The Diabetes Community found itself in familiar territory recently when we saw one of our own auditioning and making headlines on reality show American Idol.
On Jan. 22, fellow type 1 Adam Lasher appeared before the three-celeb panel to play guitar and sing an original tune, breezing through that first round and securing his spot in the next round of Hollywood Week auditions. Lucky for all of us, the judges caught sight of the black Dexcom case clipped to his guitar strap and asked Adam about it, giving him the chance to quickly explain the need and use of this "robotic pancreas" on national TV!
To further up the PR ante, the 27-year-old from Danvile, CA, happens to be the nephew of guitar great Carlos Santana. That's his mom's older brother, and Adam says he grew up learning music and life lessons from Uncle Carlos, from guitar chords to how he should carry himself.
Adam immediately caught a firestorm of attention from the D-Community, viewing him as an inspiration and default advocate -- just as past T1 American Idol contestants Kevin Covais and Elliott Yamin (2006) and Crystal Bowersox (2nd place in 2010) have in the past. The show also featured T2 Randy Jackson as a judge for years, and veteran T1 and rocker Bret Michaels performed live during the season finale in 2010.
So we've had our share of PWDs on American Idol; Adam becomes at least number six -- but with a particular appeal due to his great musical talent and infectious sense of humor.
Here's the video of his audition, with a brief into from Idol host Ryan Seacrest:
We love how Adam did a little mock wave of Jimmy Fallon in jest. And the very next night on the Tonight Show, Fallon and Seacrest joked about it, and Fallon even put on a wig and fake beard, pretending to be Adam pretending to be him. Pretty awesome!
We were thrilled to have the chance to talk with Adam earlier this week, which happens to be a down-week for Adam since Idol is currently still airing more first-round auditions. We thank advocate Scott Benner for putting us in touch, and Adam for sharing his own diabetes story, his musical inspiration, and of course his take on his uncle:
DM) First off, when were you diagnosed?
AL) I was 9 years old in third grade. My grandmother first noticed the symptoms -- being tired, wanting to sit inside and watch movies and not run around with friends like usual. I remember going to the doctor, and we had two field trips that week in school -- one to see a historical school like it was in the 1800s, and the other to an ice cream factory. Instead of going to the ice cream place, I got sent to the hospital -- which is probably a good thing.
And has diabetes ever gotten in your way?
I've had diabetes for two-thirds of my life, so it's most of what I remember. My mom was pretty strict with me, and knew as much as you could for being a D-mom in the 90s. And in the hospital, that first doctor pulled her aside and told her to not to let me feel any different or use diabetes as an excuse, that it's not a free ride or justification for not being able to do anything. I've always been independent, and my mom taught me to not think of myself as any different than anyone else. It's never crossed my mind that I couldn't do something because of my diabetes. I have never passed out, had any seizures or been hospitalized and don't have any complications. Of course, I'm always still chasing the dragon.
From the show, we know you're using the Dexcom G4 continuous glucose monitor... how about other devices, like an insulin pump?
I have never used a pump; I use an insulin pen now. I am thinking about the OmniPod, but am also interested in the new Afrezza (inhaled insulin). I'm also really interested in the newest Dexcom G4 with the Bluetooth receiver (allowing direct iPhone data sharing), because that would be great.
Do you always wear the G4 receiver on your guitar strap, like you did on the show?
Generally, when I'm playing I have it out. A lot of times, I wear it on the back of the guitar right where you hold the neck and plug the strings. When I peform, that's great because I can see it right there. Or someone else can be off stage watching it, if you don't want to have it out there on you.
On the show... I needed it with me at all times, because it's such an intense process they put you through. I understand they want to move quickly, surprise us, and keep us on our toes. But as a diabetic, I needed to know when to eat and where I stood when it was time to get up. So the Dexcom helped a lot.
Do you think you'll follow Keith Urban's suggestion to use 'Robotic Pancreas' as a band name?
Maybe I could do an instrumental song or something... we'll have to see!
What's the Idol experience been like for you so far?
Well, I assumed going in that I was going to be tagged as Santana's nephew, and that would be it. But I haven't gotten that as much. Rather it's been mostly diabetes supporters who've been reaching out and talking so far. That's great, I think, because it waters everything down for me -- in the sense that I'm not an extension of my uncle's name and career, but am someone who has my own community and name. And that first audition was so much better because there was so much going on and I wasn't just Santana's nephew who plays guitar.
Jennifer Lopez thought I looked like Jimmy Fallon, and I got to be silly and show my sense of humor. And there's my Dexcom, and the cast on my hand... I was super-stressed about that cast. I fell on my hand while skateboarding a couple of weeks before, which I know is a bad idea for a musician. But that allowed me to show off my talent even with the cast on. Really, there was enough shown about me and I was lucky to not have been pegged for just one thing. I could be myself, and I have enough legs to stand on.
What came to mind in the moment, while you were on the audition stage, talking diabetes and playing?
I tried to be as laid back as possible and consciously maintain a low heart rate, have fun and in a way not care about what happens. But just be myself and do my best. It was a strange little dance in my brain.
So what has the response been like since your appearance on that first episode?
Fifty percent of the people who've reached out to me are diabetic, or have kids with diabetes. I guess it struck a chord with the community. I've always been outgoing and very silly, so I get fueled off attention and am not discouraged by it. But I'm also the only diabetic I've ever really known, so I'm always excited whenever I see someone else like me who's carrying a black (meter) bag around or wearing a Dexcom. Now I can imagine myself watching the show and seeing me up there... It's been great to realize that I can inspire others, especially kids, and help them start to own it. It's been really cool to find this community, and be able to do something with my music that's so positive.
OK, let's talk music. Tell us how you got started, and how your uncle's been an influence?
I was always creative growing up and liked making things up, so pretty early on I was just making noises with the guitar before I even knew how to play. I grew up listening to Journey, Motown, 60s and 70s classic rock, and Latin music -- I really liked instrumental Latin guitar as a young kid. Those were my genres growing up.
I was 11 or 12 when I got a guitar, and it was the first thing I'd ever wanted to do on my own. My mom is Carlos' younger sister, and I would say he taught me to play. I had guitar teachers in school who taught me basics, but Carlos always sat down with me and taught me chords monthly, or whenever we had family gatherings.
He'd show me these things... but it was more his mentality on musicality, philosophies and wisdoms of how to play and carry myself, that I've been fortunate enough to get from him and the rest of my family. My grandfather was a mariachi musician, so I've taken these stories from my family and their musical careers. In the same way, I'm able to take those lessons and apply them to my own career, and to not expect special treatment.
On Idol, you sang an original song you wrote... how long have you been writing?
That song is called These Shoes, and it's going up on iTunes very soon. Although had I known what a response I'd get from the diabetes community, maybe I would've called it These Socks. :)
I've been writing for a long time, but probably college is the time I'd go back to for crediting anything. I've always wanted to create something new, and I love vintage and classic rock and doing something new with it.
What's next on this season's Idol, that you're able to tell us about right now?
So far, I've only appeared on one episode that's aired and that was taped in New Orleans. A lot of it's still early in the process. They've done auditions in nearly every city and will be showing those episodes before moving on to the next round. Next up is Hollywood Week. I am super-pumped, no pun intended, and think it's gone really well so far.
Of course, you don't know what will happen. And I don't know how much of my story will be shown.
Before your Idol spot happened, had you been involved in any other advocacy efforts?
No, I've done zero on diabetes advoacy. The last time was probably in fifth grade, when I went to Bear Skin Meadow diabetes camp (in Concord, CA). Before Idol, I talked with a doctor friend about getting involved in some charity efforts but that just never materialized. Now luckily with Idol, we are talking more about that in L.A. This is something I've always wanted to do, it just never fell into my lap. Every artist wants to do something meaningful, and fortunately this is where I'm at. I love telling people about new products, and just talking diabetes and bringing basic awareness is great.
Any message to your fans in the D-Community, at this point?
There's hope in knowing you can do anything you want, and that things are getting better all the time. Regardless of the show, I'm excited to have a community to be engaged in and help out in the world. I don't have to play music in bars to make people happy; I can use my music to help influence people to get healthy. That's a positive for me!
Thank you Adam. Congrats on making the first round on American Idol and we wish you all the luck. And yes, we look forward to hearing some Robotic Pancreas tunes before long... ;)