‘Idol’ Judges Floored By ‘Golden Child’ Who Nearly Died Before Audition: VIDEO

Elijah McCormick auditions

ABC Elijah McCormick auditions on "American Idol" season 21 for Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan

The third week of “American Idol” auditions featured a wide range of talented singers with compelling stories, all trying to advance to Hollywood for the show’s 21st season. But of them all, Elijah McCormick of Raeford, North Carolina, had the most jaw-dropping comeback story, stunning the judges not only with his voice but with his story of surviving a gruesome car crash on the day he graduated from high school.

Appearing on the March 5, 2023, episode of “Idol,” the 21-year-old shared his harrowing story with judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan, revealing that he was set to audition for the show after his high school graduation, but hours after collecting his diploma, his life changed in an instant with an accident so horrible that he flatlined nine times.

McCormick’s soulful rendition of Rascall Flatt’s “God Bless the Broken Road” was so moving and reminded the judges so much of past contestant Willie Spence, who died one month before McCormick’s audition, that Richie said it was a moment he’ll never forget.

Elijah McCormick & His Mother Recall ‘Terrifying’ Accident and Recovery

Elijah McCormick with mom

ABCElijah McCormick with his mom on “American Idol”

Sharing his voice on a national stage had been a longtime dream for McCormick and his audition for the judges in Nashville was three years in the making. Before the audition, he told his local newspaper, The Pilot, that his secret plan after graduating from high school was to audition for “American Idol,” but he never made it.

On June 8, 2019, after collecting his diploma at his high school graduation, McCormick was in a head-on car crash less than a mile from his home. Witnesses pulled him from his wrecked car, according to The Pilot, and he was flown by helicopter to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

“Car caught on fire, I had to learn to walk again, learn to talk again,” he told the stunned “Idol” judges before his audition.

The show aired video footage captured after the crash of his car on fire and the front of his vehicle completely mangled. McCormick’s mom, Teshauna, said that when she was called to the scene, she thought her son had been involved in a fender bender.

“But when I got there, it was terrifying,” she said through tears. “I really don’t know where I’d be if he hadn’t made it.”

McCormick said he “flatlined” a total of nine times in the process of being airlifted to the hospital and during surgery. He spent 79 days in the hospital, underwent 10 surgeries including open heart surgery, and was put on dialysis. The first time he spoke, his mom said, he asked her if he could still sing.

“I’m just so thankful to be here honestly,” he told producers. “So thankful for the guardian angels that were around me that day.”

Elijah McCormick’s Audition Reminds Judges of Willie Spence

Richie was brought to tears during McCormick’s soulful rendition of “God Bless the Broken Road” and all three judges got up to give the “Idol” hopeful a hug when he was done singing.

In a chilling comparison, Bryan said, “I just gotta say it. I mean, the last person that I saw approach singing like you was Willie Spence.”

Spence, an R&B singer who was the runner-up on season 19 of “Idol,” tragically died in a car accident on October 11, 2022 — just one month before McCormick’s Nashville audition. Richie agreed with Bryan’s assessment, saying that’s why he started crying during McCormick’s performance.

“I mean, you hit one of those notes and I thought of Willie and from then on I couldn’t recover,” Richie said. “I was trying to look very dignified and then you just beat me up some more.”

“But let me just tell you this,” he continued, wiping his eyes again. “God brought you back nine times for you to do something amazing. I’m so glad you’re here with us. And that was just one of those moments in my life I will never forget.”

“You’re just here fulfilling your destiny,” Perry said after learning McCormick had originally intended to audition for them before his accident. “This was always meant to be.”

In a moment that surprised McCormick and his mom, who was brought into the audition room after he sang, Richie called him a “golden child.”

“It’s crazy you said ‘golden child,'” McCormick said. “My ID got burnt up in the car and that’s what they called me on that whole floor in the hospital.”

Perry and Richie were so shocked by this, they both leaped out of their seats. And as the judges voted him through to Hollywood, Perry said, “The golden child deserves the golden ticket!”

In fact, McCormick was actually later awarded a special Platinum Ticket, voted on by viewers as part of an ABC promotion in early December. On a special “Idol” website, the show shared videos of the audition performances by McCormick, Haven Madison, and Matt Wilson, giving Americans 24 hours to vote for their favorite. McCormick won “America’s Platinum Ticket” in the voting, earning him immunity during the first round of Hollywood Week.