April 30, 2009
Adam Lambert: the Jewish American Idol
Last month when I was home for my birthday I got scolded—by my best friend. “Haven’t you seen Adam Lambert on Idol?! I’m dying to know what you think!” If I thought I could get away without knowing about Lambert—the second Jewish contestant to be a front runner on ‘Idol’ (Elliott Yamin placed 3rd in Season 5)—I was SO wrong. Adam Lambert cannot be ignored. The buzz around him finally reached a boiling point, so I caved in and tivo’d last week’s show.
And all I could think was, Kara DioGuardi is so right: He is the modern incarnate of Clark Kent!
But before Adam Lambert became the rock star of “American Idol” season 8, he was a rising star on the Jewish stage. The actor/singer played the slave Joshua in a 2004 multi-million-dollar Kodak Theatre production of “The Ten Commandments” that publicly flopped, save for one redeeming feature. Even with movie star Val Kilmer in the lead, L.A. Times critic Mark Swed, who was sparing in his praise, wrote: “Few singers or dancers distinguish themselves with a personal sound or style. High notes are calculated to get applause. Adam Lambert, as Joshua, does the best in ‘Is Anybody Listening?‘ It is also the best song.”
Five years later, Lambert’s success on “Idol” feels well deserved if not overdue. And his newfound stardom has earned him a cult following and celebrity friends; he was recently spotted gallivanting around Hollywood with “High School Musical” stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. Living under a microscope hasn’t seemed to bother him either: When provocative photographs surfaced of Lambert dressed in drag and kissing other men, he proclaimed, “I have nothing to hide. I am who I am.”
But before Lambert’s glamorous turn, in which he has become known for his angelic voice and trademark eyeliner, he humbly sang with Jewish groups to gain experience.
In 2007, he performed at the Kol Nidre service at Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre, where he sang the duet “The Prayer” with Cantor Illysia Pierce. “He was spectacular. People were just blown away by him,“ said Rabbi David Baron, spiritual leader of Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre. “He has that star talent; even among stars, he’s a standout. He’s the shoo-in to win this year’s ‘Idol’ and if you listen to the judges, Randy, Paula—and Simon, the toughest critic—they all say the same thing, ‘You’re already a star.’”
Lambert also joined Temple of the Arts to perform at a memorial concert for Yitzhak Rabin, where he sang Shir LeShalom at American Jewish University.
He’s easily a Jewish star, but will he be the next American Idol? His friends at Temple of the Arts certainly hope so.
“The whole congregation is rooting for him, calling and voting, they’re just so excited that he made it. He’s really captured everbody’s imagination,” Rabbi Baron said.
Should Lambert’s fortunes land him on stage at the Nokia Theatre for the American Idol Finale—there’s a chance you can go see him: Nashuva received 6 tickets to the “American Idol” Finale that they will auction off via email starting Friday, May 1st. For your chance to see Lambert, visit nashuvafundraiser.com for more details.
Now I gotta run. American Idol is on.
Listen to Adam sing “The Prayer” at Temple of the Arts at Saban Theatre here
Watch Adam sing “Shir LeShalom” at a tribute to slain Israeli Prime Minister Yizthak Rabin
(Note: This article updated and edited for print)