Robert Archambeau does a great job of articulating the significance of Adam Lambert's "Ring of Fire" performance on last week's American Idol. I know I jumped around when I saw it, hardly believing I was seeing it. Here was this large, fairly mainstream American Idol audience, expecting an evening like a Hilary Duff film, and getting Velvet Goldmine, or a Gregg Araki film, or Robert Mapplethorpe's Self Portrait with Whip.
Archambeau writes, "[Lambert] wasn't (like Aiken) a singer who happened to be gay. He was a gay man singing as a gay man." He was a gay man singing as a gay man, and NOT singing a show tune or an Erasure song, I'd add. Thanks to years of swishy comic relief characters and Oh SNAP! and "gay attitude," America was equipped to fairly comfortably accept last year's Danny "Ish" Noriega. America's Next Top Model's Miss J made us slightly less comfortable (he's so committed), but we're used to her by now.
Adam Lambert is "a gay man performing as a gay man"--and performing the sort of performance often reserved for a gay audience. He's not Nathan Lane, and he's not Rupert Everett, "a straight woman's gay best friend." He took the audience into (what I'm slightly embarrassed to call, but want to call) the catacombs of gay experience. I'm sure he made at least one spectator think "I want my mommy!" (or "I want 'YMCA'!")
Here's the performance (or click to view). I've always liked the Cash original, and how the trumpets and clippity-clop pace sort of wink at the heavy lyrics. Lambert's version emphasizes the heavy lyrics--making it a different song entirely.