Undeniably, it was his voice—which has been compared favorably to those of Robert Plant and his hero Freddie Mercury—that got him a shot on Idol, but it was his savvy that helped him stay there and eventually steal the show. The gay speculation that surrounded him, which he never shied away from, probably didn't hurt, either.

Although he didn't win the competition—"It doesn't fuckin' matter" who won it, says Lambert, the runner–up—it got him what he wanted: a platform from which to launch a singing career. And fame.

When the season ended, he was awarded a six–figure recording contract with 19 Entertainment, the company that owns Idol and puts out the albums of its headliners, like Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson. Simon Fuller, the Great Oz behind the show and one of the most successful producers in history (Idol music sales alone have generated close to $100 million), explains Lambert's appeal as a matter of genuinely unique talent and natural charisma.

"His voice is second to none," Fuller says. "It's up there with the all–time great singers I've come across. Many millions of people have already fallen in love with him. He's got that glint in his eye, whether you're gay, whatever, it's just attractive. He's just a very sexual guy—and he's not threatening to women."

Lambert's groupies on the Idols Live Tour follow him across the country, offering him clothes and books and jewelry—and they've tried to give him other things.

"There was one woman in Jersey who was actually gorgeous," says Lambert. "She had obviously had a couple of cocktails, and during an after–show meet–and–greet, she just slithered up next to me and started kissing my neck. I was cool with it. But then it started to get a little weird because she was, like, moaning. She gave me a note that said, 'I want to make out with you, here's my number,' and I was like, wow, this is crazy. But again, it's cool. Because yeah, I am gay, but I like kissing women sometimes. Women are pretty. It doesn't mean I'm necessarily sleeping with them.

"Of course, had I been the one drinking the cocktails," he adds, "I probably would have made out with her."