American Idol returned this year with new judges, new talent and one familiar face. Adam Sanders had been a contestant on Idol's original run in season twelve, but hadn't made it past Hollywood week, but his talent never clicked with the judges. "A lot of the feedback I got the first time I was on Idol was that my voice and my song choices didn’t make sense with my appearance, and I thought there has to be something I can do about that because I’m not going to stop singing the music that I love."
So Adam created Ada Vox, a drag persona through who he could sing anything he wanted. "I can convey these big diva songs to their fullest extent," says Vox. Ada quickly won over the judges and kept impressing them week after week, with seismic performances of Radiohead's "Creep" and Nina Simone's "Feeling Good."
But when Idol finally went live, something changed. Vox wasn't voted through to the Top 10, but the judges waved her through without hesitation after her earth-shattering rendition of Queen's "The Show Must Go On." But the next week, when the contestants too on Dinsey classic, America was unimpressed by Vox's performance of "Circle of Life" from The Lion King and she was sent home.
How have the past few days been since you were eliminated?
They’ve been great, actually. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my time on the show and I’ve come to understand that my time on the show came to an ending exactly when it was supposed to, because at this point all it means is that I get to start working sooner than the other contestants. who are still on the show. I’ve spent the last couple days getting my mind right about what I need to do next.
Talk to me about your final episode.
“Circle of Life” was a song that represented who I am, not just my journey as a person but me being representative of the LGBT community, it represented a lot fo the struggles we go through, a lot of us take this journey of self-discovery to find who we are and find our path in the world. I picked the song not just because I thought it would be a good song to sing, but because it relayed a good message. During my performance, all I could think was “I’m just going to enjoy myself, have the best time possible and make sure I enjoy every minute of being on this stage and on this platform to the absolute fullest.” I honestly was expecting to go home because of the way the voting turned out last week, I already had it in my head that this probably was going to be it and there are multiple factors that went into that. I had not had a strong couple weeks once the live shows started: the first week I was sick and the second week I just hadn’t been performing up to par. I saw it coming, but I wanted to make sure I enjoyed myself and represented myself and my community as best as I could during my time on the show.
At the start of the competition, you very much seemed like a favorite and it was clear the judges were responding well to you. And that did seem to change as the show went live. Do you think any part of that has to do with you being so visibly queer and the demographic of the voters?
The judges never faltered in their confidence in me, which I greatly appreciate, they believed in me the entire way through and that’s why I made it to the top 10, because they believed in me. In terms of the voting, I can’t blame it all on what people like to say — homophobia or racism or whatever it may be — I hadn’t had my strongest performances. All those things could have been factors. The fact of the matter is, I don’t know where I actually fell in the voting, maybe it was .19% that kept me from going through. Last week, maybe I was voted into the top 10, but we don’t know because they only reveal the top 6. All I know is that I did not make the top 7 based on America’s vote and it very well could’ve been because of homophobia or racism, but I blame it on myself as well for not having my strongest performances these past couple weeks. The blame has to fall on the entertainer at the end of it all. I left one what I considered to be a high note.
Literally. What is like to have been not only one of the few very visibly queer competitors on American Idol, but the first drag queen — on Idol and on any other American singing competition?
Getting this platform is something that I’ve looked forward to ever since I started in this career. It wasn’t that I always wanted to be a drag queen on national television, but it was always that I wanted to inspire, that I wanted to be on a platform that allowed me to influence people in a positive way, and being offered this platform I was granted so many opportunities to positively influence people, to break the glass ceiling and to really make my mark, not just for myself but for the LGBT community. I hope at the very least that I made my community proud.
What was the journey like from your first time on Idol, during season 12, to this season?
I’ve been performing on stages for 11 years now. I’ve worked to polish myself as an entertainer and as a vocalist. Between season 12 and now, I created Ada and found myself as this thing that’s larger than life, and in that I found so much confidence when I was onstage that it was just absolutely unreal to think I’d never found that before. The confidence has a lot to do with it — I’m so comfortable onstage and I finally feel like I’m living my best life when I’m singing and doing what I love, whether it’s as Adam or Ada, it just so happens that Ada brought me this opportunity.
Does Ada exist completely as a vehicle for you as a performer or is she her own fully realized drag identity?
I am a singer who just happens to do drag. People ask me all the time about RuPaul’s Drag Race, and I’m not that type of a drag queen, I’m a singer that happens to do drag, I don’t have a full on persona and don’t want to perform in clubs for the rest of my life. My stage persona, as with many other artists in the industry today, is an alter-ego.
And also, performing in drag means you get to sing songs traditionally sung by women.
A lot of the feedback I got the first time I was on Idol was that my voice and my song choices didn’t make sense with my appearance, and I thought there has to be something I can do about that because I’m not going to stop singing the music that I love. As Ada, I can sing anything and everything that I want and convey these big diva songs to their fullest extent.
Were you able to interact at all with the judges when the cameras weren’t on? Did they give you any especially meaningful advice or words of encouragement?
Very little. The most interaction we had with them one-on-one was after the top 50 reveal, when we were in the holding rooms and they announced which rooms went through and which didn’t, they stayed with us afterwards and talked to us all individually. They care about us, that’s something people don’t get to see, they genuinely care about us and our careers and as people. One of the things I was told by every judge is that they believe in my talent 100% and to never stop doing what I’m doing. As Luke Bryan has said multiple times he thinks I’m the biggest voice he’s ever heard in his life. Lionel Richie agrees with that and says that I’m one of the better singers that he’s ever heard, which is a fantastic compliment coming from such a legend, who has sung with the best of the best. Katy Perry — she’s one of the reigning pop queens of the world, and [she’s said] that she believes in me and that she’s not worried about me.
What are some of your career goals post-Idol?
I want to be a real, mainstream artist. I want to be doing things like Katy Perry touring the world and selling out arenas. I want my music to be on the radio, I don’t want to be doing club tours or Pride events, I don’t want to be stuck doing that, those are things that I’d like to do along the way, but my main goal is to fill arenas across the world.
I’m sure you’ve gotten your fair share of Conchita Wurst comparisons.
Honestly I have not gotten a whole lot of comparisons to her, surprisingly. Most people compare me to Adam Lambert.
When American Idol started there was no YouTube, but now musicians can post a video online and wind up with a record deal. Why is Idol still a relevant way for singers to break into the industry in 2018?
American Idol has been one fo the most important outlets for singers simply because it’s so focused on the development of the artist being their true self, which is so important when it comes to singing competitions. And that’s why I think competitions like The Voice just don’t do as well.
I can’t believe that it wasn’t the drag queen who introduced “wig” to American Idol.
I know, and the funny thing is, he’s not even gay.
Are you shitting me?
I think all of America said the same thing.