American Idol's Luke Bryan And Lionel Richie Finally Speak Out About Caleb Kennedy's Controversial Exit

luke bryan smiling on american idol top 3 reveal
(Image credit: abc press)

For the first time in its four-season run on ABC, American Idol featured not just one but two promising contestants who surprisingly dropped out of the competition, though for very different reasons. Wyatt Pike withdrew from the series just before the live episodes began, citing personal reasons for his decision, while 16-year-old Caleb Kennedy more recently had to quit American Idol just days following his Top 5 advancement, due to a video surfacing only that showed him with someone donning a white hood similar to those worn by the Ku Klux Klan. The show's judges remained largely mum about the issue between episodes, but now Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie have broken their silence.

(Image credit: abc press)

Following the "My Personal Idol" episode that cut the contestant poll down to the Top 3, with Casey Bishop shocking being eliminated, American Idol's Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie spoke with People about Caleb Kennedy's unexpected departure. The country music singer, who recently had to ward off rumors that he was Maren Morris' baby daddy, expressed largely sympathetic feelings for the teen singer, saying:

First and foremost, as judges, we love these kids. 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.

While obviously not condoning anything that was shown in the video regarding alleged KKK-esque outfits, nor how Caleb Kennedy would be connected to such things, Luke Bryan instead reflected on his personal time and experiences with Kennedy, viewing the situation from his position as an American Idol judge. Which is about all one can expect, considering the judges likely had zero predispositions about the teenager as he made his way up the ladder of Idol success.

lionel richie smiling and waving on american idol top 3 reveal

(Image credit: abc press)

Lionel Richie's response to the situation was also one of a reflective nature, not quite excusing anything but viewing Caleb Kennedy's controversial video through the prism of making poor decisions in one's youth. In his words:

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?' This was one of those situations where we kind of give him a big hug from the three of us.

Lionel Richie went on to say that Caleb Kennedy definitely has some talent within him, and even though the decisions that led to Kennedy leaving the show had to be made, Richie thinks that the teenager will always remember this situation and the problems it caused. Perhaps Kennedy will view it as a cautionary tale. To his credit, Kennedy did quickly come out with a public apology upon announcing his departure from American Idol Season 19, and said the actions viewed in the video were not meant to be taken in the way they were, though he still accepted the responsibility of his actions. He capped the apology off with hopes that his fanbase would still trust him after the anger-causing incident.

This season of American Idol also saw Luke Bryan having to take a short time off after he contracted COVID-19, as well as former Season 19 contestant Cecil Ray getting arrested just a week after his elimination. This past week also gave way to Season 18 standout Doug Kiker, the singing garbageman, being arrested for domestic violence.

With this season having also delivered the first Comeback round due to Season 18's COVID-shortened run, American Idol is now heading into the Season 19 finale with Willie Spence, Grace Kinstler and Chayce Beckham as the three remaining hopefuls. Check out who will win when it airs on ABC on Sunday, May 23 at 8:00 p.m. ET. Once the finale is over, get ready for less singing and more 2021 Summer TV.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.