Checking in with American Idol’s Ava August

 

The last time we spoke to Ava August in 2016, she was just 10 years old and already establishing herself as a singer/songwriter after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 4.

It came as no surprise when Ava became a contestant in this season of American Idol. She has advanced to the Top 24, wowing the judges with her original songs and breathtaking vocals. At the age of 15, she is the youngest contestant on the show.

Keeping busy

“I would do a bunch of national anthems for little league games, for softball opening day ceremonies,” Ava says of what she has been up to since writing her last article for Beyond Type 1. “I’d also go to open mics. That was another big thing where I’d probably only have like three songs, but I’d sing them and I’d sing my heart out at these little open mic restaurants all over Orange County. Then, as time progressed, I would say it was just a continuation of learning to play instruments, getting better at that, writing songs.”

She quickly moved into doing full gigs with a live set list. “I slowly built up to like three-hour gigs at the Irvine Spectrum where I do 45 minutes on the ukulele, 45 minutes on the guitar, and then 45 minutes on the keyboard,” Ava adds.

Ava notes that T1D is almost always in the back of her mind when she is performing. “I do have to be honest, it’s been a struggle multiple times where, ‘Oh, my blood sugar is really high before performance,’ and I’m taking a lot of insulin, but you don’t want to take too much where it hits you all at once, so then you’re going super low,” Ava says.

Ava’s mom, Amy, points out that Type 1 diabetes has pushed her daughter to grow up a bit sooner than most kids. “It’s hard being a teenager when you go out with your friends who all are wonderful, but don’t quite understand (T1D) fully,” Amy says.

Ava’s feelings around managing her T1D often fueled her songwriting. “Sometimes there’d be periods where I’d have some resentment towards Type 1, just because I felt like it was taking some of my childhood away,” Ava says. “That emotion, I would just pour that out in songs. That’s how I got it out.”

NBC’s The Voice approached Ava when she was just 12-years-old, and although she didn’t advance, Ava was the youngest contestant. “It was a learning experience to not give up and persevere,” Amy says of Ava’s decision to jump back into a competition show when the opportunity to audition for American Idol came about.

“That was probably one of the best decisions I made because I don’t know how to describe it, but I was in a dark place right before I left for Idol this past time. I was feeling kind of down just about Type 1,” Ava says, recalling frustrations about her blood sugar fluctuations.

“This was one of the best things that happened because it took my mind off of just the perfectionism of Type 1,” Ava says. “At home, it would just be me singing to my walls because all my performances got canceled. I changed my mindset.”

During the pandemic, Ava set up a home studio and recorded a song called Daybreak, which is available on Spotify.

T1D in the spotlight

For Ava’s initial audition for American Idol, she chose to have her insulin pump in full view, and has since received many supportive messages from fellow T1Ds.

“I wasn’t intending to make myself out to be the ’sick kid’ on the show,” Ava notes. “By showing my pump, I love how it was this kind of subtle touch and people saw it who were Type 1.”

“She wanted to be a girl who’s thriving and has Type 1, too,” Amy adds.

When it comes to Ava’s T1D management while competing on the show, the infamous Hollywood week on American Idol proved to be grueling.

“We were on the phone with our nurse back at home and she was saying, ‘Your adrenaline’s kicking in,’ and we had to completely change her basals for a while,” Amy remembers.

“I think that’s where the resentment comes in and the anger with Type 1,” Ava says, “I guess you see all these other people and they don’t have to deal with that extra layer. They just see your performance on the stage, but they don’t know what you’ve been battling the hours before that performance. That’s something that I continue to fight for, my blood sugars that I struggle with every day, but it’s something that if you have the right support system too, it can be managed.”

Ava notes that she has adopted a low-carb diet that helps keep her blood sugar levels more steady while on such a strict and busy schedule.

“Healthier foods and low-carb foods really helped monitor my blood sugar and help me feel good for performances and just developing patterns where now I’ll say, ‘Okay. If I have this low carb meal, I know my blood sugar is going to be steady for this performance.'”

While Ava has been competing on American Idol, she has, so far, performed two original songs. The song she auditioned with, called Neighbor Boy, as well as Ghost of You, which Ava performed in a more recent round.

“That one was more risky because everyone else was performing with a band,” Ava says.”I was seeing everyone put just all this effort in creating this big moment with a band and just all of these vocal riffs and runs and all this stuff. I just thought, ‘Okay. What am I good at, and what do I want to show for this next round? If this is the last round that I’m in the competition, what do I want to leave it with?’”

One of Ava’s favorite moments so far was her recent celebrity duet and solo performance.

“It was probably the most positive performance I’ve ever received with positive feedback ever on the show,” Ava says.

As far as her musical inspirations, Ava loves Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes, Adele, Julia Michaels, Freddie Mercury and Paul McCartney. She also admires a couple of T1D artists.

“Este Haim is someone that I think is super rad,” Ava says, “Also of course, without a doubt, the legendary Nick Jonas.”

Although performing while managing Type 1 diabetes can be viewed as scary — Ava wants all T1Ds to know that it is possible.

“I think with Type 1, it can be very intimidating to start or try something new, especially when it’s a high stress situation, kind of like American Idol,” Ava says, “But my biggest piece of advice would be to never ever let Type 1 diabetes get in the way. I know it totally can at points, and that can change your mindset and your mood, but just persevering and understanding what works for you. You just have to be prepared and know how to manage it. But literally, you can achieve anything in this world. Anything. You can go to space, you can do whatever you want.”

 


 

Find Ava on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube: @avaaugust

Alexi Melvin serves as Chair of the Leadership Council’s Content Committee. She is a journalist who has written for The San Francisco Chronicle, Beyond Type 1 and other digital publications. Alexi is also a voiceover actor and reiki master. In addition to her dedication to being a voice for people living with T1D everywhere, she has always been passionate about meditation and energy healing. Before getting her Bachelor of Arts degree at The New School University, she studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute. She hopes to continue her healing work, and to connect with other T1Ds through her travels and writing opportunities.