Inside Adam Lambert's relationship with Simon Cowell

In 2009, Adam Lambert took American Idol by firestorm, bringing his once-in-a-generation voice and classic-rock edge to the hit show's eighth season. Though Lambert came in second place to the charming, but more conventional singer Kris Allen, he's certainly been a winner in the music industry ever since. The star — who tours with Queen, put out multiple successful albums, and even opened the 2019 Oscars — was declared Idol's highest-earning alum in 2015, bringing home $10 million pre-tax, per Forbes. That's an impressive feat.

Lambert, who is openly gay, came out publicly in June 2009, a month after his Idol season wrapped, according to Rolling Stone. "'Come out' is so funny to me because I've never been in," he told ABC News at the time. He's since paved the way for other openly gay artists in the music biz, like Troy Sivan. Though Cowell isn't one to mince words with the contestants on Idol, he seemed to give the talented Lambert a tough go. "I think your voice is a little theatrical," Cowell told the singer at his first audition on the show; feel free to connect those dots.

Since then, things have changed, and in 2018, the two even posed together as Cowell received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "Thank you for your honesty and for helping kickstart my career in the music industry!!" Lambert wrote on Twitter at the time. So, it seems like Lambert now looks back at the judge's guidance fondly — or does he? Here's a closer peek at Simon Cowell and Adam Lambert's relationship.

Adam Lambert said Simon Cowell gave him a 'real hard time' on 'American Idol'

Adam Lambert and Simon Cowell's relationship has always been... iffy. In a June 2018 interview with NME, Lambert said he felt mistreated by Simon on Idol because of his identity. And he wasn't the only one. "Up until my season, anytime someone came on the show that was perceived to be gay or it was obvious enough that they were gay, they were a joke; They were made fun of," Lambert said. "Simon would make fun of them."

Lambert singled out another singer: Danny Noriega, who competed in the seventh season and placed in the semi-finals, per Yahoo! Entertainment. During the show Cowell called one of his performances "grotesque." "The first time he called me grotesque I started crying, I was bawling," Noriega said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in March 2008, per World of Wonder. Noriega kept singing, becoming famous drag queen Adore Delano with 2.1 million Instagram followers. "You know Adore Delano?" Lambert told NME, "He competed as [Danny] on American Idol years before he was on [RuPaul's] Drag Race and he's a good singer."

Since then, times have changed and Lambert and Cowell are on better terms now. "I did the finale the year before last, and it was the first time I had seen him in 10 years. He was sweet. He said, 'Good to see you – good job,'" Lambert told NME, adding, "He sort of wised up on that angle and he realized quickly that is not acceptable anymore."

The 'Idol' judges have since become more supportive of LGBTQ+ contestants

It seems American Idol has come a long way since Simon Cowell and Adam Lambert graced our screens. During Lambert's season, his home life wasn't proudly displayed like newlywed Kris Allen's and Danny Gokey's during cutaways, per Rolling Stone. But in 2020, according to New York Post, Idol found its first openly gay winner in Samantha Diaz, who goes by the stage name Just Sam. Yes, it took 18 seasons. "I am a child of God, so that's always gonna be first..." she told New York Post. "But I like what I like, and that's just that, you know? And it's not men. Like, at all."

As the judges' chairs have shuffled, the treatment of LGTBQ+ finalists has changed for the better, like with the first drag queen finalist Ada Vox. Vox made it to the top 10 in 2018 even without securing enough votes, as the judges — with particular encouragement from Katy Perry — pushed her through to the next round, per Billboard. "I think we do know talent when we see it," said Perry, who joined Idol in its 16th season.

"I must say that Katy Perry was one that I kind of had to convince from the beginning that I was more than just some schtick or gimmick," Vox told Billboard. "The fact that she came around so quickly...it really meant a lot to me." Thankfully, it seems the show has become more accepting and supportive, especially with LGBTQ+ contestants.