How Long Will Adam Lambert Be a Star?

Adam Lambert on "Jimmy Kimmel Live"

Second albums are always important for a pop star, but for artists like Adam Lambert, they’re crucial.

Despite being incredibly talented and despite having lots of fans, Adam Lambert spent the first part of career in the shadow of American Idol. Did he get plenty of attention on his own, without the show’s help? Yes. Did his first album sell almost a million copies and produce a top ten single? Yes. But no matter what, Lambert’s early success was always discussed in relation to the show. “Ooh, let’s see if his first single is as good as his performance of ’Mad World!'” “Wow, this guy from Idol is really interesting in this interview about his personal life!”

Today, though, with the release of his second album Trespassing, Lambert is on his own. American Idol has moved on without him, crowning new champions, and it doesn’t have anything else to give him. It may have been the reason people started listening to Lambert, but if they keep listening, it’ll be because of Lambert himself.

Obviously, several former Idols have sustained their careers, and so have artists like Nicole Scherzinger, Fergie, and Miranda Lambert, who all got their first taste of fame on a television show. It’s entirely possible that Adam Lambert will follow their path to glory.

But there’s another path. A path littered with Clay Aiken, Miley Cyrus, and The Jonas Brothers. Once their ties to television disappeared, these artists went from multiplatinum success to middling sales and awkward side projects.

Adam Lambert could head down that road, too. Being massively talented isn’t always enough to avoid it. Just ask Fantasia.

And it’s not a great sign that the singles from Trespassing have been ignored by radio and consumers, barely cracking the Billboard charts. I have argued that the songs aren’t good enough to interest the general public, and if the general public isn’t interested, they stop paying attention fast.

However, the rest of Trespassing is pretty good, and critics have given it strong reviews. I may not like “Never Close Our Eyes,” but I love the Michael Jackson swagger of of “Kickin’ In” and the rock-n-roll rush of the title song (posted below). As you may recall, I also flipped for the gay rights anthem “Outlaws of Love.”

So who knows? Maybe word of mouth will spread about these songs. Maybe one of them will actually get released as a single and give Lambert another massive hit. Maybe the strength of his music will cement his status as a major pop star.

Or maybe he’ll develop a cult following. Maybe he’ll never sell singles like Kelly Clarkson or win awards like Carrie Underwood, but maybe he’ll sustain a healthy career on the edge of the spotlight, doing interesting work for decades. That’s basically what happened to artists like Aimee Mann and Rufus Wainwright, and they’re awesome.

Or maybe he’ll fade away.

But for now, that’s all speculation. For now, the world needs a chance to hear Trespassing and decide what it thinks. I’m very interested to see what happens next.

Mark Blankenship tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He recently praised the crazy, happy smarts of the rock band Imagine Dragons.