'American Idol' judges weigh in on Caleb Kennedy controversy: 'Challenging and upsetting'
The last four "American Idol" candidates leave everything on stage - although one candidate was particularly absent this week.
On Sunday's show, which was broadcast live from coast to coast, the four remaining singers recorded songs from their own personal role models and were directed by guest mentor Finneas O'Connell - a singer, songwriter and record producer who goes by the mononym Finneas is known. Participants later returned to sing original singles, followed by songs they had previously performed on their "Idol" trips.
Though this episode was originally slated for the final five, 16-year-old Caleb Kennedy left the competition last week after a controversial video of him surfaced on social media. Host Ryan Seacrest barely touched Kennedy's absence in the air, saying at the beginning of the show that the student "won't stay in the competition" despite making the top 5.
In a Snapchat post, Kennedy appeared next to someone wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood. Kennedy's family said the video was taken when he was 12 and his mother, Anita Guy, said the video was "taken after Caleb saw the movie 'The Strangers: Prey in the Night' 'and she did these characters imitated. "
"Caleb doesn't have a racist bone in his body," she added.
Judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan commented on the controversy in a virtual Q&A after the show. "First and foremost, as judges and juries, we love these children and are emotionally involved," said Bryan. "We wish Caleb the best and it's been a very, very challenging and exciting week."
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Richie added that he hopes this will be a learning experience for the teen.
"We grow up and make mistakes, and we look many, many times at our lives behind us and say, 'God, what was I thinking about when I did this?' This is one of those situations, "he said.
As usual, Bryan, Richie, and Katy Perry provided feedback as fans at home voted who to see in the final three.
'American Idol': Caleb Kennedy leaves the show after controversial social media post surfaces
24-year-old machine operator Chayce Beckham opened the show with a robust rendition of "Colder Weather" by the Zac Brown Band.
Although Beckham considered dropping the guitar to focus on the lyrics, he changed his mind and accompanied himself on an acoustic guitar.
And the decision worked in his favor, according to Perry.
"You were born to 'American Idol'," she said. "I knew you when, Chayce. I knew you when."
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According to Bryan, Beckham made the top 4 because he's real and authentic. Richie agreed and told the singer that the fans "not only fell in love with your voice, they also fell in love with who you are".
"It's a real quality to be a star," added Richie.
Later on the show, Beckham returned for his original song "23", followed by Chris Stapleton's "You Should Maybe Leave," which he sang during Hollywood Week.
After Perry pointed out that "23" would dominate the country music charts after its release, he told Beckham that he was clearly already a rock star.
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Casey Bishop's personal idol is someone Finneas knows well: his sister and co-worker Billie Eilish. The 16-year-old sang Eilish's "Wish You Were Gay", which Finneas wrote down.
"The greatest honor as a songwriter is to hear the song, and Casey has an amazing instrument," said the mentor.
Bryan told Bishop that she had "destroyed every aspect of her performance". "In my opinion it was your best," he added.
Richie praised Bishop for keeping the audience busy.
"You were in a moment where we were wondering, 'What is she going to do next?' " he said. "You killed it, dear."
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Later on the show, Bishop killed it again with her original song "Love Me, Leave Me" and Mötley Crüe's "Live Wire," which she sang on her first audition. But unlike her audition, the teen had to jam to a live band instead of singing acapella.
Perry was amazed at the student's versatility.
"I just can't believe that you could sing 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' so elegantly a few episodes ago and then get down on your knees for 'Live Wire'," said Perry. "You check all the boxes. You are ready to celebrate."
College student Grace Kinstler's personal idol also happens to be an "American Idol": Kelly Clarkson, who won the show's first season when Kinstler was only 1 year old.
Like Clarkson, Kinstler said she wanted to become a role model for girls who feel different. She sang "A Moment Like This," which Clarkson pulled out during the season one finale after winning the show.
"You saw yourself as something unique," said Richie. "You're your normal. It's completely fresh for everything else in the world. That's what makes a star."
Perry revealed that her cousins are making Kinstler difficult to win. "You are very similar to Kelly Clarkson and she is a great megastar," added the judge.
The student later returned to sing her original song "Love Someone", followed by Demi Lovato's "Father", which she sang during the show stopper round.
"All of our birds are about to leave the nest," said Richie. "Workmanship, check. Star power, check. Your future, check."
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Caretaker Willie Spence, who Finneas said has "one of the best voices I've ever heard," gave a rousing performance of "Glory" by Common and John Legend, Spence's personal idol.
As usual for Spence, his performance was divinely praised by the judges.
"I'm so glad you took us to church," exclaimed Perry. "It was connected. It was spiritual ... I'm speechless."
Perhaps the greatest compliment came from Bryan. "You will literally save people's lives with your voice," said the judge as tears ran down Spence's face.
Spence returned for equally powerful performances on his original song "Never Be Alone" and Beyoncé's "I Was Here".
Perry said Spence had proven he had "this connection to this next realm".
Who went home
At the end of the episode, Seacrest revealed that Beckham, Spence and Kinstler made the top three, which meant that Bishop was eliminated.
After the show, the teenager thought about getting more confident through "Idol". Before her audition, most of Bishop's singing experience came from buckling her hairbrush at home.
"I'm really proud of myself and everyone else," she said. "I used to feel uncomfortable during the show and I think it was noticeable. And now I am."
The season finale of "Idol" will air next Sunday at 8 p.m. CET, if Spence, Kinstler or Beckham are declared the winners.
Contributor: Ashley Dill, Herald-Journal
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: 'American Idol': Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie discuss Caleb Kennedy's exit
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