Throwing Shade

She could make history on 'Idol,' but this drag queen from the South faces bigger challenge

LGBT advocate finds his voice in alter-ego drag queen Annie Thang

Trevor Ladner, a recent graduate from Hancock High, tells his story of discovering drag artistry, the difficulties he faced and the doors that it opened in his life. Video by Amanda McCoy/Sun Herald
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Trevor Ladner, a recent graduate from Hancock High, tells his story of discovering drag artistry, the difficulties he faced and the doors that it opened in his life. Video by Amanda McCoy/Sun Herald

Ada Vox auditioned for "American Idol" 13 times.

This year is her time to shine — she made it through auditions and onto Hollywood with a powerful rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals.

She brought Katy Perry to her feet before she could even finish belting out a chilling cover of "Creep" by Radiohead.

Vox's performance of "Defying Gravity" alongside star Lea Michelle and her electric version of "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone scored her a spot in the top 14.

"I'm getting so emotional writing this, but just want you all to know how much it means to me," Vox posted Tuesday on Facebook. "American Idol has been my dream for so long."

It's clear that Vox is a favorite among the judges. And if America loves her as much as Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, there's a chance she could make history. Vox could be the first LGBTQ person, and the first drag queen, to win the show in 16 seasons.

And that's a really big deal.

Especially since Vox has been on the "Idol" stage before as Adam Sanders. In season 12, Sanders made it to Hollywood but was cut soon after. He was open about being bullied for being full-figured and LGBT, he told The Advocate.

But the San Antonio, Texas, performer ignored the haters and came back stronger and better than ever, with a powerful message for "Idol" viewers — you can proudly be yourself and kick a**, with a beat face, cocktail dress and high heels to boot.

Now more than ever, drag artistry has been brought into the limelight and on televisions in homes across the country, largely in part to the amazing and revolutionary "RuPaul's Drag Race" that now airs on VH1.

The show, once a cult classic adored by primarily LGBT people, has made it's way to main stage. It's increasingly finding fans in young, straight women and has helped families in rural America better understand the ever-evolving queer culture in the US.

In South Mississippi, RuPaul and her drag daughters, particularly Texas' own beauty queen Alyssa Edwards, helped Hancock High School alumnus Trevor Ladner find his space in the world of drag — it also helped show his mom and conservative father that what he's doing is inspiring and extraordinary. Trevor's journey into drag was told in a video that eventually landed him a Harvard scholarship.

Salutatorian of his class, Trevor talked about in his graduation speech how "Drag Raced" impacted his life to a crowd of thousands of people.

Drag is also becoming more mainstream in the Deep South. While drag brunch has been a mainstay at the iconic Country Club in New Orleans, it's broken into Mississippi — and these queens aren't just performing at gay bars. From restaurants to nightclubs to private dining halls, drag shows are taking over the Coast, and many of them donate money to the Gulf Coast Equality Council, a nonprofit that wants to build an LGBTQ community center on the Coast.

For young LGBTQ people (and anyone) across the country to see Ada succeed on "Idol" is the cherry on top of the milkshake. She's strong, powerful and she's not compromising herself to win a crown. She's counting on people all over America to vote her as the winner.

I'm #TeamAda, and I know it took courage many people don't have to step on stage in drag week after week, opening yourself to public scrutiny, in hopes of achieving your lifelong dream. Her bravery is admirable.

But for Ada, the challenge will begin after her time on the show.

While America is more accepting of LGBTQ people now more than ever, there's still a long way to go, and the entertainment industry is no exception.

Just last season, Mississippi native and '"Idol" runner up La'Porsha Renae said she doesn't agree with the LGBTQ lifestyle.

Many drag queens who competed on "Drag Race" have released albums that can be streamed on Spotify, but none of them have made it to the radio.

Sure, Lady Gaga and Macklemore have found success in pop music with LGBTQ-themed songs like "Born This Way" and "Same Love," but other artists haven't been successful. Grammy-winning Kacey Musgraves isn't often played on mainstream country radio, despite having music that relates to people who are into many genres.

Trevor Ladner, a recent graduate from Hancock High, tells his story of discovering drag artistry, the difficulties he faced and the doors that it opened in his life. Video by Amanda McCoy/Sun Herald

Her song "Follow Your Arrow" is a twangy ode to self-acceptance and inclusion.

"Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that's something you're into," she sings. "Straight and narrow's just a little too straight ... follow your arrow wherever it points."

Her song hit a bullseye with people like me, who grew up in small towns in the country wondering if the people we grew up with would ever accept us if we came out. But mainstream country radio apparently isn't so sure.

"Unfortunately, there's a lot of prejudice and close-mindedness in the music industry," says Sun Herald music expert and entertainment critic Jeff Clark. "This is a format that didn't give much airplay to Miranda Lambert's last album, and it refuses to play Kasey Musgraves, Margo Price and other women who are aren't' even in the same universe with 'bro country.'"

Clark says Vox is an "incredible" vocalist who has what it takes to break out on her own after "Idol" is over. I agree 100 percent.

And Vox's bravery, Clark says, is "far more important to sell a few records."

You can watch and vote for Vox on Sundays and Mondays on ABC.

Justin Mitchell; 228-604-0705, @JustinMitchell_
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