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Adam Lambert: The kids understand

By Denise Quan, CNN
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Adam Lambert goes to school
  • Singer's fans helped raise money to support music classes in East L.A.
  • Lambert credits art and music classes for helping give him confidence
  • And that American Music Awards performance? "I was being myself," Lambert says
  • Adam Lambert
  • American Idol
  • Music

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- At any given time, it's hard to hide a 6-foot-1-inch man wearing eyeliner. It's even more difficult when that man is Adam Lambert and you're trying to prevent 2,400 middle school students from discovering that he's set foot on their campus.

And so, the 2009 "American Idol" runner-up waited patiently in an underground parking garage until the bell rang, and then he quickly made his way to Mrs. Fuller's Contemporary Rock Band class.

The 28-year-old entertainer opened the door to the classroom and poked his head in. "Hey, guys! Hi!" he exclaimed as 45 budding musicians whistled and pounded on their desks in a teenage show of welcome.

Lambert made the surprise visit to Belvedere Middle School in East Los Angeles to drop off school supplies. His fans had raised more than $290,000 for, a nonprofit Web site where teachers can sign up for materials not provided by their school district. In this case, Sarah Fuller, the school's music director, had requested 1,000 keyboard batteries and 1,000 guitar strings.

"I posted the battery grant, and in three weeks, it got funded. I was like, 'Woo hoo, yay!' " she exclaimed. "Before that, I would have to go after them on my own, and I'd have to charge the kids two dollars for the batteries and a dollar for every string that you break."

Powered by fresh batteries and new guitar strings, the students accompanied Lambert as he sang his current single, "Whataya Want From Me."

"It's about vulnerability and emotional confusion and hope," Lambert explained. In other words, it's a perfect tune for teens in the process of discovering who they are.

CNN: Did you take music when you were in school?

Adam Lambert: In middle school, I really didn't have music, but in high school, I remember taking a lot of choir and drama.

CNN: How do you think it changed your life as a student?

Lambert: I didn't feel like I fit in, especially in middle school. That was the particular three years that I felt really unsure of who I was, and I didn't have a lot of friends. But in the few art classes that I took, that's where I felt like I was good at something. It gave me confidence. I made friends through it, and it gave me a sense of belonging.

It's a really important part of being in school and developing as an adolescent -- and as a teenager, it's finding what makes you happy, finding hobbies and finding things that make you feel good about what you can do. And anything we can do as a community to help support those classes and those opportunities, I think we need to take them.

CNN: How did you get your fan base to give?

Lambert: is a great Web site. Basically, teachers post like little ads for materials that they need, like, "We need 30 pairs of headphones that's going to cost this much money." The donor can go on and choose what they want to support, so they can see exactly where their money is going, and it's obviously tax-deductible and all that.

CNN: A lot of the kids were familiar with you from "American Idol." Were they a little self-conscious about meeting you?

Lambert: There were a few who didn't want to make eye contact, but then I started getting into a conversation over here about my hair color and what it was like and how old I am, and we bonded over in the corner.

CNN: Your album release got off with a big bang because of your performance on "The American Music Awards." Video

Lambert: It was a big bang, all right.

CNN: Do you think that ultimately helped you, or do you think it hurt you?

Lambert: I don't really know yet. I think it's yet to be seen. I think ultimately, I was being myself, and I think fans who like what I do saw that, and if it was something that they didn't like, then they didn't like it. Apples and oranges.

CNN: Do you have any regrets?

Lambert: No, no regrets. I think the one thing people need to know is, I do things song by song. That's how I competed on "Idol." Each song I approached a certain way, and it had its own energy. That's where my theater background comes out. I like to interpret songs and almost act out the music, and so with that song ("For Your Entertainment"), it was about risque topics, so I wanted to act out those topics.

Every song has a different vibe. I don't want people to walk away thinking I'm a one-trick pony, and all I do is shock -- sex stuff. You know, that was for that song.

CNN: Did any of the kids ask you about the controversies?

Lambert: See, that's the funny thing. None of the kids asked me about controversies, because I don't think the kids really care. I think it's the parents that care.

CNN: Did the school care?

Lambert: Not from what I heard, no. A lot of people were upset over that performance because they were thinking, "Oh, my God, the children!" But what is so funny to me is that by making such a big deal out of it, they drew more attention to it, and the children can see anything they want on the Internet, anyway.

So in actuality -- in a full-circle way -- because of their protest, it was probably more visible to the children, because kids, teenagers, tend to look at what they're not supposed to look at. So I think if it's a big deal, just sweep it under the rug, like I did. Next! Moving on. (chuckles)