Adam Lambert on Facing Homophobia, Mental Health Struggles Since 'American Idol' : 'I've Proven a Lot to Myself'

In this week's issue of PEOPLE, the rocker gets candid about the ups and downs he's faced in the 14 years since his American Idol run

Adam Lambert Rollout
Adam Lambert.

Adam Lambert has always had a flair for spectacle.

While posing for the cover art of his upcoming new album High Drama dropping this Friday, the rocker, who developed the visual concept — his face surrounded by cascading shards of glass — got cut across his nose during the first take.

"It wasn't deep, but it was definitely a bit of blood," he tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, on newsstands Friday. "I thought, 'Well, this is high drama.'"

Who would expect anything less from the man whose titanic voice made him famous 14 years ago as a contestant on American Idol? The resulting album cover (completed with a little help from Photoshop) is a striking representation of all the barriers Lambert, 41, has had to break through as a gay man in the industry.

After being outed during his Idol season, in which he placed second, he faced homophobic comments from viewers across the country. Still, Lambert kept moving forward, and three years after Idol, his second album, 2012's Trespassing, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. (Hewas the first openly gay artistto do so.)

In 2011, he scaled even bigger heights when he became lead vocalist for the legendary British rock band Queen, joining them for world tours and performances at major events, including the late Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee in 2022.

"I'm proud to say that I was part of a wave of people who were pushing the conversation," he says. "I've proven a lot to myself."

Beyond the outer forces that have tried to bring him down, some of his toughest battles have been with himself. After struggling with his self-image and mental health for years, he finally fully appreciates the person he sees in the mirror.

"Self-love is an ever-evolving journey," Lambert says. "But I feel more sure of myself than I've ever been."

Says his close friend, TV host Karamo Brown: "Adam is a trailblazer and visionary. I'm honored to be his friend."

Adam Lambert Rollout
Adam Lambert High Drama cover.

In a sense, he's recaptured a feeling he had when he was younger. He grew up in San Diego with "very cool parents"— mom Leila, a dental hygienist, and dad Eber, a program manager for a broadband wireless company — and always felt free to be himself.

"I looked to people who were really bold," says Lambert, whose inspirations growing up included Boy George, Melissa Etheridge, George Michael and Elton John.

By the time he auditioned for Idol in 2008 with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," he had been out as a gay man to his friends and family for eight years.

"I was very comfortable and secure with who I was," he recalls.

Adam Lambert Rollout
Adam Lambert on American Idol. M Becker/Getty

While Lambert never openly stated that he was gay as he breezed through the competition each week, he wasn't hiding his sexuality.

"It was never a secret," he says. "During the live broadcast, there was no one asking me what my sexual preference was, and we weren't allowed to do interviews during the show back then because they wanted to keep everyone on a level playing field."

Two months before the May finale, photos of Lambert kissing a man leaked online, spurring negative comments. Though bruised by the negativity, Lambert says, "It made me stronger and informed the kind of art that I wanted to make."

His empowerment anthem "Whataya Want from Me" hit the Top 10, and hours before the November 2009 release of his debut album, For Your Entertainment, he stirred the pot by kissing his male bassist onstage during the American Music Awards. ABC received 1,500 telephoned complaints, and the network canceled his scheduled appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve.

"I remember doing an interview shortly after the show and them blurring my mouth as they replayed the clip," he recalls. "But they showed Madonna and Britney Spears kissing [on the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards] without any censor. It was such a double standard."

Adam Lambert Rollout
Adam Lambert during his 2009 American Music Awards performance. Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Today he's "proud" to see successful LGBTQ singers like Lil Nas X, Sam Smith and Kim Petras embracing who they are.

"No matter what size or gender or sexuality you are, there is space for you," Lambert says. "If you're getting people talking, you're winning on some level."

Adam Lambert Rollout
Adam Lambert.

Lambert had to remind himself just that when the music video for his cover of Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero" featured on High Drama dropped on YouTube in January.

"Most of the comments were very positive, but a fair number of people were like, 'Whoa, he got fat,'" he says. "I thought to myself, 'I'm fully aware I'm not the same size I was five years ago. Thanks for reminding me.' I mean, I'm 41. I'm not 20 anymore! Also, you never know what someone's life looks like behind closed doors or what factors have led to changes in people's bodies — so keep [the criticism] to yourself."

Five years ago, Lambert sought treatment for anxiety and depression, and his medication made him "put on the pounds" while helping him manage panic attacks during a tour with Queen.

"I had been going, going, going," he says. "I was burnt out and hit a wall."

As he juggles music and acting — he costars in Fairyland, the recent coming-of-age feature film — he's prioritizing his mental health with the help of therapy.

"Finding that balance between career and personal life is really important," says Lambert. "That's a big part of staying happy and healthy."

Having the support of his partner Oliver Gliese, 27, whom he's been dating since 2020, has also helped.

"We're really good at communicating," Lambert says. "I think that is the key to a healthy relationship. Every couple runs into disagreements or misunderstandings, but if you can sit down and talk it out, that's the best. We have that, and I'm really thankful for it."

Adam Lambert Rollout
Adam Lambert and Oliver Gliese. Adam Lambert instagram

He's also motivated by the fans who have been inspired by his journey.

"The story I keep getting is: 'I grew up in the Midwest, and we would watch Idol together as a family. My mom loved you, and it made me feel comfortable to open up to her about who I was,'" he says. "It's something I never thought would come from the show, but it is so beautiful and means so much to me."

For more on Adam Lambert's journey, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

Related Articles