Lately three young superstars are getting the fans screaming wherever they go. One is a singer, another a singer/songwriter, and the third is a figure-skater. But all three stars have something in common: unique talent and pop artistry, and a public that dogs them with nonstop rumors that they are LGBT. None of the three are confirming the rumors. But their most passionate American and overseas fans don't seem to care.
Newest is Adam Lambert, 27 -- the most stunning rock singer to come along in a while, with a powerful voice and range, plus a sure-fire sense of performance. Time and again, on "American Idol," Adam dared to take a pop-rock or hard-rock classic that was branded by a star of yesteryear, and make it uniquely his own. As "Idol 2009" veers towards the finals next week, Adam will duel with Kris Allen to see which of them gets the big win.
The question, "Is Adam gay?" has the whole country twittering -- including ABC News, who asked recently if Adam might be the first gay Idol winner.
"Idol" is supposed to be a family show (after all, it's owned by Fox). So the producers must be a bit concerned at all this rampant rumor-mongering about someone on their stage. Probably that's why the producers have stayed so mum about the matter.
Adam himself is mum. Though some pundits describe Adam as "openly gay," he himself has never stated openly that he is gay, as far as I know. Possibly a morals clause in his "Idols" contract prohibits him from having any kind of high sexual profile. But in spite of his personal silence on this issue, Adam has accumulated a huge LGBT fan base, as we can see from all the breathless burbling about him on gay media and blogs across the country.
A second wave of rumor-mongering follows Lady Gaga.
In 2008, the titanium-blonde singer with the stainless-steel voice first hit the spotlight with her first album "The Fame," followed by the hit singles "Just Dance" and "Poker Face." An admirer of Andy Warhol, Gaga puts her productions together -- staging, fashions, arrangements -- with her own creative team called Haus of Gaga, modeled on Warhol's Factory in New York City. With her creative flair and disdain for lip-synching, she garners respect from the more discriminating music fans, and makes clear that she's no brainless Britney. The glam gig she's on is already well-worn by Queen, David Bowie, Madonna and others, yet she puts her own twist on everything she does.
Some Gaga rumors try to make her lesbian or bi. But most rumors are about gender identity -- whether the 23-year-old Lady is a woman or a man. Other than saying that "she feels like a gay man," Gaga has made no statements suggesting that there has been transgender work done or intersex chromosomes inherited. The closest she comes to a definition is a line that rejects definition altogether. She says, "I don't really consider sexual orientation in general." Her "Poker Face" lyrics send a message that she intends to stay inscrutable.
The third superstar is Johnny Weir -- who pushes the art-and-entertainment part of his sport way out there into pure pop.
Weir first became notorious in 2001, when he won the world junior title in men's figure skating. After dominating the U.S. national championships 2004-06, he medalled in world championships but missed at the 2006 Winter Olympics. His career has been dogged by injuries and lapses in confidence, not to mention controversy around his flouting of skating's gender conventions. It's a miracle that he was able to sell his flamboyant and artistic style to the U.S. national-championship judges, when so many homophobic skating authorities and fans translate that style as "effeminate." But Weir, like Lambert and Gaga, has a passionate base of admirers in the U.S. and abroad.
No sport is more fanatically gender-regimented than figure skating. A man is relentlessly rumored as gay (even if he's not) if his style, programs and costume veer an inch towards "artistic." In recent years, a whole slew of "artistic" males have invaded the ice. A few, notably the U.S.'s Rudy Galindo, even came out. The controversy is hottest in the U.S. and Canada, where there is actually a growing movement to de-gay figure skating and make it "macho and athletic."
Weir responds to the rumors by insisting that his private life is nobody else's business. During the media frenzy around him at the Winter Olympics, Weir told the press, "I don't feel the need to express my sexual being because it's not part of my sport and it's private. I can sleep with whomever I choose and it doesn't affect what I'm doing on the ice."
Though he's been competing for 8 years, Weir is still only 24. Recently he touched off some huge sparks with an exhibition appearance at "Festa on Ice 2009" in South Korea. The buzz that Weir had outdone himself in Korea got younger American sports and pop fans racing to YouTube to catch the video of this signature performance.
Skating to "Poker Face," in a daring costume inspired by Gaga's "alien drag queen" fashions, Weir was at his most confident and provocative best. The capacity crowd screamed non-stop from the moment he stepped onto the ice through the last of his post-skate bows. I watch a lot of figure-skating competitions on TV, and have never seen a crowd do such rock-star screaming for any other skater.
Note: the three luminaries have their links to each other. While Gaga's fashions and dance moves inspire Johnny Weir, her singing and styles reportedly also inspire Adam Lambert.
Indeed, "American Idol" put family-friendly aside long enough to have Lady Gaga and her troupe do "Poker Face" on April 1. Her over-the-top performance stunned a studio crowd that is used to more conventional fare. MTV commented wryly: "Idol may never be the same again."
Homophobia in the "Idol" Vote?
So -- next Tuesday is make-or-break day for Adam Lambert. Will the rumors help him or hinder him? Hopefully the LGBT vote be out in full force. Every vote will count. Personally, I feel that he's a way bigger talent than Kris Allen, and deserves to win.
The big worry is how "Idol" voting might be manipulated. For years, conspiracy theories have popped up, compelling the show's producers to insist that the tally is accurate and audited. But it would still be a snap to stuff the show's ballot box by making multiple phone votes.
The "Idol" voting system evidently uses software that foils the kind of phone-call blitzes used by telemarketing firms. But it might be hard to detect thousands of votes placed from a pool of randomly collected phones by well-organized individuals, fan clubs and political lobbies that feel they have a vested interest in who wins. "Dancing With the Stars" puts a limit of three votes from each phone. But some friends have told me that they vote dozens of times a week on "Idol." So it's apparently possible to place a lot of votes from a single phone.
On the semifinals last week, host Ryan Seacrest claimed that a record-setting 88 million votes had been cast. In reality, this might be 1 million people voting 88 times, or 8 million people voting 11 times. In other words, "Idol" balloting is hardly a case of "one man, one vote."
I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Fox has kept the religious right shushed about Adam's sexuality issue -- no doubt they don't want that kind of open controversy around the show. But I also suspect that the fundies put their troops to work behind the scenes, calling and texting thousands of votes for Midwest singer Danny Gokey, who made it to the semifinals. Danny would have been the fundies' choice because of his church associations and his hetero family image.
Last week the Adam bandwagon evidently massed enough liberal votes to push the church guy out of the finals. But next week, the underground fundie voting campaign (if it exists), may redouble its efforts to keep Adam from winning.
The Final Question
Will any of these three superstars ever come out? That is, if there's anything to the rumors? I don't know, and won't speculate. It's their right to decide where and when and how to reveal their reality, if they are L, or G, or B, or T.
Today, the PC canon demands that everybody should come out -- that closeted politicians or judges should even be forcibly outed, especially if they are making anti-gay decisions while in office. But in the world of arts and entertainment, some circumstances can be different. True, there is homophobia that often keeps gay or lesbian film actors (for example) from coming out for fear they won't get work.
But there can be cases where a performing artist (and/or their management) feels that cloaking their private life with mystery is part of the total creative package -- part of the broad appeal. That approach has often worked for some artists, and it is usually accepted by all the different constituencies among their fans.
On the other hand, if Adam and Gaga and Johnny aren't LGBT, they still have a special "it" in their charisma and creative sensibilities, that speaks to a whole range of humanity beyond heterosexual. It will keep them popular with our community for years to come.
For now, what matters are these hot-news performances that have got so many fans stirred up and screaming their heads off.
Hat tip to Jim Buzinski at Outsports.com, another Johnny Weir admirer, whose mention of the "Poker Face" skate in Korea was the first I saw.