'American Idol' Judges on That Dramatic Save: 'We Didn't Envision Jeremiah and Laci Being In That Spot'

Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon
ABC/Eric McCandless

Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon performs on American Idol.

"I think we surprised ourselves," Luke Bryan told Billboard after the judges used their once-a-season save in dramatic fashion on Sunday (May 5) night's live broadcast of American Idol. "We didn't envision Jeremiah [Lloyd Harmon] and Laci [Kaye Booth] being in that [endangered] spot. When we're watching the show, we're so proud of all of them. We're not realizing this terrible moment is about to be upon us. And in that moment, we have to look back over their whole body of work from the day they walked in. And we're making a fast decision and we have to go with our gut."

Standing next to Bryan, Lionel Richie elaborated, "Let me put a twist on it the other way. We were choosing between the two that didn't get the most votes. Stop right there. America had already picked the group you just saw sitting in those chairs. We were so in shock that they went that way that it was a curve ball, but the initial vote from America was [that Harmon and Booth] were not in the running."

Joining the conversation, Katy Perry added, "We're literally going off of performance, of knowing what it takes to be in this world and make it work. It's not just who's going to win this competition. We want to set someone up to be a mega-star."

"Have you heard Adam Lambert's voice?" Richie interjected. "He got thrown off. And Jennifer [Hudson]? Got thrown off. So what are we talking here?" "We want to make sure Jeremiah understands that we love him unconditionally and it's written in the stars for him," Perry continued. "This isn't about rejection. It's about the fact that one person gets this spot, which is insane because we've had a 10-person roster that are bona-fide stars."

Billboard pointed out that pastor's daughter Perry had talked about her connection with pastor's son Harmon. "Yes," she acknowledged. "People probably thought we were going to go in that direction. But they're two different things and it was so hard." Bryan concluded, "We were back and forth, back and forth."

Shortly after Billboard's conversation with the judges, Harmon arrived backstage to talk about his minutes-old elimination. Did he think he was going home before the judges' decision? "You've got to be prepared for whatever happens," he replied. "I was really surprised that I didn't go home last week. I've been waiting weeks to sing 'Somewhere' and I told myself I've got to get as far as it takes to sing that song. It's beautifully written and it's a part of a larger narrative that I've been leaning into since my first audition. My song 'Almost Heaven' asks, 'Will there be a place that you and I can call home?' And last week for Queen ["Who Wants to Live Forever"] I was asking that same question saying, 'There is no place for us. There is no time for us.' And to me, this was like the antithesis to last week. It's all a part of a larger narrative that I'm really interested in with my music. That's why I chose that song."

And when Ryan Seacrest asked Perry if the judges were going to use their save, what was Harmon thinking as he stood onstage with Booth, knowing that one or both of them were going home? "It was interesting in that moment, because we hadn't seen a save yet. My mind was racing, 'What are they thinking? What are they saying? I want to know.' And when they said Laci's name, and everybody was cheering, it was a crazy moment. It was very weird. I was just thinking whatever happens is meant to be."

Now that he is no longer in the competition, Harmon is already thinking about what is next for him. "I have a hunger to make an album. I'm giddy about it, so that's what I'm most excited about. I've already started it. I can't wait to get a single out."

Harmon's personal story has been compelling, as he spoke candidly during the season about coming out as a gay man and not finding acceptance from his parents. Then his mother and father attended the April 28 live broadcast and expressed their support and love for their son. "They're very proud of me," Harmon told Billboard. "There's still so much growth to be had. Looking back and seeing how far we've come in the last six months, I think the most important thing that we've been focusing on together is that we don't have to agree on everything, but we can still love each other and be in the same space. I'm excited that is happening. I've been able to share this journey with so many other people. It's been wild and it's just the beginning."


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