'American Idol' winner Abi Carter celebrated in Indio as 'beacon of hope' for youth

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The Coachella Valley is beaming with pride following news that Indio native Abi Carter is the newest "American Idol" winner, with one city official calling her a "beacon of hope for a lot of youth in our community" for her relentless pursuit of her dreams.

During Sunday's finale, Carter, 21, took the stage multiple times to earn America's vote. She performed Bon Jovi’s "Bed of Roses," dedicated "Somewhere" from "West Side Story" to Indio, honored departing judge Katy Perry with a medley alongside her fellow Top 12 ladies, rocked out with Bishop Briggs and sang her latest single "This Isn't Over."

The judges were full of compliments all evening long, with Lionel Richie saying her "Somewhere" performance "was a show-stopping moment."

Once she was declared the champion of season 22, Carter ended the evening with a tearful rendition of the song that started her "Idol" journey: "What Was I Made For?" by Billie Eilish. Earlier in the show, Eilish sent in a video message to Carter, wishing her the best and telling her "I’m here to support you forever."

In a post-win Instagram post, Carter couldn't believe she was named the winner.

"HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE!??!?!?!? I couldn't have imagined winning #americanidol when I started this whole journey," Carter wrote. "We haven't had a girl winner in over 4 years and to be the first after so many seasons is the greatest honor."

The last female winner of "American Idol" was Just Sam (Samantha Diaz) during Season 18 (2020).

Carter vows the best is yet to come

She also thanked all the artists who helped her throughout the season, and reassured fans that the best is yet to come.

"I'm just a girl from Indio, who used to sing on street corners, and now I've had the pleasure and privilege to work with some of the most talented people in the industry and be heard by millions of people," the post continued. "This is my dream and I know it's just the beginning. I love you all so much."

More: Indio's Abi Carter was serenading the Palm Springs area long before 'American Idol' debut

Carter shared on Instagram Monday that she and "Idol" runner up Will Moseley were headed to New York "after the craziest night of our lives."

Organizations throughout the Coachella Valley shared congratulatory messages to Carter across social media, including The City of Indio, Palm Springs VillageFest and the University of California Riverside Palm Desert and California State University San Bernardino Palm Desert campuses.

"OUR AMERICAN IDOL WINNER @abicartermusic!!! Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for Abi each week and the support of our community throughout this incredible journey! Congratulations to @abicartermusic!" read an Instagram post from the City of Indio.

In Indio, the 'roof blew off with happiness'

Indio City Councilmember Waymond Fermon attended an "Idol" watch party at Jackalope Ranch in Indio Sunday night. He said there were hundreds of people inside the restaurant, and once Carter's name was announced as the winner, the whole place "erupted in so much joy and proudness" and it felt as though the "roof blew off with happiness."

"We are extremely proud and excited for Abi and her family. We watched her grow from a local performer to a national sensation and she’s representing our city very well," Fermon said. "She’s very humble, nice, driven and polished, but what I admire is her humility. She serves as a beacon of hope for a lot of youth in our community that dreams come true if you pursue them."

He took part in Carter's hometown visit festivities on May 14, which included visiting the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, being welcomed by students at George Washington Charter School in Palm Desert and ending her day at her parade and concert in downtown Indio. Fermon had an opportunity to speak with Carter and her family in the midst of all the excitement that day, and said they are "good people" and that "she deserves everything she's receiving right now."

"We're looking forward to her returning home and celebrating her some more," Fermon added.

Indio Mayor Guadalupe Ramos Amith was still wearing her "Indio loves Abi Carter" T-shirt Monday morning. Aside from being proud of Carter's win, she was delighted to see that her community shaped Carter to be the superstar she is now.

"We're just so happy that we have an environment that inspired her to continue to follow that path with all the events that are here in the community, festivals, the arts," Amith said. "We recognize that our youth comprises almost 25% of our population, so even when I was a little girl, the city was very involved in partnerships with the parks and recreation district and various nonprofits that provided services for children to help them fulfill their skills."

Amith added that Carter will be a role model to children in Indio and throughout the Coachella Valley, showing them that "they too can reach their dreams."

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Could Carter be on the lineup for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts and Stagecoach country music festivals next year?

"We have someone's ear. If they do it, it's a different story," Amith laughed. "Maybe with Billie Eilish to do a duet on 'What Was I Made For?' That song was perfect for Abi."

Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Indio, was another person delighted with Sunday's results.

“Congratulations to Abi Carter, this season’s winner of American Idol," Ruiz said in a statement. "An Indio native, Abi is a reminder that we have exceptional local talent. Our entire community is proud to celebrate her journey to stardom!"

Beaming with pride throughout the season has been Marta Basham, Carter's piano instructor. She watched Sunday's finale surrounded by family, cheering, crying and hugging each other all night long.

"It's just a once in a lifetime thing to see something like this happen," Basham said, while fighting tears, Monday. "To see Abi perform with such passion and such skill and move so many people, that's the highest honor for me. I'm so incredibly proud of her."

"I just feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to work with her and see her grow in her musical journey. I think she has a very, very bright path in front of her, and I'm so happy for her and her amazing family," Basham continued. "She has a support system from her family that is very extraordinary in how much they love and care for one another, and she is blessed that way, too."

Basham's emotional reunion with Carter was also seen during the singer's hometown segment on "American Idol." Speaking about seeing herself on national television, Basham said, "as teachers we're used to being more in the background, but for your students, you put yourself out there because you're so proud of them."

La Quinta resident Rebecca Varghese has been following Carter's "Idol" journey since the start and has attended several live shows in Los Angeles, including Sunday's finale. Through those experiences, Varghese and her family members, especially her 10-year-old daughter Anjali, have been able to interact with the young singer.

Varghese said Carter noticed one of Anjali's posters during an episode taping, which read "Abi needs a Grammy," and they chatted for a few moments. During another show, her daughter tried to get Carter's signature on a poster, and later Carter helped collect signatures from the other contestants as well, Varghese said.

Varghese's daughter also got to spend some time with Carter during her hometown visit at the Indio Community Center. Being a Taylor Swift fan and knowing that Carter sang one of her songs on the show, Anjali made friendship bracelets for Carter and gifted them to her. During her hometown concert later in the day, the family noticed Carter wearing the pink and blue bracelets, which had the words "Abi" and "It's All Love," referring to the singer's first song.

La Quinta resident Rebecca Varghese, left, her daughter Anjali, bottom left, and their friends from the Coachella Valley attend the "American Idol" season 22 finale in Los Angeles on May 19, 2024.
La Quinta resident Rebecca Varghese, left, her daughter Anjali, bottom left, and their friends from the Coachella Valley attend the "American Idol" season 22 finale in Los Angeles on May 19, 2024.

"We were really impressed," Varghese said. "Even though there's so much pressure and she has to perform, she was still really intentional about taking care of her fans, so that was really sweet."

Varghese was in the room when Carter won and said "you could just tell that she had so much support there and people were really rooting for her."

Mary Perry, spokesperson for the Desert Sands Unified School District, of which Washington Charter is a part of, said in a statement: "The entire Desert Sands Unified School District community congratulates Abi Carter, winner of this year’s American Idol. We celebrate with Abi and her family and are so proud of her as an artist, a champion, a graduate of our schools, and a wonderful human being."

Luke Bryan, Lionel Ritchie, Ryan Seacrest pay tribute to Abi Carter

Tributes from the "American Idol" judges and host Ryan Seacrest were also shared on social media.

"Congrats to our 2024 #AmericanIdol @abicartermusic! You blew us away this year," wrote country singer Luke Bryan, who, after Carter's audition, already declared her the winner of the season. Richie also shared a photo with the newly minted winner.

"She was made for this" read an Instagram post from Seacrest. The post included photos of Carter hugging Richie and wiping away tears while Seacrest showed off the winning envelope in his hand.

Moseley was named runner up, while Jack Blocker earned third place in the competition series.

Ema Sasic covers entertainment and health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at ema.sasic@desertsun.com or on Twitter @ema_sasic.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: American Idol winner Abi Carter