Whether belting out a classic like “House of the Rising Sun,” putting her own spin on Radiohead’s “Creep” or performing a standing ovation-worthy “Wicked” duet with stars like Lea Michele, Ada Vox is bringing it. But Vox isn’t an average drag queen. As a true testament to her stage name, there’s no lip-syncing when she’s performing; her vox is the real deal. Real enough that it got her to the Top 10 on season 16 of “American Idol.”
But even if Vox seems like she came out of the blue onto the “Idol” stage and into the public eye, it should be made known that that definitely isn’t the case. There’s a high chance that fans of the show saw the San Antonio-based Vox perform out of drag as Adam Sanders in previous auditions. After all, though this is the first time that Sanders’ alter ego Ada Vox has graced the stage, Sanders himself auditioned 13 times over eight years in total.
However, even though Vox’s debut didn’t get her to the final spot on the TV show, that hasn’t stopped her from using the exposure to develop her music career. Just last August, Vox dropped a brand-new single called “Because of You” that was produced by Bimbo Jones who has worked with the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna, and now is in the midst of a national tour spanning from Hawaii to Alabama. Vox will make her way to a Michigan stage on Friday, Nov. 16 when she visits Necto Nightclub in Ann Arbor. In advance of her performance, Vox chatted with BTL about her takeaways from “Idol,” how she’s grown as a performer during her career and what it’s like touring with her fiance.
When did you first learn that you had musical talent?
I’ve always been musical; I’ve always sung. I started taking singing seriously like, “Oh, this is what I want to do,” at quite a young age. I was 8 years old when that happened. I had this turning point the first season that “American Idol” aired. I was also at the hospital at the moment, recovering from brain surgery, and when I was in that recovery and going through that very difficult year, my mother would sing to me while I was in the hospital or when I was at home just to help ease the pain as much as she could. That’s all she really could do at the time. It gave me this sense of healing and fulfillment that I wasn’t super familiar with at the time. That was really what granted me peace of mind. So, through that, I started singing more, knowing that that was something I wanted to do for other people, provide that peace of mind, that healing, that sense of being.
What did you do to get involved in music at such a young age?
Starting middle school, I joined the band and I was a clarinet player. I played clarinet all through middle school and high school as well as attended university as a clarinet major. I liked lots of types of music. I was in the marching band, I ended up being the drum leader and the section leader in the marching band and then symphonic band. I was a lead vocalist and guitarist … I was an alto sax player in our jazz band. So, I kind of dabbled in everything.
Part of your signature performance now is your drag persona. How did you first become aware of drag, and what made you decide to become a drag performer?
I was kind of a late bloomer in the LGBT thing. What happened was that I was kind of thrown into it. After my first time on idol on season 12 I was invited to perform at our local pride festival and I was completely unaware that we had a pride festival. I didn’t know that this whole community was this big celebrated thing. I went to it and was like, “Wow, this is weird!” (Laughs) At first it was all kinds of shock. But it was all thanks to my friend Josh “Jada” (Davila) who I was on the show with. He made it a round or two further than me on that season as well. … That was the first time I ever saw a drag queen in person. I was completely unaware!
It must have been total culture shock. What stuck out to you the most about the drag queens you saw?
What I was thinking was, “Look at this, this is so different! They’re lip-syncing, they’re dancing, they’re wearing costumes, all this crazy stuff I hadn’t seen before, hadn’t been aware of.” I said, “You know what? I look kind of like a lesbian already, I’m pretty sure I could be a decent-looking drag queen.” So that was a bit of a change, but I said, “Let’s give this a try, and maybe this will work for me.” Because I had been told so many times that I needed an edge, something to make me a little different. So I went ahead and started doing drag, and as soon as I started performing in drag, everything changed. I started getting crazy attention that I was never getting before, I felt appreciated as an artist and as an entertainer, and, from there, I just kind of kept it going. I still auditioned for “Idol” three times after I started drag just as a boy, as Adam.
After having performed so many times on the “American Idol” stage, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your time there?
You know, it’s interesting that one of the biggest things I took out of it was that no matter what you look like, no matter what you feel like you have to go through sometimes to be successful, you always have to remember that your talent has, and always will, speak for itself. No matter what you present yourself as. … It’s just a matter of sometimes having to put on the costume for (other) people to see and understand your passion and your talent, but don’t ever let that belittle your abilities and your heart.
That brings us to the versatility of your skill. You just released “Because of You,” a song written by “X Factor” contestant Janice Robinson. You’ve mentioned before that it’s not in a genre you normally favor, but you still recorded it. Why choose that song?
Yeah. It’s not at all, that’s just not what I do. However, the song itself spoke to me. … When I heard it before it had a really nice, throwback, ‘90s feel to it, but what really spoke to me were the lyrics … and the message that comes with it. The whole song’s message is about being thankful to the people who stood by you, and the people who have loved you, helped you to get through your hardest times.
What’s your favorite style of music? And are you working on anything now that’s in that style?
I actually recorded a new single that I wrote — and I like an R&B feel, an old-school Alicia Keys-type feel. There are a lot of songs that are old-school by Usher and just have that late ‘90s, early 2000s feel when music still said something (laughs). That’s what I like.
What’s it been like getting used to touring so extensively? Had you ever toured to that degree before this year?
I’ve actually been a professional singer for 12 years. I was working with a band being a wedding singer, performing at festivals and things like that. Smaller things, but I had never done anything like this tour before. … This aspect of it is new, but all the work I’ve done in the past really helped with “Idol” and touring and everything else. The little tips and tricks that you learn along the way really make a difference. I believe honestly that if I hadn’t been touring for so long, that I’m not sure I would have been ready for it because it happened so suddenly. I’m glad it took me a while.
And it must help that your fiance travels with you, too.
Having my fiance it really does help. He also is a drag performer, so he understands what I’m doing, you know? He understands the art of it and everything that goes into it. … People don’t understand drag and think you want to be a woman, but no, it’s an art form, it’s a stage persona. There’s a lot that goes into it and it’s really helpful to have someone who understands that. He will travel with me like a road manager and assistant. He helps carry my bags around with me and whatnot, and helps to get me dressed. … It takes a lot of stress off of me so I can focus on my onstage performance.
You once said that you weren’t going to audition for this last season of “Idol.” Did you expect it to go this well?
It was going to be the first season I sat out and I said, “I’m not going to audition again unless they come to my hometown.” And, lo and behold, they did (laughs). It feels like fate at the end of it.
To find out more about Vox’s upcoming tour dates and music releases, visit officialadavox.com. Vox will be at Necto nightclub in Ann Arbor on Friday, Nov. 16 at 9 p.m. Tickets start at $25. More information can be found online at necto.com.