The second night of “American Idol” season 21 auditions were filled with emotion and stories of hope and perseverance. Among the contestants who got golden tickets from Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan were several singers whose sharing of their life experiences brought both them and the judges to tears.
Spoiler Alert: Below are the “Idol” hopefuls who secured golden tickets to Hollywood during the second episode of season 21, airing on February 26, 2023. Results from the premiere episode can be found here.
Meet the Tear Jerkers: Contestants With Stories That Moved the Judges
Multiple contestants during the second night of auditions had emotional backstories that touched the judges and helped earn them a golden ticket to Hollywood.
Jon Wayne Hatfield, 21, from Goshen, Ohio, stole the judges’ hearts with the story of his upbringing. Starting at age five, he lived with his grandparents because his mom struggled with addiction, he explained.
“My grandma was my mom,” Hatfield said. “My grandpa was always my best friend. “It was the best life you ever could ask for.”
Sadly, the country singer’s grandmother died about three years ago, he said, and his grandpa was so devastated that he talked to no one — including his grandson — for nearly a year. But once he did break his silence, Hatfield’s grandpa also revealed a secret: when he was a teenager, he told his future wife that he was gay. She told him it was okay and she loved him anyway, and they married, keeping his secret for decades.
When he finally got the courage to tell Hatfield, his grandson said he told him, “Hey, don’t think that’s going to change a damn thing between me and you because you’re my best friend, and you’re my dad.”
The judges were not only moved by the story, but also by Hatfield’s original song about the situation, called “Tell Me, Ray,” and sent him through to Hollywood.
Ashley Tankard, 22, of Durham, North Carolina, has been dreaming of being on “American Idol” since 2004. She told her local ABC affiliate, WTVD, that she was enamored with fellow North Carolinian Fantasia, who won season 3 of the show.
“Oh my gosh, Fantasia,” she said. “That is the first memory I have, one of the first memories I have, watching Fantasia win, and my family just screaming.”
Tankard first auditioned for “Idol” in 2015 when she was 15, and continued to audition every year but kept getting rejected, WTVD said. On Sunday’s episode, she said “15th time’s the charm,” as she shared through tears that she couldn’t believe she’d finally made it to audition in front of the celebrity judges.
During Sunday’s episode, Perry called her the “little engine that could.” After singing Tate McRae’s “You Broke Me First,” Perry gave her some technique notes and a chance to try again, and Richie told her how much stage fright he used to have. She got yes votes from both Perry and Richie, who encouraged her to release her fear and give it her all in Hollywood.
“If you can fight 15 times to get to this fight, then I want you to fight like hell because you have a yes from me,” Richie said, as Tankard cried and screamed with joy.
Twenty-one-year-old mattress salesman Trey Louis of Santa Fe, Texas, shared his own emotional story of surviving the 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School when he was a student there. According to ABC13, Louis was in art class when a gunman opened fire in the classroom next door. He credits student Christian Riley Garcia with saving his life by blocking the door to the closet where he was hiding.
Chris Stone, one of the students who died, was one of Louis’ best friends, so he chose his “Idol” audition song, “Stone” by Whiskey Myers in honor of him, ABC13 reported.
After his audition, which the judges loved, Louis revealed his high school experience, telling them that eight students and two teachers died in the mass shooting, which caused Perry to start sobbing.
“Our country has f***ing failed us,” she yelled through tears. “This is not okay. You should be singing here because you love music, not because you had to go through that (expletives).”
“I agree,” Louis said calmly.
With all three judges visibly emotional, they awarded Louis with a golden ticket.
Kaylin Hedges, 15, from Pound Ridge, New York, has extensive experience in local theater productions and county fairs, and in order to move her to New York to get more experience, her dad — who is in the U.S. Army — moved the family there and began years of assignments overseas.
“I don’t get to see my dad very often physically, like in person,” Hedges told producers during the episode. “He’s had to miss a lot of things. He has missed my birthday nine years ago.”
She sang “I’m Already There” by Lonestar, which she said reminds her of her dad, who she called her biggest inspiration, and received a standing ovation from all three judges. They then shared a message he had recorded for her. Hedges cried as she watched her message, and then he walked into the room to surprise her. Her mom also didn’t know her husband was there, so their reunion was also emotional for everyone.
The judges awarded Hedges the only Platinum ticket of the night, which not only advanced the teen to Hollywood, but gave her a pass during the first round of competition.
Matt Wilson is a 21-year-old soul, pop and R&B singer from Buffalo, New York, where he’s a teacher’s aide at a preschool, which Bryan said takes “a special human being” to do.
“I want to show them no matter who you are or what you look like, you can definitely do that same thing that Mr. Matt’s doing,” he said.
Wilson shared that his wife Melissa inspired him to start dreaming again, and encouraged him to sing. She shared that the first time she heard him sing was in middle school and that she wanted the world to see how much talent he had.
His audition of “For Tonight” gave Bryan goosebumps, calling it one of the most “genuine” performances he’s seen, and a standing ovation from all three judges. It was one of three auditions selected to compete for America’s vote during the American Music Awards in November 2022. Winning would have given him immunity during the first round of Hollywood Week. Though he and fellow contestant Haven Madison lost out to Elijah McCormick, he still got to walk away with a golden ticket to Hollywood.
Other Contestants Who Received Golden Tickets Literally Came From Around the World
Here are the other contestants who received golden tickets during the second night of auditions.
Sixteen-year-old McKayla Stacy of Wichita, Kansas, brought her dad along for her audition, a face familiar to longtime “Idol” fans. Phil Stacy made it into the Top 6 in 2007 and actually missed McKayla’s birth in order to audition, but met her later that day. Returning to “Idol” all these years later, producers surprised him with a virtual appearance by Paula Abdul, who was one of the original judges and a big supporter of his on the show.
Aiden Adair, 19, of Clover, South Carolina, has a large following on TikTok but was visibly nervous going into his audition, saying it was far outside his comfort zone. The judges were very interested in Adair after his cover of Finneas’ “Break My Heart Again,” but asked him to loosen up a bit, which he did on “Let It Go” by James Bay. Perry said he went from “a four to an eight in five minutes,” leading all three judges to vote yes.
Alessandra Aguirre, 20, of Lima, Peru, is a student at Berklee College of Music. She won Season 1 of “Peru’s Got Talent” in 2014 when she was 11. Alessandra has notes of jazz and soul in her style. She has released both Spanish and English songs to streaming services.
Nutsa Buzaladze, 25, is a native of the country of Georgia, but always dreamed of living in Hollywood. During her audition, her first song was a bit too overpowering and dramatic for the judges’ tastes, but her second attempt, singing “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston, impressed them. All three gave her a yes vote.
Nashville Indie pop-rock performer Carolina Kole, 25, has been playing music since she was a kid. She courageously sang Perry’s “Firework,” and when the pop star joined her at the end of the song, Kole said it was the “coolest thing that’s ever happened” in her life.
Jeverson Ramirez, 28, known as Jeverson, grew up in St. George’s, Grenada, and is now based in Nashville. Jeverson mixes his “Island roots” with Reggae, Soul/Funk and pop, according to his YouTube profile. Before his audition, he said he was thrilled to be the first Grenadian to hit the “Idol” stage.
Stefan Benz, 16, is originally from Centurion, South Africa, and now lives in Los Angeles. Stefan sang a cover of “One Last Cry” by Brian McKnight.
The third night of “American Idol” auditions will air next Sunday, March 5 at 8 p.m. Eastern time.