McKenna Breinholt Was ‘Overwhelmed’ Meeting Birth Family During ‘Idol’ Audition

McKenna Breinholt

Heavy/ABC "American Idol" season 22 contestant McKenna Breinholt

McKenna Breinholt, 25, found herself in the spotlight weeks before she made her national TV debut on “American Idol.” Breinholt’s season 22 audition was featured in an emotional, four-minute preview that ABC released online two weeks before the season premiere — and the emotional video quickly went viral.

Breinholt’s audition had everything “American Idol” producers hope for. Not only did the judges love her raspy rendition of “There Was Jesus,” a Grammy-winning duet by Zach Williams and Dolly Parton, but her backstory about recently connecting online with her musically inclined birth family tugged at the heartstrings.

Unbeknownst to Breinholt — a native of Gilbert, Arizona — some of those family members came to the audition site alongside her adoptive family. They surprised the singer after she learned she’d earned a golden ticket to Hollywood. The emotional meeting triggered tears all around, including for judge Katy Perry. The video of Breinholt’s audition quickly went viral, with over 1.6 million views before the premiere aired.

“I just was so overwhelmed with happiness,” she told AZ Central about the special moment meeting her birth family in person. “There was no sadness, no anxiety, none of that. It just felt like I had already known them.”

Here’s what you need to know:

McKenna Breinholt Says She & Her Mom Were ‘Bawling Our Eyes Out’ Watching the Audition Video

Breinholt always knew she was adopted, but it was a closed adoption, so she couldn’t receive any information about her birth family until she was 21.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to find out any sooner than that,” she told AZ Central, “just because, I think, of the state of maturity I was in and just the stages of life that I was in, it wouldn’t have done me any good to know who my birth mother was and where I came from, I think.”

At 21, Breinholt learned her birth mother was Amy Ross Lopez, an Arizona-based singer who performed with the folk duo Nowhere Man and A Whiskey Girl, the outlet reported. Lopez died in October 2013 of complications from lupus.

But Breinholt connected with other members of her birth family via FaceTime, including her grandmother, and had plans to meet some of them several weeks after her audition, she told the judges during her audition.

However, her adoptive parents flew in several of those blood relatives to surprise her at the audition with them. When the judges were ready to hand Breinholt her golden ticket, they encouraged her to bring her family onto the set. Breinholt bent over in tears seeing her adoptive parents and birth family walk through the door.

It’s a moment she treasures having footage of in the viral video, and said she and her adoptive mom were “bawling our eyes out” the first time they watched it.

“We watched it probably 30 times,” she told AZ Central. “But that was just a really exciting moment to see it all come together. It was produced so beautifully. It really was nice to be able to see that my meeting with my birth family is on film and is something that I can potentially watch for the rest of my life.”

Dolly Parton & Zach Williams React to McKenna Breinholt’s Audition Featuring Their Song

As Breinholt’s audition video went viral, it caught the attention of the two stars who originally made the song she sang — “There Was Jesus” — a hit. In 2019, Williams and Parton’s tune topped Billboard’s Christian Airplay chart and reached Number 2 on the Hot Christian Songs chat, according to American Songwriter. 

Williams showed the video to Parton during a recent studio session and recorded her reaction, which he then posted on Instagram. At the end of the audition, they both offered messages of encouragement to Breinholt.

Williams said, “Hey McKenna … what an awesome thing it was to see you use our song on ‘American Idol.’ We’re just praying blessings for you and your family. So cool that you got to meet, and, man, I’m speechless.”

Parton added, “Yeah, we felt like it was a blessing for you to sing it, and I’m sure you felt like it was like a blessing to have all your people there. So that just worked all around for all of us, didn’t it? So, thanks for thinking of us and loving the song.”

Breinholt responded in the comment section with shock, writing, “I AM FREAKING OUTTTTT wow wow wow.”

Breinholt has been performing music for over a decade, with multiple singles released. She has also been a soloist for Cinematic Pop since she was 16, The Arizona-based group pairs sweeping classical music with top pop and rock lyrics in concerts and recordings.