Music

'American Idol' Judges Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie React to the Caleb Kennedy Controversy

Screengrab via YouTube/Access

American Idol contestant Caleb Kennedy bowed out of the contest on May 12 after Snapchat footage surfaced online which allegedly shows the South Carolina native seated next to someone wearing a KKK-style hood.

The Caleb Kennedy Music Facebook page posted Kennedy's resignation from the competition.

"There is a video that surfaced of me on the internet and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way," it read. "I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that's not an excuse. I wanna say sorry to all my fans and everyone who I have let down. I'll be taking a little time off social media to better myself, but saying that, I know this has hurt and disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me. I'm so sorry! I pray that I can one day regain your trust in who I am and have your respect!"

An update from me, about American Idol.

Posted by Caleb Kennedy Music on Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Kennedy's mother, Anita Guy, shared her take on the video controversy in an interview with the Herald-Journal.

"I hate this has happened and how Caleb is being portrayed by people online," Guy said. "This video was taken after Caleb had watched the movie The Strangers: Prey at Night and they were imitating those characters. It had nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan, but I know that's how it looks. Caleb doesn't have a racist bone in his body. He loves everyone and has friends of all races."

Idol judges Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie spoke to People about Kennedy after the series' May 16 episode aired.

"First and foremost, as judges, we love these kids," Luke Bryan told People. "We get emotionally involved in these kids. We want the best for Caleb. As far as the nuances on how ABC gets viewed, either way, decisions got made and it's our job as judges to show up and do our best job and comment on the kids who are in front of us. But we wish nothing but the best for Caleb. It does make for a very, very challenging and upsetting week."

"A lot of times, we think about it, we grow up and we make mistakes and we look at our life behind us many times and we say, 'God, what was I thinking about when I did that?,'" Richie added. "This was one of those situations where we kind of give him a big hug from the three of us."

Caleb Kennedy on American Idol

Kennedy made the American Idol Top 5 for the current season after two strong performances on the ABC series' Mother's Day episode.

Videos of these and other performances have since been deleted from American Idol's official YouTube channel.

He first wowed special guests Coldplay with a cover of "Violet Hill" from the band's 2008 album Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. It's a prime example a performer with a skillset geared toward one genre making a song from out of left field suit their voice and delivery.

The 16 year old from South Carolina then put himself out there as a songwriter with the holiday-appropriate "Mama Said."

"Put that record out," Richie said after being floored by yet another Kennedy original. "Your parallels, your storytelling, that's a 90-year-old man writing that song right there."

New mom Katy Perry applauded Kennedy for wearing his heart on his sleeve as a songwriter.

As covered by Go Upstate, Kennedy's mom watched from home with the rest of The Ultimate Caleb Kennedy Fan Club.

For American Idol's Disney-themed night (held May 2 at Disney World in Orlando, Florida), Kennedy looked to the film Cars for something in his wheelhouse.

He chose "Real Gone," a song co-written and first recorded by Sheryl Crow. In the process, he wowed the same judges that'd been pushing him to find his own voice while positioning himself in the fast lane to the Top 7.

"You've got real-life fire on the stage," Perry told Kennedy. "Every time you engage us, we lean in."

On April 18, Kennedy made Willie Nelson's "On The Road Again" his own in a bid to reach the next stage of the competition series.

"You really didn't over-sing yourself into any trouble," Bryan said after the performance. "That, in my opinion, was the best top-to-bottom performance I've seen you do."

Kennedy celebrated his Top 12 status on American Idol the prior week by ditching his ball cap and unveiling the finished version of an original song he teased earlier in the season, "Nowhere."

Back in March, Kennedy shared the first verse of the song with judges, and Bryan was impressed enough to offer on the spot to help smooth out additional verses.

One night earlier, Kennedy backed up the American Idol judges' decision to move him on to the Top 16 with a workman-like rendition of Chris Stapleton's "Midnight Train to Memphis."

The performance, which favored vocal abilities over showmanship, wowed all three judges.

"You come up on stage. You sing the hell out of a song. No reaction," Richie said. "The band is killing it, and you stand there, stone cold."

Bryan also applauded Kennedy's on-stage resolve.

"...And to not be manipulated by everything that's going on around speaks to: 'Hey, this guy's got a course he wants to stay on.' That's very hard for a 16 year old to do," Bryan added. "You're driving that big ol' jacked up truck right down the path you wanna go. You did a great job."

On April 5, country music superstar Jason Aldean lent a helping hand to Kennedy with a duet performance of one of Aldean's best-known hits, "Fly Over States."

But first, Kennedy proved his Southern rock acumen with a gritty, bluesy cover of the Allman Brothers Band's "Midnight Rider."

We then learned that Kennedy picked one of Aldean's more tradition-grounded songs for their duet.

"Me and my best friend, we used to ride around after shows, and we'd listen to 'Fly Over States' all the time," Kennedy said. "It's definitely a cool thing to be performing with the artist."

Aldean joked "you don't have to bring that up" after Kennedy pointed out that the song was released when the Idol hopeful was in kindergarten.

Perry praised Kennedy for being himself, while Bryan applauded the aspiring country singer for straying from his comfort zone with his Allman Brothers selection.

Richie went a step further, declaring that Kennedy's been "possessed by a very old, seasoned country man."

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'American Idol' Judges Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie React to the Caleb Kennedy Controversy