Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know who Milwaukee singer Naima Adedapo is.
First off, she’s got that last name, the one everyone in Milwaukee knows thanks to her mother Adekola Adedapo, a jazz singer who is well known for her work with the Ko-Thi Dance Company.
Secondly, and more broadly resonant, is that the dreadlocked singer -- who has worked in a number of bands in Milwaukee, including R.A.S. Movement -- finished 11th on the 10th season of "American Idol" in 2011. That’s the year Steven Tyler and the other judges set up shop at the Milwaukee Art Museum and found Adedapo among the hopefuls.
After the show, Adedapo took part in the "2011 American Idols LIVE!" tour and appeared on everything from Leno to "Good Morning America."
She now splits her time between Brew City and Music City (aka Nashville), where she’s currently working on a record due out later this year.
As she preps for an 8 p.m. performance at Summerfest’s Harley Roadhouse on Saturday, July 5, Adedapo took a moment to tell us about where she’s been, where she is and where she’s going. And the former Summerfest employee also offers some tips for the Big Gig.
OnMilwaukee.com: Let's just get this "American Idol" stuff out of the way first, if you don't mind... How did the show change your life?
Naima Adedapo: "American Idol" opened up so many doors for me I can't even count them. There was a lot of hard work which you don't see unless you're behind the scenes. It helped me become a better performer and learn how to deal with the craziness of the entertainment industry. But most of all it was the stepping stone that brought me to where I am toda y... absolutely in love with songwriting down in Nashville, being given the opportunity to truly express myself as an artist and use my songs and words to inspire and deliver messages that I think are so important.
OMC: Were there both upsides and downsides?
NA: Absolutely. It's not just all glitz and glamour. I was out in L.A. for about two months for "Idol" and we didn't have one day off. Our days were filled with photo shoots, rehearsing, red carpet appearances, Ford music video shoots, recording and more. There were moments where I felt like a new mom again because of the sleep deprivation! (Laughs)
However, the upside is that you can't buy the kind of exposure that a platform like "Idol" provides, nor the opportunities. I got to background sing for Stevie Wonder, perform with Beyoncé and meet Muhammad Ali!
OMC: Do you still split your time between Milwaukee and Nashville?
NA: I am pretty much splitting my time between Milwaukee and Nashville, so much so that a call Nashville my second home.
OMC: Are you able to maintain a musical career in both places? Do you still perform with bands here in Milwaukee?
NA: I focus a lot on songwriting while I'm in Nashville, not only for myself -- and I'm going to let the cat out of the bag here -- but I'm studying and learning the country music songwriting format because one of my ultimate goals is to get Carrie Underwood to cut one of the songs I write.
The majority of the performing I do is here in the Midwest, but in the fall I plan to begin performing in Nashville, as well. When time and energy permits, I jump on stage with local bands from time to time but I honestly love being an audience member, as well, so I'll just come out to shows to show support for the excellent local music scene we have here in Milwaukee.
OMC: I saw you inked a deal with Peak Records, are you working on a record for the label?
NA: Long story, but the short version is, I am no longer with Peak Records. I learned fairly quickly that we had a difference in view when it came to what kind of artist I was going to be and we parted ways based on that. I am now a Given Entertainment artist which is a company run out of Nashville founded by my manager Cindy Owen and her partner Jim Kacmarcik.
I will be releasing an EP this fall that I am super excited about!
OMC: You used to work at Summerfest, didn't you? What did you do there?
NA: Yes! I worked at Summerfest for five years prior to my "Idol" run. I was a crew leader as part of the grounds crew which we call "Operations." It was our responsibility to keep the Summerfest grounds clean, which I must say we did a great job of! Some people see it as terrible job because we cleaned toilets, swept up and worked with garbage all day long, but I actually loved being around music all day in the summertime on the lakefront. What better place to be!?
OMC: Is it weird now to be on stage and see the festival from a different angle?
NA: I can't say that it's weird because I always visualized myself on the stage and even when I worked there as grounds clean up, I was performing. I would work until 4 p.m., take off my uniform, jump in my performance clothes and hit the stage at 5 p.m.! But what I will say is now that I have my own band and show, I definitely like this angle a lot more!
OMC: Is there any food on the grounds that you want to make sure to try while you're down there?
NA: I always make sure to get a piece of spinach and cheese deep dish pizza from Edwardo's, the sampler plate from Saz's and a piece of Robby's Roasted Corn. Yum!
OMC: Any bands you're going to see?
NA: Oh this list could get long! Bruno Mars, Usher, Lady Gaga, Outkast, Brad Paisley, R.A.S. Movement, De La Buena, Love Monkeys, The Given Songwriters, Chicken Wire, Prophetic, The Fray, Familiar Looking Strangers, Kool and the Gang, Taj Mahal, Eddie Butts, Nas, Ludacris, Fresh Cut Collective, Matisyahu, Ziggy Marley, Bonnie Raitt Scotty McCreery and the list goes on! I'll probably be there literally everyday breathing in music.
OMC: Tell us about your Summerfest gig this week. Will you be playing all originals? All covers? A mix of both? Full band?
NA: This year I'll have my full band: Joe Hite, Jordan Kroeger, Olen Franklin, Randy Komberec, Cecilio Negron, joined by Rodney Cunningham and Joy Bach. I will also be inviting a few children from Ton Ko-Thi dance company and members of the Sole Matter Movement Company under the direction of Cedric Gardner and my mommy, Adekola Adedapo!! We will be rocking a mixture of originals and covers to keep the crowd moving. I can’t wait!
OMC: Finally, as a former SF employee, what's your "secret" tip for Summerfest-goers?
NA: Stay safe, don't get so wasted that you puke because some of my friends a.k.a "grounds crew" have to clean that up. If you want to beat the crowd, take the lake walk, most of all have fun and see you there!
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.