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Dreams often feel out of reach until the moment they aren’t. For San Antonio-bred singer Adam Sanders, that dream was self-evident from an early age: Achieve worldwide success as a vocalist, sell out arenas, and win Grammys for his powerful vocals.
However, wearing a dress and a full face of makeup didn’t factor into those original plans.
Sanders, better known as American Idol alum Ada Vox, has made a name as a performer who can handle the powerhouse vocals of divas like Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin since his first appearance on the show's 16th season in 2018. The desire to appear on Idol came from a deep desire to achieve his wildest dreams that had been forged during one of the most difficult points in his life.
“I was 8 years old when I had brain surgery and was told that there was a possibility I could never speak again, that I could be paralyzed, and all these other different things that could happen because of the surgery,” Sanders tells New Times. “American Idol Season 1 also aired at that same time, so I saw someone like Kelly Clarkson achieving their dream of singing, which is something that I loved to do, and that was the immediate point when I was like, This is what I want to do. I want to sing. I want to achieve my dreams like that. I want to affect other people the way she has.”
By the age of 13, Sanders had launched a professional singing career that has grown considerably over the years.
The live performance-centric medium of drag came into Sanders’ life more as a necessity and less of a personal desire. “I never wanted to [do drag]. I never wanted to be anyone other than me,” he says. Because of his high vocal register and tendency toward “big diva songs,” music executives often told him they couldn’t market him in a way that consumers would easily digest. “So I said, Well, you know what? I have to find a new way to be seen and be heard and be taken seriously.” Soon, Ada Vox was born.
“I turned to drag in order to become that diva that I was on the inside as an artist,” she says. “As Ada, I can just freely express myself; even though it was not what I wanted to do, and I still want to be nothing other than me, I'm riding the Ada train to get where I need to get and to make my dreams come true one way or another, whether it's in a dress or not.”
Vox spent the next few years cutting her teeth in pageantry — a natural transition for a drag performer hailing from southern Texas, where pageant legends such as Erica Andrews and Layla LaRue built their careers. “I was brought up surrounded by people like the House of Andrews,” she says, even earning a Miss Gay Corpus Christi USofA at Large title and placing in the top five of a state-level USofA pageant.
Now, Vox is participating in pageants in a different way: As a performer, she's set to take her vocal talents to the Ultimate Miami Drag Queen competition at Magic City Casino on Saturday, March 28. Joining Vox as headliners will be RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Chad Michaels and Eureka O’Hara, as well as fellow singer Karla Croqueta, who won last year’s Ultimate Miami Drag Queen and was deemed Miami's best drag performer by New Times readers in 2019.
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After her time on Idol in 2018, Vox immediately launched into the life of a touring artist and has been booked in venues “from small jazz clubs in California to nightclubs in Canada to the [Jean-Bouin] stadium in Paris,” she shares. “Those are things that I wouldn't have been able to do so readily if it wasn't for being on Idol as Ada, so I’m very, very grateful that I've had these opportunities.”
With a jam-packed year ahead of her, Ada Vox is preparing to release new original music and continuing to build her recognition through performances such as Ultimate Miami. “For me, [drag] will always come secondary to making my music come to fruition that I would like it to,” she says, training her focus on releasing singles and an EP by the end of this year. Though many of her vocal inspirations, such as Etta James and Aretha Franklin, have passed, Vox dreams of reuniting with Patti LaBelle for a collaboration.
“My goal is to make music that's all over the spectrum of what makes me happy, and I want people to be able to listen to my music and my album as a collection and get a whole feel for who I am, not just one side of me,” she says cheerfully. “I just want to reach as many people and as many different aspects of the music as I possibly can.”