Ada Vox, the first drag queen finalist in “American Idol” history, had a rough go of it with the voters. Not receiving enough support from the public last week to secure a place in the top 10, Vox was, rightly, saved by the judges and given a chance to perform again this week. But Sunday night, America voted once again and Ada Vox was sent home.
The internet did what it does best: It erupted in outrage. The angry consensus was that Vox had been passed over not because of her talents but because of her identity.
“Ada vox had the best voice of the whole competition but conservative america ignored that bc she was a drag queen and that’s the tea,” read one typical tweet. “If @AdaVox was a woman singing like that, y’all know she would be final 3. I thought this was a competition about singing,” read another.
Vox herself had suggested that if she were to be sent home, it might be because she’s not the kind of performer that “Idol” viewers are accustomed to. “America might not be ready for people like those of us who are a little bit different,” she said before Sunday’s show.
I’ve pissed enough people off over the years with my observations on “American Idol” that I’ve lost count, so I’m not afraid to add to that tally. Someone needs to be real here. Ada Vox wasn’t voted off because she is a drag queen and she wasn’t voted off because Adam Sanders (her alter ego) is a gay man. She was voted off because she was not the best voice on the show.
“Someone needs to be real here. Ada Vox wasn’t voted off because she is a drag queen. She was voted off because she was not the best voice on the show.”
Let me be clear: Vox is a star. And Vox can sing. Her performances of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and “Circle of Life” were rousing spectacles ― but they were not master classes in singing. That outraged Twitter user was correct: This is a competition about singing. And Ada Vox, entertaining performer though she doubtless is, was not the best singer. No, ma’am.
Most of us were thrilled to see a contestant breaking down another barrier. We were excited to see an out and proud contestant doing well and living their truth on an American institution. I certainly was. And when we are proud of someone and rooting for them as fiercely as so many of us were, it’s easy to ignore their shortcomings.
But let me play Simon Cowell here for a moment. Ada Vox was not eliminated because she didn’t conform to the societal norms of “Idol” viewers; she was eliminated because she didn’t conform to the key of the song.
Remember, contestants don’t get voted off “American Idol.” They failed to get voted on. Ada Vox didn’t have millions of people logging on or calling into ABC and voting to remove her from the show. She simply couldn’t grab enough viewers (or high Bs in “Circle of Life”) to compel them to vote for her.
If you want to win an election, you need to motivate your supporters. I’m willing to bet that 80 percent of those lamenting Ada Vox’s elimination didn’t even watch her performance until the next day on YouTube, which means they certainly didn’t vote for her. It’s easy to scapegoat other people by saying “America wasn’t ready for a drag queen to be on ‘American Idol,’” but where were you? Where were your votes?
Those who are furious about Vox’s departure are blaming conservative Middle America or claiming that her TV demise was because of antipathy toward the LGBTQ community. And don’t get me wrong: There are some nasty-ass bigots out there. And there are also some folks who are not bigots but aren’t quite ready to pick up the phone and vote for a drag queen as their No. 1 favorite ― yet.
At the same time, there are millions upon millions of Americans who are more than ready for it. There are millions of us who can’t wait for someone to break down that barrier, who are ready for the first gender non-conforming winner of “American Idol.” But Ada Vox wasn’t the right person for that job. She may well be the best performer the show has ever seen, but “American Idol” is not a performing competition. And she was not the best singer.
“There are millions of us who can’t wait for the first gender non-conforming winner of ‘American Idol.’ But Ada Vox wasn’t the right person for that job.”
I’ll leave many of you here so that you can go comment on this article or tweet about my being a self-hating gay man or a washed-up has-been whose opinion nobody asked for. I look forward to reading those remarks and appreciate that you care enough about my opinion to spend time commenting on it.
For those who care to stick around a moment longer, I’ll say this: Ada Vox is a star, and she deserves to be considered one of the most important television figures of the year. In an interview with Logo’s NewNowNext, she talked about the great responsibility of being a groundbreaker and a role model. “I am standing for something that is so much bigger than myself,” she said. That she has done, and I have no doubt it is what she will continue to do.
After ratings for “American Idol” flagged and its pop culture influence diminished during its final seasons on Fox, ABC revived the show with the goal of producing more stars. I predict that Ada Vox will be one of the first ABC “Idol” alums to achieve that stardom. With the exceptions of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, the “Idol” alums with the most viable and lasting music careers have tended to be those contestants who didn’t win. Ada Vox will likely eclipse whoever the eventual winner may be, and I suspect her success will dwarf many of the careers of those of us who graced the “Idol” stage before her.
Because of her willingness to stand in the line of fire for a cause bigger than herself, because of her ability to perform in a way that excites so many and because of her courage to live out loud and unapologetically ― even when she’s not the best singer ― she deserves it.
Clay Aiken was the runner-up on the second season of “American Idol” in 2003.