Editor’s note: This story features descriptions of gun violence.
The early American Idol audition rounds are where America has met some of their favorite singers over the past two decades. Sometimes they’re not the best vocalists, but they have a certain spark, a twinkle in their eye or a story so intriguing that the judges have to lean in and learn more.
That was definitely the case on Sunday night (Feb. 26) when 21-year-old mattress salesman Trey Louis of Santa Fe, Texas charmed the judges with his calm, playful demeanor and an impressive, twangy run through Whiskey Myers’ 2018 hit “Stone.” Sure, his stories about the NSFW questions mattress shoppers ask him were funny and his vocals had gritty soul, but Louis had much more to say following his impressive performance.
After getting a standing ovation from judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan — with the latter calling Louis’ “perfect” — Bryan asked the singer why he was there. The first reason, Louis said, was because some of his favorite singers have stood on the very same star before the nation learned who they were.
The second, however, was more emotional and it brought Perry to angry tears. Louis noted again that he’s from Santa Fe, Texas, where in May 2018 he survived a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School during which a gunman killed eight students and two teachers. “[I] lost a lot of friends,” Louis said, noting he was in an art classroom when the shooter opened fire next door before making his way into the room Louis was in.
Getting choked up as the judges flashed looks of concern, Louis looked at the ground and said, “It’s just really been negative and Santa Fe’s had a bad rap since 2018.” Bryan’s voice cracked as he praised Louis’ vocals and big heart while Perry slumped forward, sobbing into her hands as Louis asked her what was going on.
“Our country has f–king failed us,” Perry shouted while poking her finger into the judge’s desk as Louis softly added “facts.”
“This is not okay,” Katy continued through tears. “You should be singing here because you love music, not because you had to go through that f–king bulls–t. You don’t have to lose eight friends. I hope that you remind people that we have to change. Cuz, you know, I’m scared too.”
As Bryan and Richie sympathetically reached out to rub Perry on the shoulders, Louis consoled her as well, saying, “it’s terrible, Katy, it’s horrible.”
Richie weighed in as well on the daily toll of mass shootings in the country, saying, “We have tolerated this for so long, for too long. It’s become the norm”; according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been more than 80 mass shootings so far this year. Perry told Louis that she hoped he could be a leader to combat gun violence in the nation. It was, of course, a yes for Louis, who advanced to the next round after getting loving hugs from all three judges.
Watch Louis’ audition below.