Spartanburg’s Caleb Kennedy began his journey to the hit show American Idol through a Zoom call. The 16-year-old Dorman High School student was invited to audition in front of the judges – Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan – on Oct. 28, 2020, with the show’s producers.
And so far, things have gone well for the young country crooner who fans say sings with the soul of an old man.
“I want my music to tell a story,” Kennedy has said.
His songwriting has set him apart from other contestants and impressed the judges from the start. Kennedy sang his original “Nowhere” during his first audition in front of Richie, Perry and Bryan.
Perry said in the audition, “You better finish that song “Nowhere” because that song is going to take you somewhere.”
Somewhere being straight to Hollywood after receiving the coveted golden ticket.
Here’s a rundown of how Kennedy has advanced to the Top 7 heading into Sunday’s airing at 8 p.m. on ABC:
Advanced with performance of “Real Gone” from “Cars” soundtrack
► Kennedy performed the song from his favorite Disney movie, “Cars,” and says he knew right away this would be his song for the Disney-themed night. “When I started playing it, all the memories came back of watching that movie and hearing it in the opening scenes when they were going around that track,” Kennedy said.
►All of the judges had positive feedback for Kennedy’s performance. “I think this thing is really ‘peter-panning’ out for you,” said Katy Perry, dressed as Tinkerbell. “Your energy is infectious. That song choice was perfect for you.”
►Kennedy also received direction on stage presence from celebrity mentor John Stamos during Disney Night on Idol.
Kennedy switches things up for a chance at Top 10
►The man. The myth. The mullet. “At first I didn’t recognize you because he didn’t have the hat on,” Guest judge Paula Abdul said. “Now I see the full mullet. I like it.”
►This was also the night Kennedy debuted the completed version of his original song “Nowhere,” yet again highlighting his songwriting chops, which the judges have been impressed with since his first audition.
►”You are gonna fool around here and become a great songwriter,” Richie said. “You have come to the point where that artist is coming out in you. I am so happy for you tonight.”
Performing with Jason Aldean; advancing to the Top 16
►Another big night for Kennedy was getting to meet and sing with one of his own idols, Jason Aldean during the Duet Challenge.
►Jason Aldean covers are a fan favorite at Kennedy’s gigs around Spartanburg, and he’s been known to close out his shows with “She’s Country.”
►“I tried to soak in every moment with him as best I could,” Kennedy said when asked about singing with the three-time ACM award winner. “I couldn’t tell you what I was feeling in the moment because it was a lot of emotions. It was humbling and kind of, dang, I’m going to be singing with Jason Aldean, you know.”
Caleb Kennedy’s EP surges on iTunes
►Kennedy’s new EP debuted at No. 4 in the county genre on iTunes and No. 15 among all genres.
►Currently, he has over 44,000 monthly listeners and his original release “It’ll Catch Up With Me Someday has over 200,000 hits.
►Kennedy’s four original songs across Extended Play platforms are:
- “It’ll Catch Up With Me Someday”
- “I Miss My Buddies”
- “Why Did You Leave Like That
Becoming the outlaw during the Showstopper Challenge
►One of the biggest moments for Kennedy on the show was his performance of another original “When You Leave Tonight” during the Showstopper round. This was the contestant’s first chance to sing with the “American Idol” band on stage in front of the judges, and would determine if they advanced into the Top 24.
►But Kennedy was struggling with his choice of song. He had planned – and practiced with the band – to sing the Travis Tritt song “Help Me Hold On.”
►Kennedy said he got one of those “gut feelings” the night before and changed his song choice to an original song. “I don’t think it’s a risk to sing an original song because an original song is how I got here,” Kennedy said.
►It was a huge risk. Kennedy was the only contestant to perform without the band. And it paid off. He made it into the Top 24, and his decision to change songs at the last minute and sing an original shows the kind confidence Kennedy has in himself not just as a singer, but as a songwriter.
Want to know more about Caleb?:3 things to know about ‘American Idol’ contestant, South Carolina native Caleb Kennedy
Sunday night on American Idol
► American Idol will be back with a live coast-to-coast episode as the top seven contestants perform two songs each on Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC.
►The remaining finalists will perform one song dedicated to the special loved ones in their lives in honor of Mother’s Day and a second song from the Coldplay songbook, mentored by the band’s lead singer, Chris Martin.
►Kennedy has been separated geographically from his mother, Anita Guy, during his time on Idol, but viewers were able to see their reunion during last week’s Disney Night. Guy and her husband, Marvin, surprised Kennedy at Magic Kingdom, but had to adhere to COVID-19 protocols, therefore the two were unable to hug each other. Kennedy admitted how difficult this was after such a long separation.
“Seeing my mom helped me, but it was hard,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t even get to hug her.”
How to vote
►Voting will start this week at the beginning of the episode and the top five finalists will be revealed at the end of Sunday’s episode.
► American Idol has provided three ways to cast your vote. You can vote online at AmericanIdol.com/vote, in the American Idol app, or via text. You must be at least 16 years old and located in the U.S., Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands to vote on ABC.com or in the American Idol app.
► For text message voting, text the number of the contestant you would like to vote for to “21523.” Text voting is open to all Wireless Carriers. Message and data rates may apply.
The top 7 American Idol contestants are:
- Grace Kinstler
- Casey Bishop
- Willie Spence
- Caleb Kennedy
- Chayce Beckham
- Hunter Metts
- Arthur Gunn
Ashley Dill is a native of Spartanburg and has been on staff for the Herald-Journal for 14 years. She covers community news and can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @ashleydill_shj.