The 15th and final bittersweet season of American Idol is underway, and all season long, Yahoo Music’s Reality Rocks is inviting alumni from the series to share their stories. This week’s essay is by Adore Delano, a successful electropop recording artist (preorder her sophomore album, After Party, here) and a top three finalist from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6. (Catch her on the RuPaul’s Drag Race Battle of the Seasons tour here.) But before Drag Race, Adore competed on American Idol Season 7 as controversial teen contestant Danny Noriega. While Adore’s Drag Race run was much more successful than Danny’s Idol attempt (Danny stalled in the top 16 week), both stints were incredibly memorable. Here, Adore writes about her very unique Idol experience.
(Danny Noriega is now Adore Delano. Photos: Fox/Logo)
I tried out twice for American Idol – once in Season 6, when I was cut during Hollywood Week, and then I made it through to the top 16 the following year. (It was kind of the same with RuPaul’s Drag Race; it took two attempts for me to get on that show, too.) I always knew I wanted to be a singer, but I didn’t have any knowledge of what to do about it, so I was like, “Oh yeah, let’s enter this TV show.” It seemed like a good idea at the time. All I wanted to do was sing, but there was a lot about the industry that I didn’t know – and it showed! I was very young and naïve, and it was a very confusing time.
It’s so funny to think about it now, but I kind of toned everything down about myself for Idol. When it came down to song choices, or hair choices, or stuff like that, producers had the final say. I never got to sing, for instance, a female artist’s song. I wanted to put extensions in my hair, and I wanted to perform the Joan Jett version of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and they didn’t let me do that. I think all this mostly came from Simon Fuller and Nigel Lythgoe. I recall a couple of interviews on the red carpet, on the day that I was eliminated, when Nigel said stuff like, "I’m happy that people are more focused more on contestants’ voices than what the contestants look like or their hair.” And that was the day that I was having a bad hair day and we had been joking about it!
I had moments on Idol that were really fun, and then there were certain moments that were dark – all in the short time that I was there. Ironically, now “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” is one of my staple songs in my show as Adore Delano.
Honestly, my best memory of being on Idol is something very simple. I remember we were staying at the Sheraton Hotel on Beverly Blvd., across the street from the Beverly Center mall, and there was a Taco Bell on the corner. Ramiele Malubay and I would always sneak out (because we had a curfew), and we’d go to Taco Bell and just eat on the streets of West Hollywood. It was just so fun to be rebellious.
My most negative experience was when we were sitting in the round circle onstage, in that Coca-Cola area with the big couch, and I remember Asia’h Epperson and I were about to get a lemonade and Nigel was sitting with us. He said something to Asia’h, sort of insinuating that she was going to be OK on that night’s results show: “Don’t even worry about it!” And she literally got eliminated as soon as the cameras turned on after he said that. I was so, so mad at Nigel for doing that. Asia’h was so shocked and so scared, and I know he did that for TV – to get a fresh reaction on camera from her. Everyone was upset that he did that; there were very negative vibes all around. I was like, “F— this!”
I was pretty emotional the night I was eliminated, too. But I knew I was going home. I just knew I was leaving. Again, Nigel was sitting with us upstairs and he was kind of hinting and saying certain things, kind of trying to manipulate the situation for TV. But I already knew. I thought, “Oh, this it it.”
Of course, one of the moments that other people remember from my time on the show was the “Some people weren’t lik-ing it!” line, with the hair flip. And this was before memes were a thing, too. I saw it on The Soup and I was like, “Holy s—, this is cool!”
And then there was my catchphrase, I guess: “TMTH,” which was short for “too much to handle.” I later recorded a song called “24/7” that had the “TMTH” line in it. Oh God, that song was awful. My sister’s friend wrote that song and wanted a bunch of money from it, and I was like, “This f—in’ song sucks, go to hell.” It’s so funny, because I stole that saying from somebody on the Internet; I heard it in a chatroom. The person who made that up wrote me years later, and I was like, “Oh, s—!“
I wasn’t on Idol for very long, but I know I was pretty polarizing during my run. I was a bratty kid with a big mouth, and every time TMZ would catch me, I was talking s— to Harvey Levin. There used to be a website called Vote for the Worst, and they named me their poster boy for Season 7; they even made a caricature of me! I think VFTW’s intentions were silly and fun, but the forums on that site were really, really horrible. And naturally, being an 18-year-old boy, I could not resist going on VFTW and reading everything written about me. People were pretty awful. But I thought that caricature was f—ing adorable.
And being a 26-year-old now, looking back on all of that, I can see that I was an easy target. It’s not like I was completely an innocent bird. I kind of had a target on my head.
After Idol, I had horrible management. I was getting reality show pilot offers – just to film a few episodes to see how it’d go, for VH1, for Bravo – and my manager wasn’t letting me do any of them. I was auditioning for things like Disney movies instead! I was held back from doing any cool opportunity when the iron was hot, and I regret that. But it all worked out eventually, when I started doing drag in 2011.
Later, when I went on RuPaul’s Drag Race, it was a liberating experience. When they put the camera on me, I could say whatever the f— I wanted. They let me be silly and fun and tell my story. The experience was way more positive, uplifting, and encouraging than Idol had been. But looking back now, as a grown-ass man, I do think I may have opened some doors on American Idol for certain types of performers, or for gay contestants. I was pretty flamboyant, and unapologetic about it. It was neat to see a kid being so out there – a “this is who I am” kind of thing.
I mean, not to toot my own f—ing horn, but if I were a little kid watching me then, I would have said, "That’s cool, man. He’s a little gay kid and he doesn’t give a s—.” For the time that it was, 2008, I think Idol was an easy way to ease a little gay boy into TV. It taught me a lot.
–as told to Lyndsey Parker