By Tanner Stransky
Updated March 13, 2009 at 06:53 PM EDT
Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times‘ pop music critic Ann Powers wrote a thoughtful essay challenging Fox’s American Idol to “open the closet door.” She brings up a bevy of issues the giant karaoke show has locked away because of its overly family-friendly nature — religious affiliation, language barriers, and race. But, when we’re talkin’ the closet, folks, the big issue is clearly sexuality. Big ol’ gays! Hello! Idol has never dealt with this issue very well — or really dealt with it at all.

Just look to the homophobic, fratty banter between host Ryan Seacrest and judge Simon Cowell. (A classic back-and-forth from 2007: “Stay out of my closet!” Ryan told Simon. He responded: “Come out!”) Or the fact that season 1 finalist Jim Verraros was made to remove “gay-friendly” from an Idol-sponsored website. Or: Clay Aiken. It took more than five years after he was named runner-up on the show for Aiken to come out of the closet. Yes, He’s Gay.

But this year we’ve got Adam Lambert on deck. Could he be the great hope for gays on Idol? He hasn’t specifically addressed his sexuality (and it’s a good guess that Idol producers are telling him not to), but judging by those photos that surfaced last week, it’s certainly a great possibility that this boy could be into boys. (I mean, he’s kissing other boys in some of the photos and dressed in some quite fabulous drag in others.)

The big question is: Why does it all matter so much? Idol is, by nature, a gay-friendly concept: Wannabe pop stars get up and stage rather theatrical performances. Sometimes they even — gasp! — are required to sing show tunes. And dance, too! It’s no shocker that the music industry, because of its creative nature, attracts folks of all stripes — including homosexuals.

Still, it’s complicated. On the one hand, the show is supposed to be a family-friendly event. But on the other, why would it be so awful if, in one of those schmaltzy vignettes that run about each contestant every week, we saw Adam Lambert putting on makeup for a drag show and talking about how much he loves it? No one would be surprised. And, believe me, the kiddies watching out there would giggle.

Time to lob it over to you, PopWatchers: Would it rock American Idol to the core if it finally came out of the closet? Would you stop watching if it did? Should contestants’ sexuality become transparent, or should we keep the focus only on the music and performances?

Kevin Winter/Getty Images