When he belted the classic "Bohemian Rhapsody" to audition for the hit reality series "American Idol" a decade ago, Adam Lambert couldn't have imagined that one day he would actually front Queen.
But now the American glam rocker has been lead singer of the legendary British band for some eight years, and on Saturday they will headline the Global Citizen Festival in New York's Central Park aimed at drumming up support for preserving international aid to eradicate extreme poverty.
He said playing the festival fits in with the "unifying" and empowering ethos of Queen.
"I'm all about giving people the sense of confidence and pride and personal power to feel like they don't have to accept bad circumstances; that they have the right to demand more for themselves," he told AFP backstage in Central Park in the space he's sharing with bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor.
"I think a lot of the Queen songs kind of boil down to that -- they leave people feeling stronger and prouder."
Lambert said last year's release of "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- the Oscar-winning film that charts Queen's rise -- "reignited the pop cultural relevance" of the mold-breaking band for a younger generation.
Fresh off the release of his own project "Velvet: Side A," the mercurial performer said his work with Queen has "stretched me" as an artist who appeals to both older fans of the band as well as a younger crowd who knows him for his solo work.
Following the iconic Freddie Mercury, who fronted the group until his death in 1991, has been a challenge and a gift, Lambert said.
"Obviously I have mad respect for Freddie Mercury -- but there's no replacing him," the 37-year-old said. "I've chosen not to ever imitate; I feel like that would be disrespectful to his memory, to the band, to the fans."
At the same time, Lambert said he draws inspiration from Mercury's "boldness."
"He was not afraid to be big," said the performer also known for his flamboyant taste, who sported a flashy chain necklace over frayed denim as chunky boots heightened his already imposing stature.
"He was over the top visually and sonically," Lambert continued. "He wasn't afraid -- he wasn't ever trying to fit into something."
- New political bent -
New York's Global Citizen Festival is something of an unofficial exclamation point to the United Nations General Assembly, distributing free tickets to supporters who pledge to take actions such as sending letters to their governments in support of development aid.
Queen's headlining performance this weekend comes more than three decades after the band's rousing show at the transatlantic charity concert Live Aid in 1985, which today is considered one of the greatest live performances ever.
Lambert said he finds himself "naturally much more interested in what's going on with politics right now than I ever have been."
"I hope that there are a lot of other people in that same boat, because we're looking at, in my opinion... a really negative time in US politics," he said, voicing hope that the "negativity" will encourage greater involvement in the 2020 US presidential election.
He avoided backing a particular candidate, but the LGBTQ rights advocate said "those of us that are representing certain identities, I think it's really important to sort of back that up with some real talk and real action."
- Urging authenticity -
In the nascent days of his music career Lambert said working as an openly gay man was something of "uncharted" territory.
"I worked with a lot of really great people that weren't necessarily homophobic, but they were looking at it as a business thing," he said, wondering if Lambert's identity would be "marketable."
With striking blue eyes popping behind dark eyeliner, Lambert said gender identity is no longer seen as a "roadblock," though he lamented that "there's a whole portion of this country, and in many other countries, where the right is having a moment; there's a lot of conflict there."
He's hopeful that those with "discriminatory ideas" will "just use some empathy, and maybe we would see some progress."
Lambert's new six track EP exudes a funkiness reminiscent of one of his heroes Prince with its confident falsettos and deft guitar riffs, as anthemic rock flavor references his work with Queen.
The artist said he considers "Velvet" his most "authentic" work yet, calling it "music that wasn't me trying to play a game or trying to chase anything" such as marketing desires.
"It was like 'I'm gonna do what the hell I want to do,'" Lambert laughed. "And obviously the door is wide open, and everyone's welcome to come to the party, but it's my party."