It's been 12 years since Adam Lambert walked into a San Francisco audition room and busted out an impressive take on the Queen classic Bohemian Rhapsody.
That first audition led to a successful solo career and a sweet side gig fronting Queen in stadiums around the world – but Lambert admits he didn't have high hopes.
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"I didn't think I would have a shot on that show, because of what is so typically looked for on that show. So I just sort of did it on a whim, thinking, 'I might as well … or not.' I'm really glad I did," he tells news.com.au with a laugh.
Lambert's newly-released fourth album, Velvet, is undoubtedly his strongest release to date – a swaggering, 70s-inspired mix of glam, funk and rock, with more than a passing nod to the iconic band he's been fronting for the past few years.
"I don't know if it was a conscious decision, but as I got into it I thought, 'Oh, this is a shorter bridge between my solo work and the Queen work.' It's more closely related than anything I've ever done, and I like that – it makes sense.
"I've been around the band and their audience for so long, of course it informs the work. It made me feel more confident in my decision to do something that was a bit of a throwback."
Confidence has always been key for Lambert – right back to the arresting cover art for his debut album For Your Entertainment. Find another talent show graduate with the balls to slap an OTT image like this on their first post-reality TV release.
"It wasn't really a mainstream image, so that was an obstacle," Lambert says now of the pushback against the cover. "Nowadays, everyone's on Instagram, and people want to paint their faces now they're all over the internet – make-up is more popular.
"When I did it 10 years ago, there were people who enjoyed it, but mainstream-wise, I don't think there was enough proof of that for a music executive."
That album came after Lambert placed runner-up on Idol to the amiable but bland Kris Allen. He'd been something of an odd fit for the TV singing contest, and admits now he didn't quite realise what a stir he'd caused.
"It took me a while to realise it, but the first time people were meeting me was on the show. It's obvious to me now in hindsight, but I think when you're in the middle of it you miss certain things.
"I had been all over LA, going to nightclubs, dressing crazy, doing shows … crazy rock star type things. But nobody knew that backstory except me. My through line made sense – American Idol was just one more amazing gig!" he says.
"So when I had my shot to create my music, I went for it, because I always have gone for it. And I feel like I have fans because of it – a lot of young people I've met who are queer or left of centre have told me they saw me on TV when they were like 13 and thought 'Oh, I identify with this guy – he's out there, he's playing dress-up.' There's so many of us who like to create that way.
"Of course there was pushback and resistance – there always is when there are a lot of 'firsts' happening."
Adam Lambert's new album Velvet is out now.