New Era Makes a Marketing Challenge Go Away… Almost

The Sunday New York Times has a look at American Idol contestant Adam Lambert. Lambert is…

1. Widely rumored to be gay, and

2. Widely considered a favorite to win the competition

Homosexuality has always had a significant place in the arts, but because the vast majority of the marketplace is straight, those in charge of marketing gay artists have often tried to hide those artists’ sexual identity. The article, while focusing on the “is he or isn’t he” speculation, also shows how far we’ve come from the days when

…studios forced Rock Hudson into bogus relationships with women and obliged gay actors “to lie from morning to night.”

In 1959 Liberace, the camp artifact best known, as one critic wrote, “for beating Romantic music to death on a piano decorated with a candelabra,” sued an English newspaper for libel for implying in print that he was gay… When asked on the witness stand whether he was homosexual, Liberace emphatically told a judge: “No, sir! I am against the practice because it offends convention and it offends society.” He won the suit and damages and then, much later, was named in a $113 million palimony suit by his partner Scott Thorson.

It’s worth noting the Boston Red Sox did not field a black player until that same year: 1959. Fifty years later, race doesn’t even register when the Most Valuable Player results are announced — but we still haven’t seen a gay Major League Baseball player come out during his playing career.

A previous American Idol runner-up,  Clay Aiken,  came out publicly — several years after his turn on the show was over. A half century after Liberace’s lawsuit, Adam Lambert can compete effectively in the most mainstream music competition imaginable, and allow the media to speculate as much as it wishes.

But he won’t quite let himself take the final step. The choice may be his, or his handlers’, or the show’s.

We’ll know that sexuality has ceased to be viewed as a marketing problem when a contestant comes out before the  votes are cast — and the New York Times doesn’t care.


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