McKenna Breinholt’s American Idol Audition Delivers Tears, Talent, and A Shocking Family Reunion

For her audition in Nashville, Breinholt performed “There Was Jesus,” originally recorded by Zach Williams and Dolly Parton.


Madeleine O’Connell

| Posted on

January 31, 2024


11:16 am

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McKenna Breinholt On American Idol; Photos via YouTube

ABC has released the first full-length audition of the 2024 American Idol season, featuring contestant McKenna Breinholt. This first look gives fans a sneak peek into all the emotional journeys that are about to unfold for the next round of hopeful singers. 

A First Look At The Upcoming Season Of American Idol

The auditioner featured in the video is Breinholt, a Gilbert, AZ native with a bright personality who proudly shared her life story with judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie. 

When Perry asked the 25-year-old if her family is in music, she said “no” and then explained 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.”

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

Learning More About Her Birth Family

She went on to say that at 21 years old, she felt a strong desire to learn more about where she came from. Through this journey, McKenna 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.”

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

The aspiring artist clarified that she has only met the members of her birth family over Facetime, never in person. McKenna shared plans to finally see them in three weeks, but what she didn’t know was that she would be meeting them sooner than expected. 

“Are you nervous?” Perry asked, to which McKenna responded, “No, I feel like I’ve known them my whole life.”

Performed “There Was Jesus”

The audition continued, and the Arizona native finally got the chance to show off her talent in front of the judges. She decided to sing “There Was Jesus,” a beautiful duet by Christian rock artist Zach Williams and country icon Dolly Parton that’s all about finding peace in knowing that faith will always be there to lean on.

The RIAA Gold Certified No. 1 hit was panned by Williams with Jonathan Smith and Casey Beathard and released in 2019 as the second single from Williams’ album Rescue Story. Their powerful delivery went on to win a GRAMMY for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song at the 63rd Annual Award Show. Additionally, “There Was Jesus” earned two GMA Dove Award nominations for Song of the Year and Pop/Country Recorded Song of the Year in 2021. 


As McKenna played the piano, she beautifully captured the song’s message with her low, soulful vocals that filled the room and held so much emotion within the lyrics. 

During her performance, the camera switched to show viewers what was happening outside of the audition room. American Idol host Ryan Seacrest was talking with McKenna’s adopted family when her mom revealed that her birth family had made the trip out to Nashville to celebrate this milestone moment. 

“In a couple of weeks, we had tickets to go out to Montana, but what she doesn’t know is we brought ’em here with us tonight,” her mom shared with Seacrest who then welcomed her other family members over to join in on the interview. They stood at the door, listening intently as they awaited to hear the Judges’ feedback.

After a round of applause from the trio of superstars, Perry was first to share her thoughts on McKenna’s delivery. 

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

“You’ve got a great voice. It’s really signature and raspy and interesting. What do you think, Luke?” she asked, prompting Bryan to share his opinion. 

“You’re very in control of what you’re doing. You’re in control of being at the piano and you’re in control of singing. You’ve got that figured out. I mean, yeah. I thought it was great,” he praised. 

Richie was the last to make a statement. He said, “I love exactly what you did. I love the sound of your voice and I’m just anxious to see what you’re going to do with this.”

A Tearful Surprise

Before they shared their final decision on whether or not McKenna would make it through to Hollywood, the “Firework” singer asked her to bring her family members into the room to hear what’s expected to be good news.

As soon as she realized who was standing outside the door waiting for her, McKenna instantly broke down in tears along with the rest of her family who came into the room to embrace her in hugs. 

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

“My birth family’s here,” she told the judges through tears.

“What just happened?” Richie asked.

“I just said go get your family,” Perry added with confusion before crying a few tears of her own. 

Then the clip came to a close, signaling that viewers will have to tune into the season premiere to see if McKenna earned her golden ticket that will advance her to the next round in Hollywood. 

American Idol 2024; Photo Courtesy Disney, ABC
American Idol 2024; Photo Courtesy Disney, ABC

When Does American Idol Return?

The 2024 American Idol season will officially begin on Sunday, February 18 when the first set of auditions air on ABC. The premiere will also be available for streaming via Hulu. This marks the 22nd run of Idol in total and seven seasons on ABC. 

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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.