In an era that’s shown little hesitation about embracing talented performers well before they are old enough to drive, never mind vote, Santa Barbara native Jackson Gillies knows the thrills and tribulations of life as a child prodigy better than most. His initial appearances on local stages marked him for success when he was just 15. After winning Santa Barbara’s Teen Star competition in 2016, he performed at the Kick Ash Bash benefit for Montecito, and from there, with a little help from a couple of other Santa Barbara folks — no less than Kenny Loggins and Katy Perry — Gillies wound up making it to network television as a contestant on American Idol when he was still in his teens. His Idol audition earned him a place not only in the program’s archives but also in the hearts of viewers who heard Lionel Richie ask Gillies about the two chronic conditions he has lived with for most of his life, type 1 diabetes, which he was diagnosed with at age 3, and hidradenitis suppurativa, the debilitating skin condition he came down with as a teen. Tough enough to withstand this double threat to his health, Gillies nevertheless found the pressure of American Idol overwhelming, and by the time he was eliminated, he was ready for a new approach to having a music career.
The road Gillies has traveled to the upcoming Marjorie Luke virtual show, which premieres on Friday, December 18, gets an admirably in-depth treatment in an interview with Rod Lathim on the theatre’s website. In that conversation, Gillies reveals what has driven his recent reinvention of himself and his persona, saying that “it was hard to have a personality when I was sick. Music was painting me in a light that wasn’t really me.” After a year spent studying musical performance in London, Gillies came back to Santa Barbara to shelter during the pandemic and to write many of the songs he will be playing in this concert. For access to the show, visit luketheatre.org.