‘American Idol’ Judges Speak Out on Caleb Kennedy’s Exit

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During the live semi-final episode of American Idol on Sunday night (May 16), one glaring line-up change went unaddressed. The show was originally billed to feature the season’s Top 5 contestants, but only four Idol hopefuls wound up performing, as Caleb Kennedy had abruptly left the show days prior.

Kennedy’s departure came after a Snapchat video surfaced which showed him as a pre-teen, sitting next to someone who was wearing a hood similar to those worn by Ku Klux Klan members. Some versions of the video show the word “bow” written across the screen.

Though the show’s judges didn’t comment on the video or Kennedy’s exit during the episode, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan both offered their thoughts to People afterwards, describing the decision to cut Kennedy from the show as unfortunate, but necessary.

“He definitely has a talent. The problem is, this is one of those unfortunate decisions that had to be made and we move on,” Richie says. “But this will be remembered in his lifetime and he’ll know what it’s all about.”

He also expressed empathy for Kennedy. “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,” Richie adds.

Bryan pointed out that the decision to remove Kennedy from Idol wasn’t made lightly. “We get emotionally involved with these kids. We want the best for Caleb,” the country superstar stresses

“… 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,” he continues. “But we wish nothing but the best for Caleb. It does make for a very, very challenging and upsetting week.”

Directly after his exit from American Idol, Kennedy explained the situation on his social media, apologizing to those he let down and accepting accountability for his actions. “I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that’s not an excuse,” he said of the video, adding, “I’ll be taking a little time off social media to better myself.”

The teenaged Idol hopeful’s mother spoke to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in his home state of South Carolina, saying the video in question was taken when Kennedy was 12 years old. She added that when he filmed it, he had recently watched the 2018 movie The Strangers: Prey at Night, and that he and his friend were imitating those characters. She said that he did something similar after watching V For Vendetta.

The Herald-Journal reports that it had obtained the original version of the video and could verify that it did not originally contain the word “bow” on the screen, nor did it have background music. Those additions, the paper asserts, were made by viewers after it was first posted.

See Country Stars On American Idol, Then + Now:

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