The singer and American Idol alum, 34, is about to tour North America as the front man of Queen with original band members Roger Taylor and Brian May.
Do you feel pressure to fill Freddie Mercury’s shoes when performing with Queen?
At some point every night I talk to the audience about it, like, “I know. I’m not Freddie.” I’m not trying to replace him. It’s more a celebration of the legacy of the band–that’s the heart of the show.
What’s different about playing a Queen show as opposed to touring your own solo material?
A handful of the songs in the set are absolutely ridiculous–high camp. Because the audience already loves the song, I know I can push it as far as I want. It’s the most liberating thing.
You’re working on your next studio album. What’s the sound?
It’s a lot bluesier and earthier. I want to get back to live instruments. I like guitar and bass. I want to do it more for me. If people are into it, cool.
You were the first openly gay recording artist to hit No. 1 on the album chart. Have things gotten better for LGBTQ performers?
The kids coming up right now are less hung up on stereotypical gender roles. It’s funny, because I look at kids rocking some nail polish or a little glitter and I’m like, “Do you guys think this is new? I’ve been doing this for years.”
There are more male pop stars now. How else have things changed?
A lot of the big male pop artists that are successful right now, in my opinion, seem to have to fit a certain type of behavior. It’s very homogenized; a lot of them act and talk and dress the same. I think the idea is, “Do you feel like you could either be his best friend, or is he somebody you’d want to sleep with?” Those are the two types.
This appears in the February 06, 2017 issue of TIME.