If you’re a fan of ABC’s hit series American Idol, you’re no doubt familiar with singing sensation Jackson Gillies, who competed on the show’s 17th season. What you may not know is that the talented teen is living with not one, but two chronic health conditions: type 1 diabetes and hidradenitis suppurativa (a chronic inflammatory skin condition, also known as HS).
Gillies was diagnosed with type 1 at age 3, after his babysitter noticed him urinating frequently (a common symptom of type 1 diabetes). After a trip to the doctor and then to Schneider’s Children’s Hospital in New York, he adapted to his condition quickly, monitoring his blood sugar under his parents’ supervision “within a couple of weeks, wearing an insulin pump at age four and [trying] one of the early CGMs at age nine.”
Gillies has been involved in advocacy to raise awareness of type 1 diabetes after a chance encounter at age five or six with the assistant of the late Mary Tyler Moore. That led to public service announcements for the type 1 diabetes nonprofit JDRF with Nick Jonas, Crystal Bowersox and Mary Tyler Moore.
At age 13, Gillies had an abscess removed from his head, leading to his second diagnosis of HS. Affecting an estimated 4% of the population, the condition typically develops in areas such as the armpits and groin and manifests as recurring, potentially painful, nodules and abscesses. Since developing HS, Gillies has thrown himself into advocacy for this condition as well, appearing in a Ted Talk spotlighting HS and putting on an HS awareness concert with other local performance artists.
Speaking of the role music has played in his journey, Gillies says, “for as long as I can remember, music has been a soothing force in my life.” Listen to his debut single, “Miss Me Too”:
As for the advice he’d give to someone living with a chronic health condition? “No matter how bad the situation is, you’ve got to learn how to bounce back… If you can make your weaknesses your strengths and wear them on your sleeve, no one will be able to touch you.”
Read more about Gillies and his journey with type 1 diabetes and HS in his interview with Beyond Type 1.