Not a dry eye in the house. American Idol viewers were blown away by Sam Finelli‘s audition during the third week of auditions — as were the judges.
“I kind of shy away from singing with people,” the Georgia native, 28, told judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan during the Sunday, March 13 episode of the long-running competition show. “I’m going to be honest with y’all. I never thought that I would be here in a million years.”
Finelli’s mother, Suzie, who accompanied him to the auditions, revealed that he has high-functioning autism and has always found comfort and support in singing. “Music helped Sam a lot,” she told the American Idol cameras before his performance. “He’d just put his earbuds in and that’s how he learned to cope.”
Despite his nerves, Finelli was ready to pursue his dream and sang an emotional rendition of “Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves that brought the trio of judges to tears. “You told us about your struggles. Now, you walk out here — after no other experience — to American Idol and you have three judges giving you a standing ovation,” Richie, 72, told Finelli after he finished singing. “I want you to know right now, we are so proud of you.”
The “All Night Long” singer continued: “Sam, you were born enough. And what we consider your handicap is your gift. You understand me? You are enough.”
Perry, 37, was equally effusive, telling the aspiring singer that he picked “the perfect song” to audition with. “There’s always been a rainbow hanging over your head,” the “California Gurls” singer added. “All that you have to do is let go of all that fear and that negativity and always sing from your heart. That’s all you have to do. And that’s exactly what you did just then.”
With everyone in the room, including Finelli and his mother, holding back tears, all three judges voted to send him through to the next round of competition.
“I hope to inspire people to chase their dreams no matter what challenges they may be facing,” Finelli wrote via Instagram before his American Idol audition aired. “I never would [have] thought in a million years my dreams would ever come true. But, I’m living proof of that. Everyone has DIFFERENT successes and success comes in all shapes and sizes, and mine just happened to be this day when I got to perform for the 3 Idol judges.”
Keep scrolling to learn even more about Finelli as he prepares to continue to wow everyone in Hollywood: