“American Idol” is back!
ABC’s singing competition returned Sunday night with a premiere that saw Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie back in the (socially distanced) judges’ seats. But they weren’t the only familiar faces.
Claudia Conway, the 16-year-old daughter of former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and attorney George Conway, a fierce Trump critic, walked into the “Idol” audition room hoping to score a prized golden ticket to Hollywood.
Accompanied by her dad, the teen showed off her vocal chops while getting personal about her upbringing.
“It’s a lot, but, you know, I only want to spread love,” she told the judges. “I love a compromise, and I do agree to disagree with my mom and my dad.”
Before her audition, Conway shared a moment with her mother, who appeared remotely on a large screen. When her daughter admitted to feeling nervous, Kellyanne replied, “You should be nervous, honey.”
“It’s a very humbling experience,” Kellyanne continued. “But remember, honey, winners are people who are willing to lose.”
Claudia opened up to the judges about her complicated relationship with her mom.
“She loves me. I love her,” the teen said. “I feel like our relationship’s a little iffy. Most of my life, my feelings had been suppressed, so then I got social media, and I was like ‘Well, damn. Now my voice is being heard.’ “
Conway currently has more than 1.7 million followers on TikTok and has made national headlines for posting videos on the site critical of former President Donald Trump.
“The internet can be a very, very dark place, but when life is all going downhill, I have my music,” she said. “Now I kind of want to get out of the controversy, get out of the drama, get out of the political whatever, and let people know that I am a singer and that this is what I want to do.”
Claudia Conway looks for a ‘golden ticket’ with ‘American Idol’ audition: ‘Music is my passion’
After the heartfelt introduction, it was time to put Conway’s voice to the test. The teen sang “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna, but was interrupted by Perry after a rocky start.
“OK, that song, you lost it,” the judge said, before urging Conway to take off her sparkly high heels, which the teen said were tripping her up. Conway got a chance to redeem herself with a performance of Adele’s “When We Were Young.”
Before she started again, Perry gave an emotional pep talk.
“When you sing this next song, think about when you were young, and go back to that time,” Perry said. “There’s a sadness there. It’s like, you lost your youth, because you weren’t able to experience it on your own, without all of this noise.”
The “Firework” singer continued: “Your dad’s your dad. Your mom’s your mom. Who is Claudia? You have to calm the storm that is around you, ’cause if you sing like you want to read the social media comments afterwards, you’re only ever gonna be a TikTok star. We want an American Idol.”
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As Conway channeled her past for her second chance, her dad listened from outside the audition room.
“I couldn’t imagine anything that would make her happier than to do this,” he said, wiping tears from his face.
But were the judges as moved?
Bryan said Conway was limited by her range. Richie said her second song was better than her first, showing she could improve with coaching. Perry suggested Conway unplug from social media to let her voice shine through.
“There’s a lot of noise in your life,” she said. “Before you sing, you need to get off your phone. You need to stop reading your comments. Push it aside. Because if not, you may not ever rise above your dad or your mom. It’s your choice.”
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Then it was time to vote.
Bryan was a no. Perry was a yes. Which meant it all came down to Richie.
“I think what you’re doing right now is stepping forward and announcing who you are,” he said. “You chose music. I’m gonna give you a shot at music. It’s a yes for me.”
And just like that, Conway earned her spot in the next round. She showed off the golden ticket to her mom, who screamed and did a dance to celebrate.
Conway wasn’t the only one to score a golden ticket. She’ll be joined in Hollywood by former “The Four: Battle for Stardom” contestant Jason Warrior, fellow TikToker Benson Boone and college student Grace Kinstler, among other standout performers.
Auditions continue next Sunday (8 EST/PST).
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