Dolly Parton & Zach Williams React To McKenna Breinholt’s Moving ‘American Idol’ Audition

McKenna performed a beautiful rendition of Williams’ and Parton’s GRAMMY-winning duet, “There Was Jesus.”


Madeleine O’Connell

| Posted on

February 8, 2024


12:57 pm

Share on:

Zach Williams, Dolly Parton, McKenna Breinholt; Photos Courtesy of Instagram, YouTube

When aspiring singer McKenna Breinholt stepped into her American Idol audition for the 2024 season, she seemingly won over all three of the judges with her touching life story and her stunning vocals. A few days after the video was released by ABC, another set of well-respected artists took to social media to share their reaction to her performance. 

Breinholt opted to showcase her skills by playing the piano and singing Zach Williams and Dolly Parton’s faith-filled duet, “There Was Jesus,” a GRAMMY winning, RIAA Gold Certified No. 1 hit that was released in 2019 as the second single from Williams’ album Rescue Story. 

Dolly Parton’s First Reaction Caught On Camera

Williams first caught wind of the audition and then brought Dolly in to hear her thoughts. Knowing the country music icon would likely be just as impressed in Breinholt’s song choice, he sat down to film a raw reaction video with her. 

“The other day I was working with @dollyparton and we watched @mckennafaithbreinholt ’s audition performance of our song ‘There Was Jesus’ on American Idol. Dolly saw it for the first time so we filmed this reaction,” he wrote in the caption on Instagram. 

“It’s awesome seeing this song continue to bless people from so many different angles. Big thanks to @americanidol,” he added.

While donning their matching leather jackets, the pair of artists watched the 25-year-old’s audition unfold on the small phone screen in front of them. 

McKenna Breinholt; Photo Courtesy YouTube American Idol
McKenna Breinholt; Photo Courtesy YouTube American Idol

McKenna Breinholt Opens Up About Her Adoption Story

Breinholt went on to explain to judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie that she was adopted and never got to know her birth mother. 

“I found out I was adopted as early as I was able to understand it. My mom struggled for several years trying to get pregnant and eventually, they decided to go through the adoption process. I have the best family in the world, they have always supported me.”

At 21 years old, she felt a strong desire to learn more about where she came from and amid her search, she discovered that her birth mom, Amy Ross Lopez, was a musician who had passed away.

“I just wanted to know where I came from,” she said honestly. 

Although she never got to meet her birth mom, McKenna excitedly shared that she did find the rest of her birth family last summer and realized that she does in fact come from a house full of people who have the same passion for music. 

“I came into contact with my entire birth family, and I found out that they all sing, all of them.”

Performed “There Was Jesus”

McKenna Breinholt; Photo Courtesy YouTube American Idol
McKenna Breinholt; Photo Courtesy YouTube American Idol

As soon as she announced she would be singing “There Was Jesus,” Parton and Williams turned to each other and shared an excited glance. They continued watching as she beautifully made the song her own. 

“I like the rasp,” Williams said in reference to her gritty vocals.

The heartwarming story continued outside of the audition room where the video showed Breinholt’s birth family joining her adopted family for a surprise appearance. This moment clearly moved the “Jolene” singer as she smiled and said, “well that’s great to be a part of that,” before noting how “sweet” it was watching a member of her birth family listening to the performance so intently through the closed doors. 

Both artists silently began humming along with the final notes of Breinholt’s delivery and Parton even clapped her hands together once she stood up from the piano, signaling a job well done. 

Receiving Support On Her Idol Journey

Perry then prompted Breinholt to bring her family in to hear their final decision on whether or not she will be sent onto the next round and in doing so, she came face to face with her birth family and instantly broke down in tears.

Parton commented on the wonderful situation, noting how “overwhelming” the moment must have been for Breinholt as she’s flooded with all these emotions.

They ended the video with a round of supportive messages for the hopeful Idol contestant. 

“What an awesome thing it was to see you use our song on American Idol. We’re just praying blessings for you and your family. So cool that you got to meet and man, speechless,” Williams said.

“We felt like it was a blessing for you to sing it and I’m sure you felt like it was a blessing to have all your people there, so that just worked all around for all of us, didn’t it?” Parton added.  “So thanks for thinking of us and loving this song.”

Williams concluded by saying, “We just want to wish you luck and hope you get number one.” 

When Is The “American Idol” Season Premiere?

Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie; Photo Courtesy American Idol, ABC/Eric McCandless
Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie; Photo Courtesy American Idol, ABC/Eric McCandless

While all three of the judges – as well as Dolly Parton and Zach Williams – appeared to be pleased with McKenna Breinholt’s audition, viewers will have to tune into the Season 7 premiere on Sunday, February 18 to see if she earned a golden ticket. The singing competition will air on ABC at 8/7c PM and will also be available for streaming via Hulu. 

Share on:

Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.