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Former 'Idol' contestant returns for second chance – as drag queen Ada Vox

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The influence of RuPaul’s Drag Race, aka THE GREATEST PROGRAM IN TELEVISION HERSTORY, continues to be felt on other talent shows. First we had Chris Weaver, aka Christian drag queen Nedra Belle, on The Voice last season. And this Sunday, the final contestant to audition for possibly the second-greatest show in TV history, American Idol, was “professional part-time woman by night” Ada Vox.

Diehard Idol fans may remember Ada Vox as Adam Sanders, a top 50 powerhouse singer from Season 12. After being eliminated during that year’s Hollywood Week, Adam was mercilessly trolled online (“I started getting messages on social media every day; people attacked my weight, my sexuality, telling me that I was horrible, that I sucked”). He was so traumatized he considered suicide.

But what a difference five years — and a whole lot of makeup and the perfect lace-front wig — can make in a contestant’s confidence.

Adam Sanders in Season 12 of <em>American Idol</em>. (Photo: Fox)
Adam Sanders in Season 12 of American Idol. (Photo: Fox)

“Through all of the negativity, I have managed to build myself up as a new person, a stronger person,” proclaimed Ada. “I have recreated myself in ways that I could not have imagined. I am so ready to show everybody, to show all of America, to show these judges, who I am now, and I can take anything and everything that comes my way.”

Ada may have looked like a whole new person, with a whole new attitude, but the same old talent that had made Adam an early Season 12 standout was still there: Her incredible rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” was nearly at Haley Reinhart level. Ada made it clear she’s no novelty act. “I’m not here to play with anybody — I’m here to chase my dreams and make them come true,” she said, while judge Lionel praised her for “owning your talent, owning who you are.”

I have a feeling Ada Vox will make it a lot further on Idol than Adam Sanders did — and hey, if she doesn’t, she can always try out for Drag Race Season 11. (Incidentally, Ada is not the first Idol veteran to get a second lease on life via drag. Season 7’s Danny Noriega went on to become Adore Delano, one of the most popular RuPaul’s Drag Race all-stars ever.)

The final night of Idol auditions featured many standouts — some as colorful, confident, and original as Ada herself. Gentlemen, start your engines, and may the best Idol … win!

Here are my other favorites from Sunday.

Caitlin Lucia, 22: “I Kissed a Girl”
With her indie-pinup-girl look and acoustic guitar, Caitlin reminded me of Katy Perry circa 2008. And it turned out that Caitlin is a veteran of Los Angeles’s famous Hotel Café, Katy’s old stomping grounds. So perhaps she was the one contestant qualified to put her own smoky, somber Americana spin on Katy’s “I Kissed a Girl” — right in front of Katy. “I think she might have sung it better,” Katy admitted.

Drake Milligan, 19: “You Look So Good in Love”
This former child Elvis impersonator shed his Presley shtick to reveal his own “cowboy cool” persona on a George Strait classic. It was a wise move. “I was praying you didn’t sound like Elvis. When you didn’t, you just crushed it,” marveled Luke Bryan.

Mylon Shamble, 24: “Stand by Me”
The judges were skeptical that the Ben E. King tune would adequately showcase Mylon’s vocals, and they even advised her to go with a different song. But they were wrong. With her sultry, slurry rasp, Mylon gave the old standard a crazysexycool, Amy Winehousian vibe. “That was the best ‘Stand by Me’ I ever heard,” Katy said.

Michael J. Woodward, 20: “Make It Rain”
This affable, green singer softened the Foy Vance/Ed Sheeran barnstormer, effortlessly turning it into a Quiet Storm slow jam. “You know what I love about you? You have absolutely no experience at all. And nobody cares,” Lionel said, smiling. “You have a real bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed vibe, and it’s beautiful,” said Katy.

Brielle Rathbun, 18: “Gravity”
This cool girl was giving me full-on Avalon Young Season 15 vibes. I adored her tomboy swagger and soulful, silk-and-gravel voice. She’s a choreographer as well, so I’m excited to see her work a bigger stage and maybe try out some up-tempo tunes.

Carly Moffa, 25: “I’d Let the Lion Out”
There have been many great original songs this season, but this stomping, KT Tunstall-esque one — dedicated to Carly’s mother, who is battling progressive multiple sclerosis — was one of the rawest and most heartfelt. “There’s a lot of people that have come in with this artistic sound, and it hasn’t really worked for them, but for some reason, it’s kind of working for you,” Katy said. “You have that big, beautiful, folky Florence [Welch]-type voice, which commands a room.”

Samuel Swanson, 28: “Let’s Stay Together”
This flamboyant farmboy, who escaped small-town Alabama for Harlem, declared, “Today I’m about to show the judges Samuel is no long freakin’ squeezing nipples on cows, and I’m gonna show them what you can do with a voice!” He delivered. His vocals were so pure, and he absolutely radiated joy. Luke described Samuel’s vocals as “velvet, velvet, and then layered with silky velvet,” and fellow Alabaman Lionel compared Samuel with Luther Vandross.

Jurnee, 18: “Rise Up”
This openly gay contestant had technically flawless vocal command, but more importantly, she conveyed so much resonant, deep emotion on Andra Day’s empowerment anthem. “Maybe there is a story in your name, that you had to go on a journey to get to where you got to be,” mused a stunned Katy. “That might just be the best we heard,” declared Luke.

Come back Monday, when Ada Vox will go to Hollywood — where she clearly belongs — along with the rest of this season’s amazing, diverse talent. That episode will definitely not be a drag.

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