Caleb Kennedy's 'American Idol' Exit, Explained — Why Did Caleb Leave 'American Idol'?

American Idol contestant Caleb Kennedy appeared on the show looking for fame and fortune, instead garnering notoriety. The country singer reached the Top 5 of season 19 before a prior social media post caused him to leave the show. Before making his controversy-filled exit, he quickly became a favorite with the audience and received praise from the judges.

During a Zoom call with the show's producers on Oct. 28, the 16-year-old South Carolina native auditioned in front of judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan. Several months later, Kennedy had sailed into the show's Top 5, only one performance away from the May 23 finale.

However, fans were shocked after Kennedy announced in a May 12 Instagram post that he was leaving American Idol. "Hey, y'all, this is going to be a bit of a surprise, but I am no longer going to be on American Idol," he wrote in the message. There was a video that surfaced on the internet, and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way." The singer added, "I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that's not an excuse. I want to say sorry to all my fans and everyone who I have let down." 

Kennedy continued, "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! Thank you for supporting me."

The video that surfaced was a seconds-long Tik Tok posted on Twitter that showed Kennedy seated next to a man wearing a white KKK hood. His mother, Anita Guy, said the video was recorded when he was 12."I hate this has happened and how Caleb is being portrayed by people online," Guy told the Herald-Journal. "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," she said. "He loves everyone and has friends of all races."

Judges Luke Bryan and Lionel Ritchie both commented on Caleb exiting the show, with Richie expressing in an August 2021 interview that he hoped this would be a learning experience for the teen. "We grow up, and we make mistakes, and we look at our lives behind us many, many times, and we say, 'God, what was I thinking about when I did that?' This is one of those situations," he said. Nevertheless, producers disqualified Kennedy immediatelyerasing all evidence of Kennedy's involvement in the show, removing all of his YouTube performances, and scrubbing him from the official site.

Kennedy was still making progress in his career, releasing the song 'Raised On Dirt' on YouTube in September 2021. He was lining up Nashville songwriters to collaborate with on his next album, and fans lined up to attend his first concert after the show. He was also scheduled to attend the Greenville Country Music Fest. 

Then, on February 8, 2022, Kennedy lost control of his vehicle and fatally injured a 54-year-old man as he repaired his boat near his home. He was charged with DUI in connection with the death of Larry Parris. Officials say he traveled 175 yards off the road and ran over Parris while working in the garage. The truck crashed into the garage while the vehicle continued to drag the victim. Parris died later from his injuries. Officers discovered that Caleb inhaled marijuana through a vape pen prior to driving this pickup truck.

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After appearing in court four times in an attempt to be released on bond, a judge gave Kennedy a $50,000 bond on May 20. The judge also ordered him to have mental health treatment outside of jail while on home detention.

"Very relieved Caleb got a bond. Should have never taken this long," Caleb's attorney Ryan Beasley said. "We look forward to proving this was a terrible accident caused by his medication." At a hearing on April 28, the Spartanburg County Solicitor stated that a toxicology report showed Kennedy had 1.5 ng/mL of THC and 66 ng/mL of prescribed Prozac in his system at the time of the crash.