Jon Wayne Hatfield auditioned for American Idol with an original song of love and courage for his grandpa Ray, who recently came out as gay.
The 21-year-old guitar-slinging Ohio native made his way into the audition room and began to chat with Idol judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan, about his upbringing in Ohio.
He explained that he was raised by his grandparents due to his mom’s struggles with addiction. He was especially close with his grandfather, who accompanied him to his audition.
Moments before performing his original tune, “Tell Me Ray,” the judges asked Jon Wayne Hatfield to invite his grandfather to join them in the room.
“I think he’s going to sing a song he wrote about you,” Perry told his grandfather, Ray.
As tears filled his eyes, Ray shared, “Yeah, I know. It’s a tough one.”
Jon Loves His Grandfather No Matter What
Jon then reflected on the loss of his grandmother and shared how events following her death led him to write “Tell Me Ray.”
“I lost my grandma about three years ago. After losing her, watching my grandpa was the hardest thing. He lost his best friend in 50 years. He wouldn’t talk to anybody for about the first year and a half, not even me,” Jon recalled. “I got mad at myself because I couldn’t fix it, and he wasn’t ready, and I understand that. I didn’t see what he was actually going through.”
After time passed, Ray revealed that he was gay, and that moment inspired Jon to write a song.
“Jon is the last person I told because I was scared he’d stop loving me,” Ray honestly shared.
Jon promised that he loves his grandfather no matter what. “I just wanted to put it out there right away like, ‘Hey, don’t think that’s going to change a damn thing between me and you, because my best friend, and you’re my dad.’”
A Meaningful Song
The song helped Ray feel welcome and believe in himself.
“It’s a big relief to stand here and be proud and say I’m gay and there’s nothing wrong with it,” Ray said. “My grandson, he’s my rock.”
He went on to honor his grandpa with a special performance of the tune in front of the star-studded panel of judges.
“Tell me Ray / why don’t you face your fears and hold back your tears / tell me Ray / tell me Ray / why did you wait so long to tell me what was wrong / tell me Ray / cause if I knew what was wrong / I could help you move on / you can’t do it all yourself / we’ve had plenty of time / so keep me in mind / so tell me Ray / we’re you too scared to move on or sad that she’s gone,” Jon sang.
Judges Praise Jon
Jon’s performance received a standing ovation from the Idol judges.
Lionel Richie was so moved by Ray’s bravery that he gifted him his personal handkerchief.
“Oh my God. I don’t normally do this. Ray, you need my handkerchief,” Richie stated. ”Oh my God. I don’t give those out to you, but to special people. You are a hell of an inspiration man.”
Richie then told Ray, “You know, part of us as people, we have to be encouraged and a lot of us don’t get a lot of encouragement. A lot of us have to fight for it, and to have that kid write a song about you is just pretty special.”
The GRAMMY Award-winning singer then acknowledged Jon’s ability to tell stories through his music.
“Great songwriting,” Richie said, praising Jon’s knack for writing lyrics.
Jon Wayne Hatfield’s audition reminded Luke Bryan of what he loves most about being a judge on Idol.
“What I love about being a part of this show is people come in and bare their souls in front of us and people at home that may be dealing with the same stuff get to realize that they’re not alone. You know, It just starts a real nice…” Bryan explained.
“It starts to make us all feel like maybe we’re all one,” Katy Perry added.
“Yeah. Maybe we’re, yeah, maybe we’re not on an island on our own. And you guys being able to handle it and sing about it and tell your story in front of us is pretty amazing. And listen, just the way you hit the first note on the guitar…” Bryan shared, before Perry chimed in “we knew there was a beast.”
Bryan admitted, “We knew the way that you play the guitar… We can all tell that you’ve got the time in and you really showcased the right foundation of what we’re looking for.”
Perry gushed over his genuine storytelling abilities.
“What you shared with us today was so authentic, so beautiful. You’re a songwriter. Amen. You’re a songwriter. You’ve got a story to tell. You’ve got so many stories inside of you,” Perry exclaimed.
The “Firework” singer then address Jon’s grandfather. “It’s never too late Ray, welcome to the club, honey. Not everyone gets to live their authentic life. Good for you,” Perry said.
Jon Wayne Hatfield ultimately earned a golden ticket and advanced to Hollywood.
“You’re going to Hollywood,” the judges shouted in unison.
American Idol returns on Sunday, February 26 at 8/7c on ABC.