Each season, American Idol shares stories of hopeful contestants. Sometimes, those stories connect with viewers emotionally. In the case of Ronda Felton, her story also connected with judge Lionel Richie in a deep way.
Felton shared that she’s 19 years old and from Milwaukee, though she lived in Arizona at the time of her audition. When asked to share something about herself, she started crying and said that her life has been hard.
“They’re tears of joy because I feel so blessed to be here with all of you,” she told American Idol judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie.
Felton Shared Her Backstory Before the Audition
Felton spoke to the American Idol producers prior to her audition, telling them that her mother was a single mom who had to work multiple jobs to keep the family provided for.
“We were homeless, we had to live in shelters and off of people’s couches and cars,” she shared. “It was pretty tough, but I had my mom, so it was okay.”
She also said that she’d attended 15 schools by the time she went to high school and she knew that her mom sometimes felt like she failed as a parent, though Felton didn’t see it that way. When asked what got her through the tough times, Felton said that her mother being with her and music were the two big things that helped.
“She likes Zoom by the Commodores,” she told Ryan Seacrest about her mother.
Felton Connected With the Judges Emotionally
Even before singing, Felton connected with the judges emotionally.
“We’ve been through a lot, and I feel like it’ll change our lives forever,” Felton told the judges about what American Idol could do for her. When she started crying, Richie handed her a handkerchief.
For her audition, Felton sang “One Night Only” by Jennifer Hudson, and Richie was moved to tears by the performance.
“Ronda, you uh, dang it, I was doing really well until you came in and did something that no one has done tonight, which is touch me to the point where I cry,” he said. “Every once in a while life happens, and then you figure ‘How do I get out of this situation?’ and God provides a crack in the wall.”
He told her that American Idol was the crack for her that could change her life.
Afterward, the judges asked Felton to bring her mother in and asked if they wanted to sing a song of celebration. When he heard that their favorite song to sing together was “Zoom” by The Commodores, Richie was touched even further and offered to sing with them.
“I personally love that song, I just love the way it makes me feel,” Felton’s mother said.
Richie shared that he wrote the song because he had been in a tough place and had no idea that it would touch people the way it did Felton and her mom. Ultimately, Felton got three “yes” votes from the judges and earned a Golden Ticket to Hollywood.
American Idol airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.