
After two unsuccessful albums and a toxic relationship with Brandt, Jobriath would move to the top floor of the Chelsea Hotel in 1975. While living there, he would go by the name of Cole Berlin (as in Porter and Irving … get it?) and become a cabaret singer at local establishments. Although a local draw, not too many people outside of NYC would ever see his talents. In August of 1983, just days after the end of his 10-year contract with Brandt, Jobriath would be one of the first musicians to die from AIDS.
As seen in “Jobriath A.D.,” many musicians see Jobriath as a trailblazer. “Someone has to be the sacrificial lamb and I love that folks like Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters) and Justin Tranter (Semi Precious Weapons) recognize Jobriath and realize what he did,” says Turner. “Because THAT is just as important. We have to remember the ones who came before us.”
Adam Lambert turned down the chance to speak on the documentary.
When asked if Lambert could be the first vocal, openly gay superstar, Turner replies, “No. That ship has sailed for Adam. He’s put himself into a ‘post-gay’ phase (his words, not mine) and you see where it got him. The second album may have debuted at No. 1, but it sold 70% fewer copies than his first album and was completely out of the Top 200 albums chart within a month. It’s over for him. Any mainstream fans were turned off by his displays in the media (see AMA 2009) and his gay fans weren’t too thrilled that he’d turned his back on them. It’s a shame, because he actually was the first mainstream pop act to come out at the beginning of his career since Jobriath.”
No matter what, Lambert is a huge stepping stone as far as acceptance goes in mainstream pop music. The door is now wide open for openly gay performers, but in an industry where longevity is difficult to obtain for almost everyone, we may never see one top Lambert in our lifetime.
To dive deeper into the world of Jobriath, check out “Jobriath A.D.” on iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, Playstation, or look for the film’s theatrical rollout beginning Jan. 31. More information can be found at JobriathTheMovie.com.
Enjoy those Grammys, Macklemore.