As you may have read yesterday, Aaron Hicklin, editor of OUT magazine, wrote an open letter to American Idol season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert, accusing the singer and his management team of the following: only agreeing to the OUT cover shoot if it included a straight woman*; demanding they not make Adam look “too gay”; and not agreeing to be on OUT’s cover while the Idol season was going on. (Little known fact: The Gay Mafia bylaws state that any gay celeb who doesn’t immediately agree to an OUT cover request can have his/her membership card** revoked. Fact that somehow seems to have been lost on Hicklin: The folks at Fox don’t cooperate with solo contestant covers/interviews till after the Idol season has wrapped.)
But all that fine print aside, what I don’t get is this: If OUT’s editors are so outraged by Adam Lambert and the actions of his publicity crew, how come he’s still on their cover? Why should Adam be held to Hicklin’s ridiculous standard of how a gay pop star is supposed to conduct his life? The hidden subtext in Hicklin’s letter is this: “Yes, Adam, we’ve slapped your image on our cover, but sorry, we’re also going to have to slap you in the face in a thinly veiled publicity stunt to try to boost sales.”*** Because make no mistake, as terrifically talented and/or fascinating as Wanda Sykes, Cyndi Lauper, Rob Marshall, and Dan Choi are, none of them have the newsstand power of Adam Lambert.
(Heck, Adam himself gave OUT a little more free publicity yesterday with a pair of to-the-point and just-bitchy-enough Tweets: “Dear Aaron, it’s def not that deep. Chill! Guess ya gotta get attention for the magazine. U too are at the mercy of the marketing machine.” AND “Until we have a meaningful conversation, perhaps you should refrain from projecting your publications’ agenda onto my career.”) Oh snap!
But hey, it’s a tough economy. Still, when Hicklin combines his stir-up-shizz-at-all-costs cynicism with faux moral outrage, that’s when I’ve got to reach for the Pepto-Bismol (caplets, not the hideous liquid or chewable versions).
Hicklin and writer Shana Naomi Krochmal (in a second, separate tirade) whine that Adam’s handlers attempted to influence the look and tone of the cover (see “too gay” remark above) and the story (Krochmal says she was asked not to make the interview “gay-gay” and “was discouraged from asking about the March on Washington that upcoming weekend or other political topics”). First of all, every magazine writer and editor knows that a good publicist will try to control his or her client’s image with Swiss-watch precision. That’s just what they do. It doesn’t mean you have to go along with it. OUT’s edit team had every opportunity to cut Adam out of the cover-photo shoot, or go in a different direction, but chose not to. Krochmal had every opportunity to tell Adam’s publicist that she had no intention of limiting the scope of her questions, but by her own admission, failed to do so overtly. What’s more, she had a full hour alone with Adam, during which time he discussed what types of men he’s attracted to, his aversion to what he calls the outdated butch/fem politics still prevalent in the gay community, and the inherent political repercussions of having come out at the very start of his career as a major-label recording artist. (Parts one and two of the Q&A are well worth reading.) Gee! Doesn’t sound like Adam was exactly reticent in discussing issues of interest to the OUT audience.
Perhaps most offensive of all, though, is the notion that because Adam is gay, and because he’s a celebrity, he therefore carries some kind of responsibility to advance the social agenda of the LGBT community. Reminder: He’s a singer, not a politician. And the simple fact of his being open about his sexual orientation is, in and of itself, a highly charged political act in these very volatile times. But nope, that’s not enough. Apparently, Hicklin has a (vague) master plan for how Adam should conduct himself personally and professionally. In a passage that really brings up the bile, Hicklin writes: “You’re a pioneer, an out gay pop idol at the start of his career. Someone has to be first, and we’re all counting on you not to mess this up. You have to find your own path and then others can follow. We just hope it’s a path that’s honest and true and that you choose to surround yourself with people who celebrate your individuality.”
Did Hicklin not see the much-discussed cover of For Your Entertainment, y’know, with the photo that’s campier than a drag queen’s feather boa? Has he not seen photos of Adam holding hands with now ex-boyfriend Drake LaBry? Is he, or are any of us, really comfortable telling anybody anytime anywhere exactly how gay they need to be?
Oh, and hey, what about that recent OUT cover of straight dude Pete Wentz that Hicklin mentions in his column? Heck, if OUT magazine itself isn’t going to be held to the all-gay-all-the-freakin’-time standard, then maybe Adam shouldn’t be either?
What do you think of the “Adamgate” controversy? Did Hicklin’s open letter make you more or less inclined to check out this month’s issue of OUT? And as an out gay singer, does Adam have a responsibility to the LGBT community, and if so, how far does that go? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, and do keep it civilized, folks! (BTW, for all my Idol coverage — all together now — follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.)
p.s. Dear Aaron, your letter states “Although I’d never watched American Idol…” Never? Really? Sorry, but I call b.s. Best, Slezak
p.p.s. Fellow Idoloonies, I cranked out 2,006 words about Kris Allen’s debut CD over at our Music Mix blog. I know, I am 1-800-too-much.
*Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
** Good for 25 percent off at all participating Pinkberry, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Express locations.
*** How often do you read about the laborious process of magazine editors and celebrity publicists negotiating the fine print of a cover shoot? Almost never. Because it’s understood all that background wheeling and dealing is off the record.