‘Tea Time’ with Ada Vox, The Drag Queen of American Idol

Photos by kind permission of Stephen Ford of divasanddjs.com

“Tea Time” with Ada Vox

From having gone two rounds with American Idol, taking Drag into the mainstream, and taking the world by storm, you can expect everything from Ada Vox. Do I really need to tell her story? Yeah, didn’t think so. Just remember her as the singer who brought Lionel Richie out of his seat, and Katy Perry to her knees, yes, that singer.


JH: Thank you for taking the time, I have covered a couple American Idols, and I have covered drag queens, but this is the first time I’m doing both, so, this is going to be a very interesting piece. A new single, let’s start with that one, just dropped last week right? I have unfortunately not gotten it from your publicist between the time we scheduled, and actually got on this call.

AV: This single is called “Tea Time” it is essentially about the truth coming out. It’s a kind of confrontation song about that friend who has always played the “Goody goody”, and all of a sudden things come out of the woodwork, and the truth is spilled “here comes the tea”. So the chorus comes around and it’s “Let’s sit down, and actually discuss this”.

JH: So, it’s the uncomfortable truth we are getting to. Is this song about a specific time or event in YOUR life? I suppose by now, there are no secrets and you are exactly who you are.

AV: It’s about a few instances actually, I have always been the one to confront someone when it comes to the truth. I’ve always been the one to say, “Look, you are lying to everyone’s face, and now you have caused a bigger mess for yourself than you can handle”. So in this song, I play my own character, as I do on the daily, and I’m saying; “look at this mess you have made for yourself, let it all out there, and fix this”.

JH: And you’re not even Scottish, see we are PROS at calling people out like that, we believe that “Being polite is just deception in a pretty package” so life is too short to not be rude.

 

AV: Oh, no, that’s the “Latino” side of me, but, hey, I might be Scottish too.

JH: I have this in front of me “Because of you”, and you have Bimbo Jones, man, you have an all star cast around you. I take that as you described it to me, that comes to mind of your 2nd Idol audition. For me, I usually don’t get star struck, I mean NEVER. But if I was standing in front of Lionel Richie, the LEGEND, I probably would be shaking. But that audition, you walked in there, seeing you having made the transformation, and you were so sure of yourself, so confident in who you were, and you knocked it out of the park. Most impressive was when they realized this was not your first time around with Idol. Was that the kind of moment you were shooting for then, just “Here it is, as honest and raw as it needs to be”?

AV: Actually, the song has a different feel to it. I wrote it, and a close friend produced it. We came together, and took inspiration from a recent event. I don’t know if you knew on “The voice”, a girl named Melanie Martinez. She does, darker, “Goth pop”, she was a heavy inspiration for the arrangement, and it is written from my own perspective with my own words, but in that darker goth feel to it.

JH: You’re really grinding my gears here, I grew up on punk and goth, and you’re already making me think Siouxsie Sioux (first intro vibe I had with Melanie Martinez).

AV: Then it’s definitely going to be down your alley, it’s a mix of Billie Eilish and Melanie Martinez.

JH: Well, my daughters LOVE Billie Eilish, so they will be onto this, I mean they LOVE, you too. Back when we actually watched Idol, and America’s Got Talent, we did get a few faves in the mix over the years. Anyway, my point is, that moment on Idol, was you, in make up, dolled up, and that was you saying “This is the real me, I’m not hiding anything”. So when you described the song, it took me to that moment. And well, there you were being incredibly honest at that moment. I could tell that you were not apprehensive, but still had a bit of anxiety. The “Me then” and then “Me now”, you should be very proud of how you handled it. And being that brave in the middle of all of that. A lot of people go in and sing “The rose” and make fools of themselves, and you brought your “A” game, and no one could say different with your performance, and confidence. Kudos.

AV: THIS IS THE DIVA!!!!! Yes, thank you. I know the song is definitely different from what most people are expecting from me. You see, “Because of you” I did, which is not really my style, I didn’t write it, I had NOTHING to do with it. We just rushed it, to get it out right after Idol, because you wanted something immediately. So now, this is me getting to express myself as an artist, I am very multi faceted, so from here on out, I have plenty of music already written. And it is, for me now, to find the right people to do them with, to record the tracks with, and get the right production on. So as things go on, I definitely can say that there will be a lot of new different stuff from me in the future.

JH: Well, I am going to say, you are in a very exclusive club, you became a finalist in Idol, and David Hernandez and I talked about this, and even the people that I am friends with who were on Idol, the Voice and America’s Got Talent. They all said, the biggest problem for them was exactly that, you have the show performance, the production, vocal coaching, instrumentation all was perfect for THAT performance, and they were just the “performer” nothing of it was really theirs. And once you are out of that, you feel like a fish out of water, not knowing how to make music, or perform without all that support behind them, prefabricated, of course, but it sure made that part of it easy. So far it sounds like, you already know where you are going, and stay out of your way.

AV: I think for me it was that I had a lot more experience than most people going into the show. People going into that show really are complete amateurs, you know, they might have been doing fairs, or little festivals here and there for the last couple of years. But now I have been performing on stages for 13 years of my life. So going back onto Idol the second time, I really had a good idea of what “The Industry” was, and what I needed to do. So once I found out that I made it to the top 50, I made sure to reach out to my friends, and network. Asking if they knew someone as far as representation, so that I can start planning things around when this airs, and when things start coming out, because it is all prerecorded. (*industry secret there), and I ended up meeting with my current publicist seeking representation, at the suggestion of a friend of mine, just getting things in order before it ever aired. So that got things really rolling for me. And there was this whispering around that there was going to be this drag queen on American Idol who was already doing really well. So word was getting around, and I was being approached by big LGBT representatives, like RuPaul’s Drag Race, and some of the older LGBT icons, they were reaching out to me offering to get me started off. And my current publicist actually wanted to meet me in person, and he took me out to dinner, that was very professional, and he impressed me enough that way that we decided to work together. And, well things were going GREAT until, well, the world just came to an end.

JH: When you had Lionel Richie on the edge of his seat, and Katy Perry on her knees bowing to you, I can only imagine the energy in that room, how powerful it must have been, and how you probably felt “Feeling Good”, that was just amazing. Talk about that power of that moment.

AV: You know, that performance of “Feeling Good” was the very first time that season, where I got to take to the stage and do whatever “I” wanted. It was the first time I got to actually let go in terms of my performance, and getting the reception from that performance. I keep telling everyone, you can’t imagine the energy of that moment, the feeling in that room without having been there. Everyone was going absolutely insane. For me it was validation, having performed on stage for almost eleven years already, having gone through so much, and just “MAKING IT” somewhere finally. That felt good.

JH: Well, I remember watching it, and thinking “Wow that was so heavy” and in so many ways. It was the first time that a drag performer went that far, and was that “Mainstream”. And the energy must have been incredible I’m sure, I can’t even imagine that. BUT, that was the first time that drag had made itself known as a valid, respectable performance art and something to be taken seriously. And you were the one that did it, right there in front of America, you have everything to be proud of for that moment.

AV: Well, an interesting point, the “all drag is valid” movement, and it is, but I do a different type of drag. And I don’t consider myself necessarily a drag queen, but I am a performer, and a vocalist, drag just happens to be my stage persona, and I wanted to be seen as a serious musician, and like Lady Gaga, or Katy Perry, we have personas, and what we are serious artists and have real talent.

JH: Yes, exactly, you made drag “Family Friendly”, and it is a fun art, LOADS of great talent there, and then you are there, OWNING, it onstage, like Katy Perry, okay much taller than Katy Perry. But until then, no one mainstream, certainly not the regular consumer, was ready to take drag seriously, just because it had been overlooked for so long. I was so impressed with where you took it that time.

AV: Well, thank you, and, just to tell you, I do plan on becoming “The Most” mainstream drag queen out there, as myself, being the drag popstar of the music world. I am still planning that route, through and around this apocalypse.

JH: I can really say that I appreciate you being very body positive, just like Divine. I see that about you, and you are taking that with you going mainstream. I think that is just courageous on its own. Lemme see, that Rock City Cake shop, I’ll explain here, I took my girls to go see “Bohemian Rhapsody” and thus, they love all things Freddy, and your performance of that song was so fun, my girls even enjoyed it. But, for a performance, that one really “Took the cake” so to say. (bad joke I know).

AV: Actually, that was one of those days when my vocal cords were really not up to par.

JH: Is that why you turned it into a singalong, a cause that did look like you were conducting the whole show there, I would have thought your voice was fine, sounded to me like you were on your A-game. It looked like you were pushing everyone to get involved and join in on the fun.

AV: Well, I like to do songs that people will know, and can sing along with, and everyone has a good time. And that day, yes, that helped because my voice was not doing that great. I have a lot of issues with my voice, and allergies. So traveling from one climate to another can really mess me up. One of my favorite things is that if people can’t sing MY songs to me. And it’s all about the vibe, and you want to have the whole room feel good. If you have everyone in the room singing with you, even that one person having a bad day. They are going to get into it and sing along too, and they are going to be surrounded by it.

JH: So, rolling on, Radiohead, a very interesting piece. I am a strange Radiohead fan. My relationship with them is unusual. I love some of it like it was straight from GOD, other stuff is just, like nails on a chalkboard. But I have met them, photographed Thom Yorke last year, a tumultuous relationship with their music is an understatement, they hate a lot of their own music actually as well. BUT, you pulled that one out, and, well, DIFFERENT, but a wonderful take on it.

AV: Actually that was the first time we got to do any song we wanted, no restrictions whatsoever. I ran that song by them, and they were “Are you sure? That’s kind of a strange song for you.” and I said, “Just wait. Let me meet with the band, and tell them how I want it done, and to get the arrangement the way I want it. And they said, “Ok, we trust you” and after the first take they all said “Well, this is going to be a real moment” and I said I just needed them to trust me. I had it in my back pocket for a long time, and I knew how I wanted to do it, and I was pretty sure no one had even thought of doing it how I was planning to. So I said lemme go for it, and they said “Okay, we trust you, just… do what you do”.

JH: Well, it was successful, and I am along the same line here, I would have though, and clearly it was RISKY, I mean people try doing Radiohead, and its musical suicide. I thought it was risky and fantastic. I remember Amanda Brown, she was a winner on “The Voice ‘A’ several years ago, she went on to sing with Adele actually. But she did “Don’t Leave Me High” on her solo tour, and she did it well, but also a very different take on it. Radiohead are complex and a very difficult nut to crack, and I have to say out of the hundreds of Radiohead covers, or attempts at them, you two actually did it, and did it well.

AV: Right, the ONLY way to do Radiohead right is to twist it completely (differently) than how they did it.

JH: I’m sure people were expecting it to go to the Thom Yorke way, and you showed the world something different, kudos. Now, on to the legendary stuff. PATTI LABELLE, how was that? I think of anyone to share a stage with that would have been a dream come true. I don’t know what’s left in your carrier that you would need.

 

AV: To sing with Patti LaBelle obviously was a dream come true, because I have looked up to these divas all my life. People like Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick, Chaka Khan, Etta James. So, I grew up very sheltered, so I didn’t hear anything that wasn’t “Wholesome” I wasn’t even allowed to watch “Cartoon Network” till I was fifteen. I didn’t know gay artists, or even what drag was until I was done with my first run on American Idol.

JH: Oh, you are late to the game girl.

Photos by kind permission of Stephen Ford of divasanddjs.com

AV: I didn’t even know what drag queens were until I was twenty. I didn’t know what “Pride” was, I didn’t know anything like that even existed.

JH: Okay, moving into the next question then, when did you “Know” and then what was it that caused you to pick up the “Drag Flag” and become who you are now?

AV: For me, picking up drag was more out of eccentricity than out of want or desire to put on a dress and makeup. It was, I need to do something to separate me from the pack, to make me something new, or reinvent myself, or actually invent myself. I don’t know if you know, or have spoken to an Idol contestant named Josh Jada, made it one round further than me that season. Josh was invited to perform at Pride in my hometown of San Antonio, and she called me up and said “Hey girl, do you want to come perform with me at pride, they have been asking about you, and I have your contact info, so I thought I would reach out to you and see if you wanted to sing with me.” So I said, “What is pride?”, sure whatever, I’ll get to perform great.” So that was the first time I saw a drag queen, and I will never forget the time that I saw a 7-foot tall 300 lbs drag queen walking around the trailer when I was lost , did not know where to check in. Her name is Odyssey Whitney, she is a close friend now, but then she was very scary, she was twice my height. She is a big bitch, big hair, big makeup, “Texas Drag Queen” don’t do anything small. So, that was my introduction to what a drag queen was. So after I got the stage, I did my set of Ariana Grande, Etta James, Alicia Keys. Then I was approached by the drag queens, a whole cadre of them, and they told me “Girl, you need to do drag”. And I said, “Why, what is that?” and they said, “Girl do you know where you are?”. So, later on, I did a talent night, showed up and sang, I got my mom to take me to a local talent night at a bar, and I said “I could do this drag thing”, and they are all lip-syncing, and twirling, doing the splits. I can do all of that too, and I can really sing, and I can do it pretty too, I already look like a lesbian. So, I thought, this is the opportunity to reinvent myself. I started drag June 1, coming up on my 6th Ada birthday. So, I have been trying to perfect my craft. And I get to do what I love to do.

JH: And you got to sing with Patti LaBelle… I have to keep making that point.

AV: OH yeah, Patti is one of my Diva’s, and it was on international TV for all the world to see.

JH: So when was your sexuality bubbling into all of this.

AV: Oh, it was very young, you see, I have spent my entire life not putting labels on things. I still don’t identify as one way or another. I’m me, and I love people, that is how I’ve always been, I never had a “Coming into it” moment, I liked who I liked, a man or a woman. It was “This person makes me happy” so that is how it is for me. You want to know what people are attracted to? It’s happiness, its comfort, that’s what people are attracted to. I hope everyone out there can understand it that way.

JH: So, was there a phase of depression or uncertainty around this when you were growing up?

AV: I grew up in a family that went to church every Sunday, I had all my religious education classes. But it wasn’t judgmental in my family, no one pushed one gender idea or another being right or wrong. I did assistant teaching in religion classes. Everyone knew the “label” for me, but it never came up or anyone said anything about it. They expressed concern over my safety or well-being, but that was about it.

JH: See, that is what is heartbreaking for all of us, that some people don’t have that kind of support. I think we as a species, as a people, a society, should just take it and love each other. People should be allowed to be who they really are. Conversations like this are making the world just a little bit smaller. Here is my final question, I ask everyone what would you say to that young kid, the one who is in the closet, afraid to come out, and in that vulnerable state?

AV: I get asked this question EVERY DAY on Instagram or Facebook, they all say “ I’m gay, what do I do?” And I say this to everyone, “just be you”. The reason so many of them are hiding, is that they are even afraid of being who they are. And while that is a scary thing, people can’t accept you if you can’t show them who you are. The only way to let your light shine, is to let it be seen, and that is by completely unapologetically being your true self. I get this every day, talking to my fans online, and that is what I tell them.

JH: That is a wonderful take on it, and a great conversation, thank you, ADA, good luck with the new music.

 

Photos by kind permission of Stephen Ford of divasanddjs.com

 

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