It was Disney night inside the American Idol dome on Sunday night, but the Disney vibes didn’t end when the live broadcast was over. The three judges and the newly formed top eight contestants continued to talk about their connections to Disney in backstage conversations.
Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie all shared their earliest Disney memories from childhood with Billboard. Perry, still dressed as Ursula from The Little Mermaid and adorned in purple makeup, said her first Disney memory is also the first thing she remembers period. “My very first memory I’ve ever remembered in my whole life has to do with Mickey Mouse. I was on my back and my mom was changing my diaper. I’m holding my clean diaper in my hand and it spells ‘powder fresh’ and it’s the outline of Mickey Mouse’s ears.” All Billboard could say was, “Really?” And Perry replied, “Yes, isn’t that weird?” Richie interjected, “What’s weird is you said it spelled ‘powder fresh.’” Perry smiled and explained, “It was a new diaper.”
Bryan offered: “Mine was Bambi. I remember being a kid and we just had regular TV and then we got the Disney Channel. It was a big deal.” Bryan was 7 years old when the Disney Channel premiered.
Richie teased that his earliest Disney memory was from the “stone age.” “I remember when Walt Disney used to come on and had his opening speech first [on Walt Disney Presents] and then there was the the Mickey Mouse Club. I would come home from school and Annette Funicello would sing, ‘M-I-C — see you real soon!’ And by the way, there was no place else to go, so that was the highlight of my growing up.”
The top eight contestants’ first Disney memories are considerably newer — no surprise, considering their ages. “For me, it’s The Little Mermaid, for sure,” says Laci Kaye Booth. “That movie came out in 1989. I fell in love with the film and everything Disney at a young age.”
“My memory is very vivid,” says Jeremiah Lloyd Horton. “I was 4 years old. I lived in Louisiana and I watched Pocahontas every day while eating chicken noodle soup and drinking strawberry milk. I’d always cry at the end when John Smith had to leave. That was my favorite movie.”
“In kindergarten, I watched The Incredibles six times in a movie theater,” says Walker Burroughs. “I loved that movie so much and I kept going back with my parents.” Laine Hardy first thought of Finding Nemo but then recalled the movie that influenced his song choice of “Oo-De-Lally” on Disney night. “Growing up, as a family we would watch Robin Hood in the evening, on the couch.”
But Finding Nemo was the choice of Madison VanDenburg. “Watching that movie with my family is my earliest Disney memory and it was such a cool time because that film is iconic and it was a bonding experience. It’s all about family.”
Alyssa Raghu’s earliest memory has to do with a theme park, not a film. “I’m 4 years old and I’m on the carousel and I pick my favorite horse to ride. My dad, as a grown man, doesn’t really want to get on the carousel with me, but he takes the one right next to me so I can have the time of my life.”
Wade Cota also related a theme-park memory. “My earliest Disney memory is seeing Mickey and Minnie Mouse at Disneyland in Anaheim. I was 6 years old and I was crying uncontrollably. It was the scariest moment of my life and I ran away. My mom has a photo of me screaming at Mickey’s face. I promised myself I would never meet him again, and then he came walking into our green room today. It was scary.”
Alejandro Aranda, who sang the Academy Award-winning “Remember Me” from Coco, revealed his earliest Disney memory was from another Pixar film. “I remember Toy Story from when I was a kid. It’s a brilliant movie, and I watched it with my family.”
The two other finalists who performed Disney songs on Sunday night’s American Idol had other things to talk about when they met up with Billboard after the show: their elimination. “This was a great journey,” says Dimitrius Graham. “I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown as an artist. So I got a lot out of it. I’m not happy about going home. I wasn’t ready for my journey to end, but at the end of the day, American Idol has done a lot for me, so I’m super grateful and super appreciative. What I’m taking away from this is always stay true to yourself and always be genuine.”
Uché was also feeling positive. “Before the show, I was upstairs with Dimitrius and out of nowhere I started crying. One year ago, I was praying for something like this to happen. Now I can say I made the top 10 on American Idol and no one can take that away from me. I’m excited for the future. The biggest thing I’ve learned that’s going to stay with me forever is to stick to your guns, know who you are and trust your gut. Don’t pay any mind to comments or people’s opinions. What I do got me to the top 10 on American Idol. It got Lionel to get out of his chair and save me at the last second. So I’m going to keep doing what I do. Bootsy Collins called me a week ago. George Clinton called me two days ago. Rick James’ sister asked me to get her tickets for tonight’s show. Without this experience, none of that would’ve happened. At my first audition, the judges asked, ‘Who do you want to be like?’ I said, ‘Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Rick James, Prince.’ Look who’s hitting me up!”