American Idol Stars Who Have Been Open About Their Sexuality

While LGBTQ+ singers have never snagged the "American Idol" crown, they've come pretty close, with Adam Lambert, David Archuleta, and Clay Aiken making it to the final. Others found fame elsewhere, like Adore Delano, who became a popular drag queen. LGBTQ+ contestants have been showing off their talents since the first season, with Jim Verraros and R.J. Helton. Though none of them publicly addressed their sexuality until after the show, they left their mark and paved the way for others.

But "American Idol" was reportedly not the friendliest of places to the LGBTQ+ community. "I did tell some of the assistant producers because I felt like it was eating me alive," Helton, who came out four years after finishing fifth in 2002, told The Advocate in 2007. " But I was advised to just keep it to myself. The reason they gave me was that it wouldn't be a good idea for my career." Fox spokesman Joe Earley, who is gay, said whoever told Helton to keep quiet was not speaking on behalf of the network.

Regardless of Fox's official stance, "American Idol" featured no contestants who were openly LGBTQ+ while competing until 2014, just two seasons before it ended its initial run. In Season 13, MK Nobilette noted she understood what being open on the show meant. "There are always going to be people in America and everywhere else who will definitely hate me," she told the judges (via Out). Despite the early silence, many Idols went on to become vocal about their sexuality.

David Archuleta had to give up his religion

When he captivated the judges and America in Season 7, David Archuleta was only a teenager, and his sexuality rightfully had no place in the contest. And he wouldn't even come to terms with it for several years. While he revealed to his family he was gay in 2014, Archuleta wouldn't address his sexuality publicly for another seven years. In 2021, Archuleta revealed he was still trying to understand where he fell in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, noting he was unsure whether he identified as gay, bisexual, or asexual.

"I've been open to myself and my close family for some years now that I am not sure about my own sexuality," he wrote in a Facebook post. Archuleta's journey was made more complicated by his upbringing. Archuleta was raised Mormon, a faith that puts great value on traditional marital and reproductive notions, he explained on "The Jennifer Hudson Show" in 2022. He believed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' precepts and wanted to be a part of it.

Archuleta was even engaged to women, which led to anxiety and suicidal ideation, he told People in 2022. He tried talking to church leaders about their position on LGBTQ+ issues, but it was useless. So he left the church. "I can't keep putting myself in a place where it's so conflicting where they say, 'We love you so much, but at the same time, you must change who you are,'" he said.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Adore Delano suppressed her sexuality for America Idol

While better known for her stage name and for being a finalist on Season 6 of "RuPaul's Drag Race," Adore Delano was once a contestant on "American Idol" who presented as a man known as Danny Noriega. But before appearing on the show in 2008 at 18, she had come out to her family, first as bisexual at 12, then shortly after as gay, and, finally, as transgender in high school, she revealed in a July 2023 Instagram video.

However, when she appeared on the popular show, she went back into the closet to be able to compete. "I threw it away, I burned it," she said. "I reinvented myself into something that was so uncomfortable. It was almost like a sacrifice in order to get what I wanted career-wise," she said. In the video, Delano also revealed she is transitioning, a process she described as life-changing. "I've found that it's been very enlightening and has made me probably the happiest I've ever been in my adult life," she said.

Before coming out as transgender, Delano had defined her gender identity in different terms. "I am non-binary & completely valid. You are important & alive. Always know that," she shared on X, previously known as Twitter, in October 2018. In 2020, she still identified as non-binary, an identity she wished had more visibility. "Pretty sick of non-binary humans being overlooked. It's like 'oh yea, & then there's them as well!'" she tweeted

Clay Aiken came out after becoming a father

After rising to recognition on Season 2 of "American Idol," Clay Aiken denied speculations about his sexuality. "One thing I've found of people in the public eye, either you're a womanizer or you've got to be gay. Since I'm neither one of those, people are completely concerned about me," he told Rolling Stone in 2003. In 2006, he continued to deny the rumors and expressed frustration over the interest in it. "I don't understand why people care," he said on CNN's "Larry King Live."

But the runner-up's feelings over discussing his sexuality changed when he became a father. When Aiken welcomed his son Parker with longtime friend Jaymes Foster in 2008, he came out as gay. "It was the first decision I made as a father," he told People. "I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things. I wasn't raised that way, and I'm not going to raise a child to do that." Aiken admitted he hadn't been truthful the previous years out of fear his sexuality would damage his career.

His intention was never to lie to his fans. "But if they leave, I don't want them to leave hating me," he said. Aiken became an activist for LGBTQ+ rights, campaigning against North Carolina's amendment that banned same-sex marriage in his 2014 congressional bid. "In the next 20 years, we're going to look back on this and be sort of ashamed," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Adam Lambert is the most successful gay Idol

When he was catapulted to fame as Season 8's runner-up, Adam Lambert had nothing to hide. He had been open in Los Angeles since the early aughts and was a frequent patron of local gay clubs. He shared that kissing girls wasn't what he preferred in a New Year's Eve 2008 performance, and he didn't hesitate to kiss a man while dressed in drag at the Burning Man festival. He just saw no reason to address any of it on national TV.

Why should he? "I have nothing to hide. I am who I am. And this is about singing ... nothing else," he told Access Hollywood when asked about the photos in March 2009 (via ABC News). But shortly after the finale, Lambert chose to address his sexuality to avoid the situation that plagued Clay Aiken. "I'm proud of my sexuality. I embrace it. It's just another part of me," he told Rolling Stone in June 2009.

But the industry showed it hadn't improved much since Aiken. Fox reportedly cut off Lambert's press access following the festival scandal, and ABC threatened to sue him after he kissed a man onstage at the 2009 American Music Awards (seen above). "I got in trouble. The network was like, 'How dare you?'" he told EW in 2023. Lambert had the last laugh, though, as he went on to make history as the first gay man to top the charts with "Trespassing" in 2012.

Jim Verraros was the first openly gay Idol finalist

In late 2002, Jim Verraros became the first "American Idol" finalist to come out as gay when he publicly shared his sexuality on the "American Idols LIVE! Tour." When "Rollercoaster" came out in 2005, he became the first openly gay Idol to release an album. "I am very proud of this body of work and even prouder that I was unapologetically, authentically myself while doing it," he celebrated on Instagram in April.

Verraros continued to produce music in an unwelcoming territory. "While I was pursuing music and taking meetings with agents and managers, a lot of them really didn't know how to put the framework together for an openly gay singer," he told Out in 2023. Though he understood he was taking a risk by embracing his identity, Verraros knew what he was doing mattered. "I can only do my part and hope that I can help pave the way for other gay artists to follow," he told TV Guide in 2005 (via ONTD).

Verraros continued to be at the vanguard of LGBTQ+ advances in all aspects. He married Bill Brennan in a traditional ceremony in September 2009, before Illinois recognized same-sex marriage. "We wanted the day to be a reflection of our love and commitment to each other as well as a statement to other gay couples in Illinois," Verraros told People. They split in 2019, and Verranos went on to wed Sean Michael Buck (seen above) — legally this time!