This piece is part of our SATXtoday Q+A series. Do you know someone we should interview? Nominate them here.
Profile: Adam Sanders, better known as his drag persona, Ada Vox, is an accomplished vocalist, songwriter, and drag queen who found success and pushed boundaries as a contestant on the hit singing competition series American Idol. Ada was most recently a contestant in Queen of the Universe, an international singing competition, where she earned runner up in the series finale.
We asked Ada 7 questions about her career and growing up in San Antonio. Keep reading to find out what she answered. (Read time: 4 minutes.)
What was your experience on Queen of the universe?
So for me, Queen of the Universe was everything that I thought it was going to be, and everything that I wanted it to be. It was truly a situation that put me in a position where I didn’t feel like a novelty. I didn’t feel like I was just there to be the token gay on the reality television show, or that it’s just like, ‘oh, you sing it, you sing, and you also dress in drag, so you’re special’. It didn’t feel like that. It felt like I was just there to be appreciated for [being] me without saying, ‘oh, look at you, you’re a niche’, you know? That was really wonderful. And, our first time walking onto that stage, we had no idea what to expect. Nobody told us how big this was gonna be. Nobody said it was gonna be this huge budget production. It was a beautiful experience all around. It was everything I wanted it to be in more.
What was your introduction to singing?
In terms of singing, I’ve been doing it since I could speak. Before I could make words I was singing, and it was always triggered by music. When I was eight years old, what really triggered my wanting to be a professional singer was that I had brain surgery. And after my brain surgery, when I was in recovery, my mom would sing to me. And when she would sing to me, I’d feel the only sense of peace that made me that helped me to forget about my pain and what I was going through at the moment, which was really tough. So that’s when I realized that singing is so much more than just something you do. It’s something that can heal people. It’s something that can offer light and it’s something that can offer just an escape from everything that we deal with on a daily basis. Of course I already love singing, but at that moment I decided this is what I want to do for other people as well. I want to bare my soul and offer the opportunity to lift people up and create happiness and healing with my voice. And that’s how I started pursuing the dream of singing.
So, can you tell me a little bit about your experiences with music growing up in San Antonio?
In the San Antonio school system, I had some support for what I was trying to do. One of them in particular was not very supportive and told me I would never make — that I wasn’t ‘good enough’. But in elementary school, I had a teacher — I believe her name was Ms. Valencia — who encouraged all of us to pursue the art form of music to make ourselves feel better, and to enjoy it. That’s something that stuck with me. When I was in high school, one of the things that really helped me to find my voice was when I joined the mariachi program at South San Antonio High School. That was one of the places where I learned to develop and explore new parts of my creativity and musicality as a vocalist. Those are the integral parts of how I discovered my musicality and my voice through school. But, I want to bring up one particular program that’s a San Antonio staple. And it’s called the Network for Young Artists. The NYA is a local nonprofit youth music organization that offers opportunities to people who are underprivileged or can’t afford music lessons. It gives them the opportunity to perform and explore your craft + artistry. That’s where I got my start. I believe I started at right about 12 years old. I auditioned and was immediately brought to the advanced category. I was allowed to perform on stages, festivals, and all kinds of stuff. That program is where I really got my start because shortly after is when I started professionally, doing my own stuff.
So you not only sing, but you are also a multi-instrumentalist?
So, of course, singing is always going to be my first love. But, there’s always something else in music that can just elevate and give you a whole other side to what you do. As it turns out, my mom played the clarinet when she was in middle school and high school. When it came time for me to start middle school, they asked me, ‘well, what do you want to do? Do you want to do music?’ and I was like, ‘well, of course, I want to do music!’ So my mom said, ‘I have my own clarinet. Let me start to teach you’. So, she started teaching me that summer of fifth grade before jumping into middle school — and the rest is history. I jumped on to the instrument and I fell in love. I love playing classical music pieces on my clarinet. I went all the way up to attending university as a clarinet performance major, and I’m fantastic — haha. I’m a very competitive person. In everything that I do, I want to be the best possible. That’s just how I am. I’d say in about junior year of high school, I joined the jazz band. They wouldn’t let me sing because it was run by the band director who told me I wasn’t good enough. But, they did allow me to play the saxophone. So, I went ahead and picked that up and just didn’t put it down after that. So I play the clarinet, the saxophone, the ocarina, and the obeo. And, in the mariachi, I was the principal guitarist and vocalist. So yeah, those are the things that I do.
What has been your most memorable performance to date?
Yeah, that you know, that is always a strange question. I have personal connections to every song that I sing, no matter how strange it may be. I have a connection to every place that I’ve ever performed. Because no matter where I’ve gone, somebody came to see me. And that means the world. Whether it’s one person showing up to my concert, or I’m performing like I did a couple of years ago at a stadium in Paris, France, the people are watching me pour my heart and soul into everything that I do. But, I guess I do have to say, my favorite performances in general that I’ve done have been in front of small intimate crowds. I love nothing more than just having a piano and being able to just sing my heart out just completely raw, let the music take hold every single time, and just connect with everyone face to face. You can’t get that as easily from a big concert setting, you know? It’s when you can look somebody in the eye and say, I’m singing the song to you, for you, and this is my heart. Those are the types of performances that I really enjoy the most. And some entertainers like to put on a big dance number and make people get on their feet, jump, and scream. That’s not me. I want to stand in place, sing, and connect. So, the intimate settings are always going to be my favorite.
Are there any venues in San Antonio that you’ve performed at that have a really special place in your heart?
I’ve done festivals like the Oyster Bake, the Barbacoa festival, you know, random things like that around town that happened annually. I’ve done the Rodeo. But none of them are like regular places. I recently did the Lila Cockrell Theater, which was really, really nice. I’d love to actually host my own concert there. But, I’ve also headlined at the Aztec Theatre a couple years ago. And, I think I will say that my favorite venues have been the theaters, such as the one the Lila Cockrell or the Aztec because it does give that feeling of connection and that intimate kind of response from everyone that you’re singing to. So, I would really, really like to potentially headline my own official show at the Lila Cockrell Theater if that opportunity ever arises.
I know you announced some tour dates. What are you excited about for your plans in the next few months?
Yeah, I have shows that are like headlining on a cruise ship, I have shows that are intimate concert piano settings, I have shows that are in night clubs. I have everything coming your way, honey. I’m so excited to go out and share my voice at every single one of these venues. They’re going to be in multiple countries. They’re going to be all over the United States, of course. I’m just going to be living my best life and getting ready to record some original music for you all. So, I’m very excited about that. But, shout out to my San Antonio people. I will be having a show on February 12th here in town. So, y’all make sure to come out to that. Let everybody know, honey. My show details can be found at adavoxofficial.com, February 12 here in San Antonio, come on now.