Mother-daughter ‘American Idol’ audition makes Lionel Richie cry: ‘That got me messed up’

Lyndsey Parker·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music-Sun, February 28, 2021, 10:08 PM

American Idol Season 19 premiered on Valentine’s Day, but this Sunday’s episode felt like an early Mother’s Day celebration, with several proud moms showing their love for their auditioning offspring. There was even one adorkable mother-son joint performance of “My Funny Valentine” that earned a Golden Ticket (for the son, Timmy Skelly, at least). But it was another duet between 19-year-old Ronda Felton and her devoted single mom, of a sentimental Commodores song, that had judge and former Commodore Lionel Richie in tears.

Ronda herself was in tears — “tears of joy,” she clarified — from almost the instant she entered the audition room, stood in front of the judges, and realized that Idol could change everything for her struggling family. “I’m here today because I want to succeed,” she earnestly declared. Opening up about her rough childhood, during which she and her mom were often homeless and living all over the country in shelters, in cars, or on friends’ couches, Ronda said of her mother’s sacrifice: “I know at time she felt she liked failed as a parent, but she did anything that helped us survive and just keep on going.”

After Lionel handed her a tissue to dab at her tears, Ronda composed herself and belted the ballad version of Dreamgirls’ “One Night Only.” And it was a Jennifer Hudson wow moment. This was an absolutely stunning, finale-worthy performance, maybe even a Grammy-worthy one. Within seconds, Lionel’s eyes were watering, and he was probably wishing he’d kept that tissue for himself. “I was doing really well, until you came in and did something that no one has done tonight — which is touch me to the point of making me cry,” Lionel told Ronda.

Moved by Ronda’s backstory as well as by her raw talent, Lionel continued: “Every once in a while, life happens and then you figure, ‘How do I get out of this situation?’ And God provides a crack in the wall. … That crack is just enough for you to get through. And my dear, you just found that crack — because that was the moment that will change your life.” Ronda barely heard the judges’ enthusiastic, unanimous yeses before she impulsively raced outside to grab her mother and pull her back into the room to hear the good news.

And that was when Lionel’s tears flowed anew, when Ronda and her mother, Juretha Jones, stood holding hands in front of the judges and, upon Katy Perry’s request, sang their “song of celebration”: the Commodores’ “Zoom.” Juretha explained, “I personally love that song. I love the way it makes me feel.” And without missing a beat, Lionel began reciting his “Zoom” lyrics to Ronda and Juretha — “I may be just a foolish dreamer, but I don’t care/’Cause I know my happiness is waiting out there somewhere” — before joining them in a joyous impromptu singalong.

Lionel was rendered uncharacteristically speechless by the sweet moment (seriously, if you didn’t smile or tear up even just a little while watching this at home, you have no soul), as a beaming Luke Bryan bear-hugged him and called him a “badass.” Once Lionel pulled himself together, he reflected on the meaning of the Commodores song, which was written in 1977 but is just as relevant today (and not just because it has the word “Zoom” in its chorus).

Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan share a moment on 'American Idol.' (Photo: ABC)
Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan share a moment on ‘American Idol.’ (Photo: ABC)

“I never thought I’d get on this show and start revealing my side. You know, when I wrote that song I was deeply troubled, because I didn’t know where I was going,” Lionel confessed to Ronda and Juretha. (The hopeful tune was co-penned by Lionel’s then-bandmate Ronald LaPread, whose wife was battling what turned out to be terminal cancer at the time.) “So, if I touched you in any way, you’ve given me the greatest gift ever. Thank you. Whoa. That got me messed up.”

With her incredible attitude, incredible set of pipes, and incredible mother (who I dearly hope is headed to Hollywood as well, because Juretha deserves more screentime), Ronda is sure to go far on Idol. As Luke put it after watching her sing, “That was a great performance, but I have big ol’ feeling it’s not your best performance to come.” However, joining Ronda in Hollywood will be a slew of talented kids (and possibly some of their moms), many of whom shared equally heartbreaking stories this Sunday about their difficult journeys to the Idol stage. So, have your own tissues at the ready, and read on…

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