'American Idol': Luke Bryan Overwhelmed With Tears After Autistic Singer's Audition
The American Idol judges needed a box of tissues during Sunday night's episode when Sam Finelli performed. He performed a powerful rendition of Kacey Musgraves' "Rainbow," which had Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan in tears. Finelli, 28, is autistic and spoke about the power of music in his life before taking the stage.
The Peachtree Corners, Georgia native said he "was always different" as a kid. "It was lonely growing up, but music was like my best friend," Finelli explained. His mother, who went to the audition with him, said Finelli is high-functioning and struggles to connect with others. He has loved American Idol for most of his life, but he only recently found the confidence to audition. Before performing for the judges, he only sang during local karaoke nights.
"I kind of shy away from singing with people," Finelli said, notes USA Today. "Right now, I sing in my bedroom. Right now, I sing in my basement. Right now, I sing in my shower. I'm afraid I'm not good enough... but I wanted to give it a shot."
After performing "Rainbow," Finelli earned a standing ovation from the three judges. As Finelli began to tear up himself, Richie told him they were "so proud of you," assuring him, "Sam, you were born enough... Do you understand me? You are enough."
Perry felt "Rainbow" was the "perfect" song for Finelli. "There's always been a rainbow hanging over your head," Perry said. "All that you have to do is let go of all that fear and that negativity and always sing from your heart. That's all you have to do. And that's exactly what you did just then."
Bryan compared Finelli's audition to an "experience" and thanked him for coming. After all three judges voted yes to send Finelli to Hollywood, they were still tearing up. "Luke Bryan has lost it," Perry said as Bryan wiped his tears. "If you're gonna go ugly cry in the bathroom, me too."
This week's episode featured another legacy singer. Cadence Baker, the 18-year-old granddaughter of country music singer Gary Baker, performed Whitney Houston's "I'm Your Baby Tonight" with her father on guitar. Baker earned praise from the judges, with Bryan calling her performance "one of the best auditions I've seen." Baker earned a golden ticket to Hollywood.
This season's auditions also featured a performance from Grace Franklin, the 15-year-old granddaughter of Aretha Franklin. She did not get a golden ticket, as the judges felt she needed more time to develop her voice. Kenedi Anderson, the daughter of East Carolina University director of player personnel and recruiting Justin Anderson, got the second platinum ticket of the season.
American Idol started its 20th season on Feb. 27. The next new episode airs on Monday, March 21 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC and is the final audition episode of the season. The first Hollywood Week episode airs on March 28. Past episodes are available to stream on Hulu.