American Idol Reunites Contestant With Estranged Birth Family in Season 22 Premiere — Watch and Weep

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American Idol (aka Moms Crying) returned for Season 22 on Sunday with one of its most emotionally manipulative premieres yet. And we mean that as a compliment.

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Let’s start with the story everyone’s going to be talking about, the one that would cause Kristin Wiig’s Aunt Sue to lose her damn mind. Sunday’s premiere ended with an audition from 25-year-old McKenna Breinholt, who was unaware that her estranged birth family was waiting outside the door, ready to surprise-meet her for the first time. Seriously, just imagine Aunt Sue at this moment. (“She’s in there? And you’re out here? And she doesn’t know?!”)

McKenna’s smoky, heartbreaking performance of Dolly Parton and Zach Williams’ “There Was Jesus” earned her a no-duh ticket to Hollywood, and her unexpected family reunion was exactly the flood of emotions you’d think it would be. But Idol wasn’t finished with us. Not by a long shot. The show then decided to twist the knife by having McKenna perform an original song written by her late birth mother, Amy Ross Lopez, surrounded by her new grandmother, father and sisters. When Amy’s mother said it was like hearing a “beautiful ghost,” Aunt Sue would have jumped off the roof.

And how dare Idol finish the segment with an old clip of Amy singing, revealing a haunting similarity in her and McKenna’s voices. Producers, you will be hearing from our therapist.

Of course, this was just one standout moment from the first episode of Katy Perry’s final American Idol season. Read on for a list of other contestants worth discussing, then vote for your favorite contestant(s) of the night:


We were instantly enamored with this Niall Horan/Machine Gun Kelly hybrid. Sure, the British charmer lost a few points when he revealed that he’s a professional TikTok prankster (“That’s a dealbreaker, ladies!”), but he earned them all back when he showed a tattoo of his mom’s initials on his arm. We got worried again for a second when he said he was also into magic, but that ring trick was pretty slick, so we’ll let it slide. For now.

Anyway, there’s obviously a “u” missing from Mackenzie’s last name, because this guy can sing his beautiful face off. There was so much soul in his mature performance of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home,” which took all three judges completely by surprise. Speaking of surprises, Mackenzie’s audition ended with the “totally unexpected” arrival of his mom, whom he specifically asked not to come because he worried about getting too nervous. Suddenly he’s crying, his mom’s crying, we’re all crying!


Luke Bryan was worried about being out-countried by this 15-year-old crooner before he even sang a note of Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up,” and those fears only became more valid as Triston plowed through his audition with a vocal maturity beyond his years. We were actually surprised that the judges were so critical of him — Katy noted that it “wasn’t perfect,” while Luke offered him lessons in technique — but they saw enough potential to send him through. “You’re a shotgun,” Katy told him. “Just watch where you’re aiming it.” OK, Confucius.


Imagine Elle Woods working at a mortuary, and you’ve got Kennedy, a walking ray of sunshine amid an environment of gloom and grief. She even has her own Paulette in the form of her bestie Jean Ann, who accompanied her on the piano for her performance of Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.” But it wasn’t that audition which earned Kennedy a ticket to Hollywood — it was an impromptu duet with Luke, which showcased more of her natural musical abilities.

Look, if this music thing doesn’t pan out, someone needs to get the rights to Kennedy’s life story. That’s a Drop Dead Diva-meets-Pushing Daisies comedy waiting to happen right there.


One of the more refreshing auditions of the night came from this easygoing teen, rightfully predicted as an early top 10 contender after her impressive take on Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” What was our favorite part about Meggie’s audition? Not her soft, breezy vibe. Not even those gorgeous runs, or that powerful ending. No, it was that she managed to completely win us over to her side with absolutely no backstory or gimmicks. Simply talent? Imagine!

We’re also low-key obsessed with her name. In a world of Maggies, be a Meggie.

AJII, 27

We love a good surprise, so when this teddy bear opened his mouth and released the roar of a grizzly, we were thrilled. This premiere was full of great voices, but Ajii’s sound is exciting in a way unlike any others. You could see the judges going through it during his performance of Teddy Swims’ “Lose Control”: Luke had a huge smile plastered on his face the entire time, Katy went full Kombucha Girl as she processed what she was hearing, and Lionel Richie was feverishly scribbling down notes like the rats in The Muppet Christmas Carol. A big yes to this man.


This Minnesota Vikings wide receiver’s career in the NFL ended abruptly when he “tore a bunch of stuff,” with doctors saying it would be a miracle if he ever ran again. He credits music and his grandmother with saving him, so it was only right that she should be standing beside him during an unexpectedly beautiful performance of Brett Young’s “In Case You Didn’t Know.”

(OK, a mama’s boy is one thing. But a grandma’s boy? Step aside, Mackenzie Sol, we have a new favorite.)


First of all, we love any contestant who can casually work their trauma from high school theater into their audition. Period. Also, whoever didn’t cast Micaela as Fantine in Les Misérables deserves to have their teaching certification revoked. Exclamation point.

Anyway, wow. Micaela’s slowed-down ballad version of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” filled the room and tickled the judges’ souls. She was one of the few performers who really felt like an artist. We wish her well.


This young father of five (!) grew up singing in church, which came as no surprise during his spirited performance of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me.” Yes, the very same song that Mackenzie Sol sang earlier in the night. And not to compare, but Odell blew him out of the water. Come on, the guy was so good, he actually made Luke’s leg go numb. That’s musically impressive and medically troubling!

No surprise here: Odell’s incredible performance was rewarded with the season’s first Platinum Ticket.


In what could very well be a first for American Idol, the judges’ initial rejection of this talented Texan was overturned by the show’s crew, who rallied to bring him back and send him to Hollywood. We didn’t get to know Jack too well, but he opened his audition with a Jake Peralta-style “cool, cool, cool,” so he’s good in our book. Luke loved his classic rock vibe, but neither Katy nor Lionel saw that star quality. Still, an entire studio of crew members can’t be wrong, so they agreed to reverse their decision.

It was, as Ryan Seacrest put it, a “very controversial vote.”

Where do you stand on this shocking overturn? And which of tonight’s auditions were your favorites? Vote in the poll below, then drop a comment with more of your thoughts.

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