'American Idol' Contestant Caleb Kennedy Opens up About How Experience Negatively Changed His Life

A month after he abruptly left the competition after a controversial video resurfaced, former American Idol contestant Caleb Kennedy is opening up about his experience on the show. Speaking out about the ordeal for the first time since his exit in a recent interview with the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, the 16-year-old country singer from South Carolina admitted being thrust into the spotlight, and the subsequent controversy that surrounded him, was not something he was prepared for.

Kennedy, who first wowed judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie with his October 2020 audition, said "you think it's all going to be fun, and a lot of it is, but it will slap you in the face really quickly. I wasn't ready for it." The 16-year-old had been a top competitor on the ABC singing competition and even advanced to the Top 5, though his journey was abruptly cut short in May following the release of a seconds-long video from when he was younger. In the clip, Kennedy and a friend could be seen wearing white hoods similar to the ones worn by Ku Klux Klan members. The video prompted his abrupt departure from the competition. The teen said dealing with the pressures of the show was more than he could handle.

"There's no way to emotionally prepare for Idol. Because no one is ready for it, no matter how you prepare. But I don't regret it, and I did love it," he said, later adding that "on Idol, that wasn't me. That world is so different."

Following his exit, Kennedy addressed the video in a message shared to his Instagram account, explaining that the video "displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way," though he said, "that's not an excuse." He apologized "to all my fans and everyone who I have let down…I know this has hurt and disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me. I'm so sorry!"

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Kennedy told the Herald-Journal that now that he is back home, he tries to just be himself, "but I'm also scared of someone videoing me when I go to Academy or Wal-Mart. You have to worry about things like that now." Since his exit from the competition, the young singer has been continuing with his music dreams. According to the outlet, Kennedy has been performing at a few gigs around town. He is also writing new music inspired by his experience on Idol, with one verse shared with the outlet reading, "Living like a rock star over on the west coast. Crazy how people change that claim to love you the most."