Watch Emotional American Idol Audition From Daughter Of AGT And The Voice Vet Nolan Neal, Who Died Last Year

Cay Aliese on American Idol and Nolan Neal on America's Got Talent.
(Image credit: ABC/NBC)

Artists who audition for American Idol often bring stories of their past struggles in order to give the judges some context to their journeys, and it’s definitely not rare to see the judges — Katy Perry, in particular — shed a few sympathetic tears for what the singers have overcome to get to where they are. One woman who stepped in front of Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie to try to earn a spot on Season 21 of the competition show had an especially touching story, as she paid tribute to her father Nolan Neal, a former contestant on America’s Got Talent and The Voice, who passed away in 2022.  

Cay Aliese performed her own song, “City of Nashville,” in front of the American Idol panel just months after Nolan Neal died at the age of 41 from a drug overdose, according to his daughter. You can watch her emotional audition below: 

It must have been a truly special moment for the singer to honor her late father like that, with an original song on national television. She was candid about Nolan Neal’s struggles and how it affected her perception of the music business for a long time. She said:

Seeing my dad in the music industry actually made me not want to pursue music for a long time, but since his passing, it just feels like all I want to do is music. It makes me miss it more, it makes me miss him, and it also makes me feel closer to him in a way.

Photos showed Nolan Neal helping Cay Aliese produce some of her original music as well as the father/daughter duo singing together when she was young. She talked about it being tragic that he had so many opportunities for his story to have a different ending. Her dad was a light to other people, the artist said, but “he couldn’t find that for himself.” 

She told the judges that continuing his legacy on American Idol — after he made appearances on The Voice and America’s Got Talent — felt like she was paying tribute to his journey while still forging her own path. Cay Aliese said: 

Going into that audition room feels like I’m honoring my dad, and I’m closing his chapter but starting my own. I just know he’d be so, so excited.

Following the audition, Katy Perry said she was on the fence about Cay Aliese advancing to Hollywood, and Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan agreed that while she had a good voice, they all struggled to connect with her emotionally. In the end, they agreed they’d seen enough to put her through, so we’ll see Aliese continue her American Idol journey in the next round.

Nolan Neal was found dead in his Memphis, Tennessee, home July 18, 2022. The singer appeared on Season 11 of The Voice on NBC, as a member of Adam Levine’s team in 2016, after receiving a Four-Chair Turn with his Blind Audition cover of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." He was eliminated in the Knockouts.

Four years later, the singer appeared on Season 15 of NBC’s America’s Got Talent, where he discussed his battles with addiction. He told the panel that he'd been clean since 2015, before performing his original song "Lost," which he said was inspired by his fight.

Tune in to see how far Cay Aliese can go on American Idol, with new episodes of Season 21 airing at 8 p.m. ET Sundays on ABC. You can also check out our 2023 TV schedule to see what other premieres are coming soon. 

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Heidi Venable is a Content Producer for CinemaBlend, a mom of two and a hard-core '90s kid. She started freelancing for CinemaBlend in 2020 and officially came on board in 2021. Her job entails writing news stories and TV reactions from some of her favorite prime-time shows like Grey's Anatomy and The Bachelor. She graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in Journalism and worked in the newspaper industry for almost two decades in multiple roles including Sports Editor, Page Designer and Online Editor. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.