American Idol Elliott Yamin Dishes on Life and T1D
If you saw singer and performer, Elliott Yamin, walking down the street, you might immediately notice him from having watched Season 5 of American Idol where he came in third place. What you may or may not notice, however, is the insulin pump that is clipped to his jeans.
Elliott has been an active member of the type 1 diabetes (T1D) community ever since he was diagnosed 21 years ago, and having type 1 has never stopped him from going full-steam ahead, both in his musical career and in his day-to-day life. From dominating American Idol, to traveling around the world performing gigs and recording multiple studio albums, Elliott has continued to prove himself to be a true inspiration to those of us who question whether people with type 1 diabetes can follow and achieve their dreams.
We chatted with Elliott to get to the root of his optimism, success and strength as a proud T1D!
BT1: How old were you when you were diagnosed? Do you remember finding out?
EY: I do. I was 16. I remember being at a neighborhood cookout and feeling very lethargic and super dehydrated. I would drink a soda, then go urinate, then I’d drink some water, and then I’d go urinate, and then I’d do the same thing again and again. I just didn’t feel right, so I came home a little early, told my mom (who is also a diabetic) about my symptoms, she checked my blood sugar, and it was 680. She quickly called the doctor who recommended we go to the ER immediately. I ended up staying in the hospital for another few days so the doctor could tinker with and figure out my insulin regimen to send me home with. That’s when life as I knew it would forever change!
BT1: Was it a difficult transition or did you adapt to it fairly well early on?
EY: It was sucky. It was really sucky! I was in denial. I didn’t understand how I could just go from one day being a healthy kid to all of a sudden having to cope with such a meticulous, incurable disease. The road for me was very tough at first.
BT1: Tell us about your experience being on the pump. Were you ever on injections?
EY: My pump experience has been awesome! I actually started out as a kid using plain old short needle syringes, then I started using the pens which were really helpful. When I was 20, I worked with a guy who wore a paradigm pump and I became interested in how they worked, so I brought it up to my endocrinologist and I’ve been on it ever since. I’ve always tried to stay pretty active and the pump is way more conducive to my lifestyle.
BT1: Do you use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM)?
EY: No, I’ve never tried a CGM. Just not really a big fan of having additional holes in me. I check my blood sugar regularly and diligently. But I’ve definitely considered giving a CGM a whirl. One of these days!
BT1: Did you ever feel that T1D might get in the way of your dream of being a performer?
EY: Not really. When I was 16, I was playing a lot of sports. That has been my other passion besides music since I was born, so I was more concerned with my ability to continue playing basketball, and how this disease would affect my active lifestyle. Little did I know at the time, diabetes hasn’t slowed me down one bit!
BT1: Have you ever had a blood sugar malfunction (bad lows or highs) while performing? How did you handle it?
EY: Yeah, it has happened a couple of times. Since then I’ve always made sure that I pack glucose tablets for road trips and tours, and I always make sure there’s orange juice in dressing rooms and green rooms. One time I felt my blood sugar getting low two songs into a show. The closest thing around was a 12 ounce can of coke. I sipped it quickly but I couldn’t stop burping through the next couple of songs! I kept having to pull away from the mic while singing. It was pretty funny. Life is way too short to take it so seriously. You have to laugh at yourself sometimes to get through what may be deemed a difficult time. The crowd and I shared some fun laughs that evening.
BT1: Have you found that the entertainment industry as a whole is accepting of your type 1?
EY: Yes! Absolutely. In fact, in my case, the entertainment industry has allowed me to sort of come out of my shell about my disease. Before, I’d never really go out of way to tell people I’m a diabetic. I didn’t want anybody’s pity. I didn’t want to be treated or viewed differently, but since I was catapulted into the industry, in a very unique and unconventional way, it allowed me to be more comfortable in my own diabetic ‘skin.’ I’ve been able to use the platform to help raise money for a cure, to educate, visit diabetes camps and inspire others!
BT1: How did you deal with the strenuous, chaotic schedules being on American Idol while managing T1D?
EY: The staff at Idol all knew about my condition and everybody would go above and beyond making sure I was fed when I needed to eat. Everybody was super accommodating. It was actually way more posh than I was used to. We had a private chef who would come in twice a week and make us dinner and would prepare meals for the rest of the week. The chef developed a special low-carb meal plan for me, which really helped!
BT1: Tell us a little bit about your support system: family and friends who support you during the tougher days. Do you have many other friends with type 1?
EY: To be honest, I don’t really have too many diabetic friends, but my family has always been supportive. My mom was a diabetic, and so was my grandma, so for as long as I can remember, diabetes has always been present in my life. I actually used to help give my grandmother her shots when I was younger, almost like I was groomed. So I was never afraid of needles and my friends have always been there for me during my low times. Some would go as far as keeping sugary items in their cars or purses just in case I needed a quick fix.
BT1: What was a moment in your life that comes to mind when you think of “type 1 victories”?
EY: I’d probably have to say most of my victories come every three months when I get my A1C results back!”
BT1: What is one carb-heavy treat that you can never resist bolusing a little more for?
EY: Don’t laugh: Goobers.
BT1: What’s next for you, career wise and in life?
EY: Continuing to make music and playing shows! I am going to take a six-week voice acting class in the fall. I’m also planning another Japan tour for the end of the year. I also love to cook, so I’ve been learning new recipes.
BT1: What advice would you give to other people with type 1 diabetes that want to pursue their dreams but might be afraid or unsure that they can succeed?
EY: First off I’d say: don’t be ashamed. I know it’s probably easier for me to say, but I remember being a kid, going into the drug store to buy needles. I felt like a druggie, but since I was young there have been so many technological advancements. Today there are more tools available to help make living with diabetes a little easier, and there’s a broader community of diabetics out there to lean on. Join a support group, do a walk and get your friends involved by donating their time to your cause! I believe we are so close to start eradicating this disease and I’d like to see that come to fruition in my lifetime. I’m living proof that if I of all people can make it (and continue making it)—so can you. I know that might sound so cliché, but trust me. My road was a hard one, and I’m stronger for it!