After Sunday night’s (May 16) semi-final, American Idol judges Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie discussed the controversy surrounding a video that led to finalist Caleb Kennedy’s exit from the show last week.
Kennedy was slated to join semi-finalists Grace Kinstler, Willie Spence, Chayce Beckham and Casey Bishop on Sunday night’s show featuring mentor Finneas, but he was removed after a video surfaced of him sitting next to a friend who was wearing what appeared to be a Ku Klux Klan hood.
“First and foremost, as judges, we love these kids,” Bryan told People magazine after Sunday’s show. “We get emotionally involved in these kids. We want the best for Caleb. As far as the nuances on how ABC gets viewed, either way, decisions got made and it’s our job as judges to show up and do our best job and comment on the kids who are in front of us. But we wish nothing but the best for Caleb. It does make for a very, very challenging and upsetting week.”
Idol and ABC didn’t initially comment on Kennedy’s ouster, though the 16-year-old Roebuck, S.C., high school student did tweet about it last Wednesday. “Hey y’all, this is gonna be a bit of a surprise, but I am no longer gonna be on American Idol,” he wrote. “There was a video that surfaced on the internet and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way. I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that’s not an excuse. I wanna say sorry to all my fans and everyone who I have let down.”
Richie seconded Bryan’s emotion, and appreciated Kennedy’s public remorse about his past choices. “A lot of times, we think about it, we grow up and we make mistakes and we look at our life behind us many times and we say, ‘God, what was I thinking about when I did that?'” Richie said. “This was one of those situations where we kind of give him a big hug from the three of us. He definitely has a talent. The problem is, this is one of those unfortunate decisions that had to be made and we move on. But this will be remembered in his lifetime and he’ll know what it’s all about.”
Kennedy said he’d be taking time off social media in the wake of the controversy to “better” himself, acknowledging that he had “disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me.” Spence, Kinstler and Beckham will battle for the season 19 title during a three-hour finale on ABC on Sunday (May 23).