Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie Break Silence on Caleb Kennedy’s ‘American Idol’ Exit

“We want the best for Caleb,” Bryan shared.


Lauren Jo Black

| Posted on

May 18, 2021

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Luke Bryan, Caleb Kennedy, Lionel Richie; Photos via ABC, American Idol

American Idol judges Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie are speaking out following Top 5 contestant Caleb Kennedy’s exit from the competition

Prior to Sunday’s emotional semi-final episode, Kennedy announced he was leaving the show following the leak of a controversial video online.  

Bryan and Richie broke their silence on the situation and shared their hopes for Kennedy’s future. 

“First and foremost, as judges, we love these kids,” Bryan told People. “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.”

Richie added, “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 went on to compliment Kennedy’s vocal abilities. 

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

Caleb Kennedy; Photo by ABC/ American Idol
Caleb Kennedy; Photo by ABC/ American Idol

Kennedy shared his decision to leave show on social media on Wednesday (May 12). His letter to fans came after a video showing him with someone who appears to be wearing a hood similar to that of the Ku Klux Klan surfaced online. 

“Hey y’all, this is gonna be a bit of a surprise, but I am no longer gonna be on American Idol,” Kennedy’s statement began. “There was a video that surfaced on the internet and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way. I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that’s not an excuse.”

The South Carolina native was reportedly 12 years old at the time the video was filmed. His mother, Anita Guy, spoke out about the video in an interview with a local newspaper. 

“I hate this has happened and how Caleb is being portrayed by people online,” she told the Herald-Journal.

According to Guy, the hood was inspired by the movie The Strangers: Prey at Night. 

“[The hood] had nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan, but I know that’s how it looks,” she added. “Caleb doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. He loves everyone and has friends of all races.”

Kennedy shared that he would be stepping away from the spotlight following the controversy. 

“I wanna say sorry to all my fans and everyone who I have let down,” he wrote. “I’ll be taking a little time off social media to better myself, but saying that, I know this has hurt and disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me. I’m so sorry! I pray that I can one day regain your trust in who I am and have your respect! Thank you for supporting me.”

Throughout the American Idol season, he performed songs such as  “Midnight Train to Memphis” by Chris Stapleton,  “On the Road, Again” by Willie Nelson and even sang a duet with country superstar Jason Aldean. 

Earlier this season, Katy Perry referred to the 16-year-old as country music’s next “outlaw.” 

“You just have like this grit, this real country,” she said at the time. “You are becoming the outlaw…”

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Lauren Jo Black

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Lauren Jo Black

Lauren Jo Black, a University of Central Florida graduate, has immersed herself in the world of country music for over 15 years. In 2008, she co-founded CountryMusicIsLove, eventually selling it to a major record label in 2015. Following the rebranding of the website to Sounds Like Nashville, Black served as Editor-in-Chief for two and a half years. Currently, she assumes the role of Editor-in-Chief at Country Now and oversees Country Now’s content and digital footprint. Her extensive experience also encompasses her previous role as a Country Music Expert Writer for and her work being featured on She’s been spotlighted among Country Aircheck’s Women of Influence and received the 2012 Rising Star Award from the University of Central Florida. Black also spent time in front of the camera as host of Country Now Live, which brought live music directly to fans in 2021 when the majority of concerts were halted due to the pandemic. During this time, she hosted 24 weeks of live concerts via Country Now Live on Twitch with special guests such as Lady A, Dierks Bentley, Jordan Davis, Brett Young, and Jon Pardi. Over the course of her career, she has had the privilege of conducting interviews with some of the industry’s most prominent stars, including Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Lainey Wilson, and many others. Lauren Jo Black is a longtime member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.