Caleb Kennedy has officially made it into American Idol‘s Top16 contestants of Season 19, and the young performer celebrated with a rousing performance of Chris Stapleton’s “Midnight Train to Memphis.”
Just like Stapleton himself, Kennedy’s stage presence wasn’t too flashy: He let his gritty vocals and bluesy, rootsy song selection do all the talking for him. The judges seemed to be hanging on every lyric, and Luke Bryan could even be spotting singing along to the song’s chorus during Kennedy’s performance.
Judge Lionel Richie remarked at how, despite the fact that he’d just given an electrifying performance, Kennedy still seemed to have “ice water in his veins.”
“You come up on stage. You sing the hell out of a song. No reaction,” Richie marveled. “The band is killing it, and you stand there, stone cold.”
Despite all that, Richie was clearly wowed by the performance, a sentiment that his fellow judges shared. Perry pointed out that Kennedy’s stage mystique — with his eyes always shaded behind his baseball cap — was intriguing, while Bryan was impressed that at such a young age, he’s still able to stay true to who he is as an artist.
“…And to not be manipulated by everything that’s going on around speaks to: ‘Hey, this guy’s got a course he wants to stay on.’ That’s very hard for a 16-year-old to do,” Bryan acknowledged. “You’re driving that big ol’ jacked up truck right down the path you wanna go. You did a great job.”
The Idol hopeful is channeling some of the independence that Stapleton himself is known for: A powerful vocalist who never shied away from blending soul into his brand of country, the original “Midnight Train to Memphis” singer also has a long history of paving his own way.
The song comes off of Stapleton’s third studio album From A Room: Volume 2, which came out in 2017. Stapleton co-wrote the song his frequent collaborator Mike Henderson.
American Idol airs on Sunday and Monday nights at 8PM ET on ABC.
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