For over two decades, American Idol has been a platform for aspiring singers to showcase their talent to the world and potentially launch their music careers. From Kelly Clarkson to Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert, the show has plucked several highly talented entertainers from obscurity, granting them a once-in-a-lifetime shot at international acclaim.
With such high stakes, it seems almost inconceivable that a contestant would think of leaving the show before getting eliminated. However, being on American Idol might not be all it’s cracked up to be, as multiple contestants, including season 20 fan-favorite, Kenedi Anderson, have opted out of the competition over the years. Here’s a run-down of some former contestants who quit American Idol before elimination, and the reasons they gave for leaving.
Kaya Stewart, who became a fan-favorite on American Idol 2023 after she auditioned alongside her famous dad, Eurythmics star, Dave Stewart, shocked fans when she announced that she was dropping out of the competition just moments before her scheduled duet with Fire.
“I got sick at the beginning of Hollywood week and I have been trying to push myself and keep going,” Stewart admitted to judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie. “During this performance, I got to work with Fire, and it was such a great experience. She’s so talented, so incredible, and we bonded so much, but I realized I wasn’t able to give 100 percent, so I’ve decided to not perform.”
Kenedi Anderson, who judge Luke Bryan dubbed “the biggest star we’ve ever seen,” was one of the frontrunners in American Idol season 20 before she exited the competition prematurely for obscure personal reasons.
“For personal reasons, I’m unable to continue on American Idol,” she disclosed in a social media statement at the time. “This has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but I know it’s necessary. I’m so grateful to American Idol, the judges, the producers, the amazing contestants, and all the fans who have supported me.”
Sarah Beth, one of season 21’s most talked about contestants, stunned judges when she followed her stellar rendition of The Police’s Roxanne with an announcement that she’d be leaving the competition. Beth’s decision came just weeks after her emotional TikTok, in which she accused Katy Perry of mom-shaming her, ignited a wave of controversy on social media.
“This opportunity is really rad, but this is actually going to be my last performance. My heart’s at home, so I’m going to get home to my babies,” she admitted, adding, “I feel like I’m not gonna win the show anyway, so I might as well go home. Seeing all the talent, a big part of me feels like I’m not cut out for show business.”
Mario Vasquez, from season 4 of American Idol, whose impressive vocal range landed him among the season’s standout performers, shocked fans when he abruptly withdrew from the competition just days before finals commenced. Though Vasquez pinned his abrupt exit on a family issue, fans were far from convinced, especially after reports emerged that his mom had no idea why he’d left the show.
Two years after the highly controversial exit, the singer finally revealed the real reason he left the show. “It was the number one priority for me to have artistic control,” he told Arjanwrites.com. “I realized that creating my own sound was a major thing for me.”
Despite wowing season 13’s judges enough to earn one of the show’s highly coveted golden tickets, Tiquila Wilson opted out of American Idol. “I just felt like American Idol wasn’t for me,” she explained to Winston-Salem Journal, “and when I got on that stage, it was totally different.”
As it turns out, religion was one of the main reasons why Wilson didn’t feel like American Idol was the right fit. “I’m a church baby,” she told Winston-Salem Journal. “All I know is gospel music. And then, too, a lot of people might not understand my decision, but I had a little talk with my God, and he assured me that everything would be all right.”
Caleb Kennedy, one of season 19’s top five finalists, exited the show abruptly after a controversial video, which showed him sitting next to someone wearing what appeared to be a Ku Klux Klan hood, surfaced on social media.
“Hey y’all, this is gonna be a bit of a surprise, but I am no longer gonna be on American Idol. There was a video that surfaced on the internet, and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way,” Kennedy explained in a social media statement. “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.”