When unknown Adam Lambert sang 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at TV audition and nearly didn't get through

20 November 2020, 14:28 | Updated: 20 November 2020, 14:35

Adam Lambert, who would go on to perform sold-out stadiums across the world as the lead singer of one of history's most famous and successful bands, waited nervously in front of the judges as they held his fate in their hands.
Adam Lambert, who would go on to perform sold-out stadiums across the world as the lead singer of one of history's most famous and successful bands, waited nervously in front of the judges as they held his fate in their hands. Picture: Fox/American Idol

By Giorgina Ramazzotti

This is the moment Adam Lambert sang 'Bohemian Rhapsody' on American Idol and the judges were torn on whether to send him through to the next round.

When a deadpan Simon Cowell says you've chosen his "favourite song" just moments before your first audition, you know that in the world of TV talent shows, the stakes don't get much higher.

And that was exactly the case with Adam Lambert's first appearance on American Idol in 2009, when in a nail-biting moment the future Queen frontman singing 'Bohemian Rhapsody', nearly didn't get put through by the show's four judges.

See more: Adam Lambert facts: Queen singer's age, partner, career and TV talent show past revealed

Adam, who would go on to perform at sold-out stadiums across the world as the lead singer of Queen, one of history's most successful bands, waited nervously in front of the judges as they held his fate in their hands.

27-year-old Adam Lambert was a contestant on American Idol in 2009 when he auditioned for the judges by performing Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'
27-year-old Adam Lambert was a contestant on American Idol in 2009 when he auditioned for the judges by performing Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Picture: Fox/American Idol
The footage shows the nail-biting moment the future Queen frontman, Adam Lambert, nearly didn't get put through by American Idol’s four judges.
The footage shows the nail-biting moment the future Queen frontman, Adam Lambert, nearly didn't get put through by American Idol’s four judges. Picture: Fox/American Idol

See more: The top 20 Queen songs of all time

After singing a flawless acapella version of Freddie Mercury's famous 'Bohemian Rhapsody' the judges were quick to evaluate the 27-year-old Adam Lambert's performance.

Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Kara DioGuardi proceeded to argue over the young performers vocals, with Simon calling his performance "too theatrical", before eventually - and after much debate - agreeing to put him through.

See more: Queen and Adam Lambert harmonising in unseen backstage video is incredible

What the judges didn't know was they had confirmed the exact doubts Adam had had before the audition: that his musical theatre past would hinder his chances and it nearly stopped him applying for the show altogether.

"I didn’t think I was the right kind of performer to … I didn’t think I would work on the show," the former Wicked star told Entertainment Weekly in 2016, "I thought 'Oh, I’m not the type that they look for.'”

See more: Spine-tingling moment Brian May plays a staggering guitar solo to an empty stadium

After singing a flawless a capella version of Freddie Mercury's famous 'Bohemian Rhapsody' the judges were quick to evaluate the 27-year-old Adam Lambert's performance.
After singing a flawless a capella version of Freddie Mercury's famous 'Bohemian Rhapsody' the judges were quick to evaluate the 27-year-old Adam Lambert's performance. Picture: Fox/American Idol
Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Kara DioGuardi then proceeded to argue over the young performers vocals, with Simon Cowell calling his performance "too theatrical"
Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Kara DioGuardi then proceeded to argue over the young performers vocals, with Simon Cowell calling his performance "too theatrical". Picture: Fox/American Idol

See more: Huge 65,000 crowd singing entire 6 minutes of Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in unison is spectacular

Not only was Adam nervous of not getting through,the performer also had to quit his job in a professional theatre production as American Idol rules stated that contestants couldn’t be under any sort of entertainment contract.

"That was my income; that’s how I was getting my health insurance, all that stuff. I had to quit the job that I had in order to move forward, so it was a big risk for me," he said.

See more: Freddie Mercury and Brian May's private hotel jam session from 1986 is magnificent

"When it came time to go in front of Simon, Paula, Randy and Kara, it was like in the back of my head, it was like “If this doesn’t work out, you’re screwed.”

"I got up there and it just all kind of worked. I was nervous but I felt a good connection with the judges. I was looking at them and I was chatting with them and I felt it was a good repertoire and they were paying attention.

See more: Watch the amazing exact moment that convinced Queen to recruit Adam Lambert

The judges confirmed the exact doubts Adam had had before the audition: that his musical theatre past would hinder his chances and it nearly stopped him applying for the show altogether.
The judges confirmed the exact doubts Adam had had before the audition: that his musical theatre past would hinder his chances and it nearly stopped him applying for the show altogether. Picture: Fox/American Idol

"The first song that I performed for them was a Michael Jackson song — “Rock With You” — and it didn’t quite connect like I wanted it to, and they were kind of looking at me sideways."

See more: Queen and Adam Lambert release new lockdown version of 'We Are The Champions'

"[The judges] said, “What else do you have?” That’s when I performed 'Bohemian Rhapsody.' That seemed to click for them and that’s what they ended up using on television," he recalled.

Adam Lambert proceeded to the live rounds of the show and alongside being embraced by the public, was spotted by none other than Queen themselves.

See more: The Voice Kids: Girl, 12, channels Freddie Mercury with spine-tingling rendition of Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Roger Taylor later confirmed the exact video the band saw of Adam Lambert that convinced them the singer could pay tribute to their legendary frontman, Freddie Mercury.

Adam Lambert proceeded to the live rounds of the show and alongside being embraced by the public, was spotted by none other than Queen. Pictured, Adam performing with Queen in 2019.
Adam Lambert proceeded to the live rounds of the show and alongside being embraced by the public, was spotted by none other than Queen. Pictured, Adam performing with Queen in 2019. Picture: Getty

Speaking on Good Morning America, Roger Taylor said of the 2009 incident: “A friend of mine called me up and said, ‘I’ve just seen the most amazing singer on American Idol.’

“I checked it out and [Lambert] was singing 'Whole Lotta Love' by Led Zeppelin and just blowing it away. Fantastic.”

See more: When Queen, the Beatles and Rod Stewart sang spectacular version of 'All You Need Is Love'

Queen flew to L.A. to perform with Adam Lambert for the finale of Idol and it proved such a success that not long after, in November 2011, Adam Lambert was officially the new lead singer of Queen.

The rest, as they say, is musical history.