Adam Lambert talks ‘Witch Hunt’ tour, lifelong love of makeup: ‘I didn’t know any other boys who painted their faces after school’

Adam Lambert always goes all-out for All Hallows’ Eve, practically outdoing Halloween queen Heidi Klum every year. Among his famous costumes are an “Aquaman/merman/Poseidon thing” that was very “Amazon craft queen, with a glue gun and prosthetics from Etsy,” along with his signature fashion-forward twists on “archetypal monsters” like devils, wolfmen, and “glampires.”

This year, the glammy Grammy nominee will be celebrating Halloween for eight crazy nights on his occult-themed West Coast tour, “The Witch Hunt.” And whatever he’ll be wearing, he’ll surely look fierce, fanged, and fabulous. A fan of “playing dress-up” since he was a theater kid growing up in San Diego, Halloween was always an anything-goes time of self-expression for Lambert – a magical time when all little boys, for one night only, could experiment with wigs, glitter, and most of all, makeup.

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“There was no limit. There was no holding back. You could just kind of do whatever you wanted,” Lambert recalls of his childhood Halloweens. “I feel like in more recent years there’s been this whole movement of the cosplay thing, which is like a big deal now. It’s a big scene. And I don’t really think that was necessarily the case when I was a kid. I don’t know if that was like a thing. And even just the way makeup has become such a thing — you go on TikTok or Instagram now, and there’s just tons of people with makeup tutorials and channels. … There’s a lot of guys out there that are playing with makeup, which is great.

“I think when I was younger, I felt kind of like an odd one for liking that stuff,” Lambert — who now does YouTube makeup tutorials of his own and isn’t against launching his own gender-neutral cosmetics line someday — continues, while speaking to Yahoo Entertainment via Zoom from London while rocking KISS-reminiscent Phyliis Cohen Face-Lace eye decals. “And it’s not even mutually exclusive to sexuality anymore — and it wasn’t in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, which is what’s so funny.”

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Lambert’s early experiences with face-painting were in middle school, starting with theater makeup. “I had an instructional book of how to make yourself look old, how to make yourself look sick, like theater stuff, and that kind of slowly segued into more fantasy makeup stuff. And I was so into it, but it was something that I did feel… I think when I was an adolescent, I felt a little embarrassed of,” he confesses. “I didn’t know any other boys who painted their faces after school. I literally would go home and be in the mirror painting my face. And I liked it. I thought it was fun. I thought it was expressive — and you know, it is art.”

While his cosmetics obsession at first made him feel like an outsider among the boys at his school, when Lambert eventually started experimenting with fashion editorial makeup, ripping inspo pages out of glossy magazines and spending his part-time job income on MAC kits, he found acceptance among his female classmates – so much so, that at one point he considered becoming a professional makeup artist instead of a singer.

Adam Lambert on Halloween 2014. (Photo: Lilly Lawrence/WireImage)Adam Lambert on Halloween 2014. (Photo: Lilly Lawrence/WireImage)

Adam Lambert on Halloween 2014. (Photo: Lilly Lawrence/WireImage)

“I thought that was what I was going to end up doing, because it was so easy and it was fun,” Lambert reveals. “I remember for high school dances, I would spread the word amongst people that I could do makeup for girls, for the formal, something a little amped-up more than they were used to. And I would have them pay me like 20 bucks a pop, and I would book like seven appointments in all afternoon the night of a dance. But I would have a date as well to go to the dance with, so I would do her makeup and we would go to the dance together. And I had enough money because of that day to pay for dinner.”

Lambert’s sartorial skills paid off when he memorably competed on American Idol in 2009 at age 27 (he famously wore his own Frankenstein platform boots when he performed with KISS on the finale), but he recalls that even though it wasn’t so long ago, it was a post-‘70s/’80s “time of transition” — when Country Night mentor Randy Travis would gasp at Lambert’s simple black nail varnish, and host Ryan Seacrest would pit Lambert against clean-cut Season 8 winner Kris Allen as “the guy-next-door versus the guyliner.”

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“That was the thing that always cracked me up. I think the Middle American mainstream TV audience, they weren’t really exposed to some of that stuff,” says Lambert. “I remember when I first came out into the scene, I was getting a lot of kind of cringeworthy questions in the press, like: ‘What mascara do you use?’ And I’m like, ‘Do you ask a woman that? Like, what?’ But you know, I think it was just a weird time.”

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for fans of all genders to dress up as Lambert for Halloween – he suggests his iconic spiky lewk from his first music video, “For Your Entertainment,” as a good one to replicate (snake optional). “I have seen online, like: ‘Adam Lambert Wig,’” he chuckles. “It’s funny because it’s like, ‘Wow, OK. Well, I guess you know you’ve made it when they’re making Halloween accessories after you.’ And I’ve seen some drag kings do me online. I’ve seen some videos, which is very cool.”

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As for what Glamberts can expect from this month’s “The Witch Hunt” tour, the setlist will feature previously unheard covers, including a Depeche Mode song, along with, presumably, spooky selections from his own catalog like “Ghost Town,” “Voodoo,” and “Evil in the Night.” But Lambert — who laughingly confesses that he was too cheerful to go through a teen “Goth phase,” aside from an occasional trip to Hot Topic — says the show will be more celebratory than scary.

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“We started doing this last year for the first time, and I think because of us coming out of the pandemic last year, I was trying to express something maybe a little bit darker for the show,” Lambert explains. “This year, I’m feeling a little more lightweight, a little more playful.”

So, expect lots of glitter; “Witch Hunt” tickets are available here. In the meantime, Lambert will perform his new cover of “Mad About the Boy,” from the forthcoming documentary Mad About the Boy – The Noël Coward Story, this Sunday on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.

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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by Jimmie Rhee