'American Idol' Alum Ada Vox Talks Clay Aiken, Starting Her Drag Career & More

Ada Vox American Idol
ABC/Eric McCandless

Ada Vox performs on American Idol.

For Adam Sanders, it appears that the 13th time was the charm.

The performer from San Antonio, Texas, has auditioned 13 times for American Idol.. He made it through the audition process and to the show’s Hollywood Week on season 12, only to be eliminated shortly after.

So for his 13th audition, Sanders decided to make himself stand out and showed up to the auditions as Ada Vox, his drag queen alter ego, to try and impress the judges. Needless to say, Vox succeeded -- the queen made it through the auditions, past Hollywood Week, and all the way into the top 10 (the first drag queen to do so in the show’s history).

Unfortunately, Vox was eliminated from the competition on Sunday night, unable to make it into the competition’s top seven. Her elimination sparked online controversy, with fans claiming that conservative America didn’t want to see an LGBTQ performer succeed, while others, including season 2 Idol runner-up Clay Aiken, said she simply didn’t have the talent necessary to move forward.

Vox talked to Billboard on Wednesday (May 2) about her polarizing elimination, how she got her start in drag, and whether she would ever consider competing on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

You had some of the most stunning performances on this season of Idol, and a lot of your fans have responded in kind to those performances. How does it feel today getting to look back on all of those reactions to your voice?

It has been absolutely fantastic, all of the feedback that I've been getting from my fans. You know, the people that have supported me, even before Idol, are still supporting me no matter what. And I think that's one of the great things, especially about the LGBT fanbase and the community, is that they're extremely loyal, and they love the people that are doing positive things for them. They are never going to stray away from that, and I don't plan on doing anything to mess that up anytime soon. [Laughs]

So your elimination caused some controversy -- fans of yours said that you were eliminated because of the fact that you're LGBTQ and a drag performer, which led former contestant Clay Aiken to say in an op-ed that it was because you didn't have the best voice on the show. What was your reaction to Clay's piece?

Well the fact of the matter is ... whether or not I have the best voice on the show is one thing. But quite honestly, I do know that I did not have my best performances these past couple weeks. I had things going on with my health both weeks. The first week, I was very sick, I was just so sick with allergies, I was filling up with congestion and everything else, when I did my performance of "The Show Must Go On." I was having some issues before my performance of "And I Am Telling You," I had just had an allergic reaction right beforehand, and my throat had swollen shut. So I was having a lot of difficulty there, just getting anything out. Then, this last week, my rehearsals went absolutely fantastic, and it just didn't happen the same way on the stage. [Laughs] But all it does is tell me that there is something that I am meant to do better at. If this was meant for me to make it all the way through to the finale, I would not have had these complications. I think I was taking very good care of myself, but these things just tend to happen out of nowhere. And I say it's because it wasn't meant for me to go as far as I wanted to go. What it was is that I was carried far enough, as far as I needed to go. I got everything done that I needed to do, I got the exposure that I needed, and now I just have to use this as a platform to really continue to prove myself.

Have you read Clay Aiken's piece?

I saw it, and I was sent links to it multiple times, but I haven't gotten to it. I will read it, but it's not something that's going to deter me on my career path. I don't know exactly what was said yet, but whatever it is, all I know is just that I obviously still have something left to prove about my talents and what I am capable of. So in the very near future, you can trust and believe that you will be hearing a lot more from me, saying "Hey y'all, let me show you what I can do."

When you were on the show as Adam in season 12, you said you received a lot of hate online. Has that changed at all this time around?

I have received probably more hate than ever simply for the fact that I am doing something that I guess is considered so controversial. And I, quite honestly, am just not bothered by it. [Laughs] Because although I am receiving all of this horrible backlash and hate, I am also receiving so much more love and support from the people that actually matter, and it's completely outweighed every single bit of it. I have been in the music industry, as of right now, for a total of about 11 years, so back when I was first on, it would've been about five years or so. But every single year that we continue on, this industry builds us some thicker skin. We become stronger as people, as entertainers, and I needed these few years that I had to really find myself and develop. And I have taken advantage of every single moment that I had offstage and onstage and just built myself up as best as I possibly could so that I could be ready to take on every challenge that came my way.

Absolutely. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this season was your 13th audition for the show. Why did you view Idol as such a vital step forward for you?

You know, American Idol  has been my dream since I was a kid. I told a story -- they talked about this last week -- of me being in the hospital with my brain surgery. It was a lot to do with the fact that in my recovery process, my mom sang to me, and it gave me this sense of healing, and it was a fantastic thing, knowing that something so simple that can come from ourselves can change someone's life or their emotions so, so much. It just turns out that around the same time was season 1 of American Idol. And when I discovered this dream of singing, I wanted to change people's lives and make a difference. It really just sparked something in me, feeling that and seeing American Idol. It all came together and said, "You know what? This is the platform I need to use to make my dreams come true." When that thing clicked in my head at such a young age, I have never been able to let it go. I started auditioning as soon as I turned 16, and I obviously kept going until I can't go back. So here we are! [Laughs]

When you were on the show, you had a pretty good rapport with all of the judges. Which of them did you find yourself constantly looking up to for inspiration?

Oh, goodness. Every single one of the judges has something great about them, they all represent something totally different, but they all represent experience, knowledge and the hard work and dedication that it takes to get into this industry. But you know what? I must say that Katy Perry was one that I kind of had to convince from the beginning that I was more than just some schtick or gimmick. And um ... the fact that she came around so quickly after seeing what I could really do -- the fact that I was able to convince Katy of my talent, and that she really came around, it really meant a lot to me, especially from someone who is so relevant in the industry today.

But you know, Lionel also meant a lot to me, for saying that he agreed that I am one of the most talented singers and one of the biggest voices that he's ever been in the same room with. And hearing that from Lionel, who has sung with some of the greatest voices of all time, is absolutely insane, because he is a legend, and for him to even give me a spark that I could be anything like them, it means the world.

San Antonio has a huge drag scene. What was the process of you getting into the drag culture? Were you frequenting clubs, did you have a family you joined?

Well for me, the drag thing kind of started at the end of my run on American Idol in season 12. What happened was afterwards, I was contacted by my friend Josh "Jada" Davila, who I was on the show with then in season 12, because he was invited to perform at the Gay Pride festival in San Antonio. And they contacted me and asked if I would like to open for him, and I was like, "OK ... what is Gay Pride?" [Laughs] I didn't really know that was a thing. I had a relatively sheltered life, at least for the first part of it. So I said, "OK, let's do this."

When I showed up, I was seeing all of these crazy things for the first time, like drag queens, colors everywhere, amazing people, it was just so beautiful, because I had never seen a community like that before. And when I was there, the drag show started, and I was seeing people paying so much attention and looking up to these entertainers, and I said, "Do you know what? These people are being admired for getting up on that stage and standing for something." I wanted to do that too, and I realized I could add a little something to it -- I can sing. All of these girls were lip-syncing, and I thought, "I can add another aspect to this." A couple of years later, I said, "OK, I need to do this," because after that I started watching RuPaul's Drag Race and catching up on that to see what was going on in our culture. And from there, I think I was 21, I actually started performing in drag, and I haven't stopped since then.

I noticed that your performance on the show got RuPaul's attention. Was Drag Race ever something you considered or would still consider?

Drag Race is something that has been on my mind before. But I think that with the mind-set I'm in right now, Drag Race is not the career path I'm looking to take at the moment. I'm really invested in my music career, my performing career. I am not a drag queen; I am simply a singer whose stage persona is that of a drag queen. But I want to be making albums, and I want to have my music out on the radio, I want to be traveling the world and filling arenas. To me, Drag Race is such a great platform, and if I was granted the opportunity and not quite at the spot I wanted to be in in my career, and I needed that extra boost, I would jump on it. Because Drag Race has produced some extremely successful people, and it's a great career move for some of the queens who want to come up and have their name known. Just like American Idol, it's a matter of what you do with the exposure from there. So if I ever need that boost to say, "Hey, I'm still here, guys," then Drag Race would be a great platform for that exposure as an entertainer.

So what are you planning on doing with your newfound exposure?

I am going to wait until all of this American Idol contract is done with, so I don't have to worry. I don't want them to own anything that I do, so I'm gonna wait so I can release everything that I would like to do as soon as possible. So now, I think I'm going to be uploading covers week by week of songs that I would have done on each week of the show. I'm gonna keep people interested. A lot of people were asking if I would make a YouTube channel and start doing makeup things and whatnot, so I may end up giving that a go, and right now, it's just about staying relevant.