“American Idol” judges have weighed in on the abrupt departure of contestant Caleb Kennedy — calling his exit “unfortunate” — after a controversial video from his past resurfaced last week.
After Sunday’s Season 19 semifinal episode, judge Lionel Richie told People magazine that the decision to remove him from the competition “had to be made and we move on,” while also recognizing the 16-year-old singer’s talent.
“A lot of times, we think about it, we grow up and we make mistakes and we look at our life behind us many times and we say, ‘God, what was I thinking about when I did that?’ ” Richie said of the young singer, who left the program when a video surfaced depicting him next to someone wearing what appeared to be a Ku Klux Klan hood. “This was one of those situations where we kind of give him a big hug from the three of us.
“He has definitely has a talent,” continued the “All Night Long” hitmaker. “The problem is, this is one of those unfortunate decisions that had to be made and we move on. But this will be remembered in his lifetime and he’ll know what it’s all about.”
Meanwhile, fellow judge Luke Bryan, 44, told the publication that the decision was an “upsetting” one and wished Kennedy well.
“First and foremost, as judges, we love these kids,” Bryan said. “We get emotionally involved in these kids. We want the best for Caleb. As far as the nuances on how ABC gets viewed, either way, decisions got made and it’s our job as judges to show up and do our best job and comment on the kids who are in front of us. But we wish nothing but the best for Caleb. It does make for a very, very challenging and upsetting week.”
Representatives for “American Idol” did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from The Post.
Last Wednesday, Kennedy headed to Instagram to apologize for the compromising clip — which was reportedly recorded when he was 12, according to his mother, Anita Guy — in which he acknowledged that being “younger” was no excuse for the video.
“Hey y’all, this is gonna be a bit of a surprise but I am no longer gonna be on ‘American Idol,’” he said on social media. “There was a video that surfaced on the internet and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way. I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that’s not an excuse. I wanna say sorry to all my fans and everyone who I have let down. I’ll be taking a little time off social media to better myself, but saying that, I know this has hurt and disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me. I’m so sorry! I pray that I can one day regain your trust in who I am and have your respect! Thank you for supporting me.”
Kennedy’s mother further said that the offending video was taken after he and a friend watched a movie, “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” and that they were simply mimicking characters from the film. “It had nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan, but I know that’s how it looks,” she said. “Caleb doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. He loves everyone and has friends of all races.”
With Sunday’s episode, three contestants remained — Willie Spence, Grace Kinstler and Chayce Beckham — after Casey Bishop was ousted from the competition. In a post-show tweet, judge Bryan called her “a true rockstar.”
Kennedy wasn’t the only contestant to make an unexpected exit this season. Wyatt Pike, 20, left the show while in the top 12, citing “personal reasons.”
The season finale of “American Idol” will be at 8 p.m. Sunday, May 23, on ABC.