Adam Lambert: Out, Loud and Proud review – give this compelling singer his own podcast series

<span>Adam Lambert: Out, Loud and Proud.</span><span>Photograph: ITV</span>
Adam Lambert: Out, Loud and Proud.Photograph: ITV

It is a shame that Adam Lambert: Out, Loud and Proud is such a scrapbook of ideas, because parts of it are compelling and could have carried the show alone. Instead, this is an entertaining yet vague documentary about pop and pride, which sees Lambert promising a look back at UK queer history and the trailblazing artists who shoved society forward when it could barely admit it was willing to budge.

Lambert rose to prominence as the runner-up of American Idol in 2009, though, like plucky X Factor third-placers One Direction, he has long since proved that winning a TV singing contest is not essential for stardom. As well as his solo career, for the last decade Lambert has been singing with the surviving members of Queen. By far the most interesting part of this documentary is when he sits down with his bandmates, Brian May and Roger Taylor, to talk about Freddie Mercury. Lambert is an easy conversationalist and his intimacy with May and Taylor allows for a complex conversation about identity, fame and success. He asks about Mercury’s queerness; May notes that there are stark generational differences in the adoption of the word “queer”, and that Mercury would probably have rejected the description. Would Mercury have been out today, had he lived past 45? They discuss it, but there is no easy answer to be found here.

Queen provide a narrative shape for the hour, from their glam-rock beginnings to the scandal of the I Want to Break Free video, to Mercury’s treatment at the hands of the tabloids, to his death from Aids in 1991. But this isn’t just about Queen: it is framed as a look back at how British artists, especially pop stars, have fought for LGBTQ+ rights and recognition. To get a sense of this, Lambert also speaks to Erasure’s Andy Bell, Skin from Skunk Anansie and MNEK, and he really does get them to open up. Each represents a different era and brings something different to the conversation, from 80s homophobia to 90s laddishness. If Lambert doesn’t have his own version of the oversubscribed celebrities-interviewing-celebrities podcast in the works, then surely it is only a matter of time.

Even so, the “British culture” overview feels tacked on. It promises to celebrate how far we’ve come, while questioning whether progress is slowing down, but it approaches this vast topic loosely, as if struggling to stick to its main thesis. “Homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967,” it states; in fact sexual activity between men was illegal, and it was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967, but only for men over 21. This is a detail but an important one, if the audience is to have confidence in the story this film is trying to tell.

Elsewhere, the touchstones are largely familiar. There’s Bowie on TV, being asked by Russell Harty if his shoes are bisexual. There’s John Inman and Larry Grayson, camping it up for non-threatening laughs. There are the extravagantly made-up New Romantics, there’s Boy George and Pete Burns, here’s Elton John, here’s George Michael being coy and then, later, after his arrest for “lewd behaviour” in Los Angeles, being fabulously defiant with the video for Outside. We see Margaret Thatcher’s infamous speech decrying schools teaching children that they have “an inalienable right to be gay”, archive footage of bigots and protests, vile tabloid headlines, reports of controversial same-sex kisses in music videos and suggestions that neutral pronouns in love songs might sell better.

This is occasionally insightful, and sometimes rousing. By the end, it hints at being a more angry and political film than it initially suggests, aligning the old homophobic prejudices of the 1980s, built on misinformation and fear, with the ongoing discrimination against – and appallingly toxic discourse around – transgender people. This feels like a far bigger topic than the last section of a broad-brushstrokes pop-and-pride documentary, and again, suffers from a lack of authority. If this is about trans rights as a new frontier of pride and protest in the UK, it seems odd to use the very non-British drama Pose, and the outdated humour of the sitcom Friends, to discuss that point.

These are small quibbles, really. I enjoyed spending an hour in Lambert’s company, wavering between being ushered on to the dancefloor and into the polling booth. His chat with MNEK about the use of pronouns in pop songs is complex and fascinating, as are Skin’s insights into what she sees as the erasure of Skunk Anansie’s biggest moment. As a whole, though, it feels like it is struggling to work out what the main event is meant to be.

• Adam Lambert: Out, Loud and Proud aired on ITV1 and is on ITVX