Country music artist on the rise, Caleb Kennedy, was a Top 5 finalist on the most recent Season of American Idol. He abruptly left Idol due to a controversial video that surfaced online, which was reportedly misinterpreted as an act of racism, however that was not at all his intention. In fact, according to his mother Anita Guy, Kennedy, who was only 12-years-old at the time of filming the video, was actually imitating a character from a movie called The Strangers: Prey at Night, that he and his friend watched the evening that the video was filmed.
“I hate this has happened and how Caleb is being portrayed by people online,” Guy explained to the Herald-Journal. “This video was taken after Caleb had watched the movie The Strangers: Prey at Night and they were imitating those characters. It had nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan, but I know that’s how it looks.”
Guy later clarified, “Caleb doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, He loves everyone and has friends of all races.”
While it was a very difficult decision for Kennedy, he knew leaving the show is what he needed to do. The issue however didn’t stop him from pursuing a career in country music. He previously admitted that he “wasn’t ready” for Idol, although he is very appreciative of the experience.
“There’s no way to emotionally prepare for Idol, because no one is ready for it, no matter how you prepare,” Kennedy previously admitted to the Spartanburg Herald Journal. “You think it’s all going to be fun, and a lot of it is, but it will slap you in the face really quickly. I wasn’t ready for it.”
Since exiting the show, Kennedy shared that he is continuing to work on new music, including songs about his experiences on Idol and more. We recently sat down with the rising star to discuss life since Idol and all that he’s been up to since departing from the popular singing competition show.
“Life since American Idol has been good,” Kennedy told Music Mayhem. “I’ve spent a lot of time with my family and my buddies. We have had several corn hole tournaments at my house; just having fun! I’ve also spent a lot of time practicing, and playing music (jamming) with my band here at home.”
Music has basically always been a large part of Kennedy’s life. When he was just 13 years old, he purchased his first guitar with his own money, that’s how important it was to him. Most 13 year olds are spending their money on toys or electronics, but Kennedy used his earnings to start working towards his true passion.
“I immediately started strumming and you tubing,” he said. “My mom says, within a few hours I was playing my first song, ‘Stand By Me.’ I just went from there.”
A year later, he had formed his own band and then a few years later at 16 years old, took a leap and decided to audition for Idol. Although it didn’t go as planned for the young performer, he still had a great experience and learned a lot, which he can take into account when starting his career in Country music.
This self-taught singer/songwriter is currently working on more original music to pair with his song, “Mama Said,” and possibly for his upcoming EP.
“I’m not sure that I always get my music out as fast as my fans would like for me to, but I am continuously working on original songs,” explained Kennedy.
Kennedy sat down with Music Mayhem to discuss life after American Idol, his musical upbringing, future new releases, future goals and more. Read on to find out what Caleb Kennedy has been up to in this exclusive Q&A.
How’s life been since American Idol, what have you been up to?
Life since American Idol has been good. I’ve spent a lot of time with my family and my buddies. We have had several corn hole tournaments at my house; just having fun! I’ve also spent a lot of time practicing, and playing music (jamming) with my band here at home. My fans are amazing, they have continued to show me so much love and support!
What was it like working with Idol judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan? What would you say is the best advice that they have given you on or off tv?
It was a privilege to work with the idol judges. It was almost like an out of body experience, like am I really standing in front of these amazing artists? It was surreal. I appreciate the comments, compliments, and advice that each one of them gave to me during the show.
I have thought a lot about when they would tell me to believe in myself and that I had the voice of a story teller, and not to ever let anyone tell me I couldn’t do it. The thing is most people have always had more confidence in me than I ever had in myself. I never want to become cocky or arrogant, but I do think being confident is very important. I also appreciate the advice they gave on interacting with the audience and how that engages the audience to connect. I think that I have greatly improved in that area.
Have you kept in touch with any of the friends you’ve made during your time on Idol, like your fellow contestants?
I loved all the contestants from Idol. Yes, I have kept in touch with some of the other contestants from idol through social media and text. Although I don’t get to speak with them often, I do enjoy the times I do get to communicate with them. There were so many producers as well as my vocal coach that I appreciate and that I will never forget.
I was blessed to be in Nashville, TN, the same time that Hannah Everhart and her family were there. We met up with her and Chayce Beckham just a few weeks ago while we all were there. It was great to get to see them and visit with them for a little while.
What did it feel like when Katy Perry complimented your songwriting abilities, when she told you that “you’re a real songwriter but you got a grit and gravel and crackle in your voice that says ‘I’m in pain someone, please come save me through this song”?
It was an honor to be among great artists like Katy, Luke, and Lionel; and to have them compliment my songwriting abilities and my voice, now that felt amazing. Katy’s compliment meant the world to me. I’ve had so many people compliment the grit, gravel, and crackle in my voice and that is awesome. However, when she went on to say that my voice says, “I’m in pain, someone, please come save me through this song,” now that is exactly what I want my songs to do to people, I want people to feel something when they hear the lyrics to my songs and when they hear me sing. I want my fans and listeners to relate to my songs and feel something when I sing.
What was it like performing a duet alongside Jason Aldean on Idol? Did you receive any advice from Aldean that you will take with you?
Performing a duet alongside Jason Aldean on Idol was very exciting and an unforgettable experience. Jason was awesome, he was very cool; down to earth and easy to work with.
For our readers to get to know you a little bit more, can you share your backstory?
I have always loved music, and many different genres. I have always been active in church competitions, in various categories including music, since I was old enough to be a part of Junior/Teen Talent. I played trumpet starting in 5th grade pretty much through middle school. When I was 13 years old, I took my birthday money and went to the Guitar Center the next day and bought my first guitar. I immediately started strumming and you tubing. My mom says, within a few hours I was playing my first song, Stand By Me. I just went from there.
My mother, Anita Guy signed me up for guitar lessons at the Guitar Center and I met a great guy named Kip Darby who listened to me talk about my dreams and desire to be a songwriter and country singer. He gave me so much encouragement. Kip told my mother that I was no beginner on the guitar, that I held that guitar like I had been playing for years. He stated that he was very impressed with me. My “guitar lessons” were not your typical guitar lessons at all. With the exception of YouTube and “pointers” from different musicians, I am self-taught on the guitar. At my lessons, Kip would spend that 30 minutes to an hour listening to songs I had written. I would play and sing them to him and he would give me positive feedback. We recorded a few of my first songs and Kip encouraged me to keep writing. Everytime I write a new song, my Mom is probably the first to hear it, then I would take it to Kip and get his opinion.
In middle school, I started taking my guitar to school sometimes. Mr. Comer invited me to play at FCA and I did. I would also hang out after school with my football coaches and play guitar. That led to other teachers asking me to bring my guitar and they would allow me to play during my free period. My 7th and 8th grade ELA teachers noticed me doodling and when I turned in work they may comment that it was a great poem. I would tell them that it is actually a song. My 8th grade ELA teacher, Mrs. Ashley Dill, would encourage me to bring my guitar and play during our free period. She told me about the open mic. nights at the Fr8yard on Tuesday nights. I started going there and I taught my best friend to play rhythm and I formed my first band; we were all 14 years old and we called ourselves “Lost Highway.” We had a blast that summer playing at open mic nights at Fr8yard, and branched out to play several gigs at Pelicans, Bubba’s BBQ Bash, I played for the cultural art center in downtown Spartanburg. Later, I began playing weekly shows at Wings Etc. in Boiling Springs, SC. In ninth grade my favorite teacher Ms. Pate along with my mother encouraged me to enter a talent show at my high school, Dorman’s Got Talent. The audience cheered and clapped as I sang Hurricane By: Luke Combs. It was the most incredible feeling! We won “The People’s Choice,” and in my opinion that was better than winning first place! After this I was encouraged by Ms. Pate and a mullet friend, Johnny Coletrain, among many others to try out for American Idol. The rest is history…. So here I am today still pressing on.
What inspired you to pursue a career in country music and is this something you’ve always wanted to do?
Working at Zaxby’s. I’ve always loved music and enjoyed listening to the old country music with my Papa Rudy. When I would get off of work sometimes, Papa would say, “are you tired?” then he would tell me “you go do that music thing so you don’t have to work so hard and you are doing something that you love!”
My nickname from Papa Rudy is Merle. He loves Merle Haggard and when he sees me he will point to me and say, ‘What’s going on Merle?’
Who are some of your biggest country music influences/inspirations?
My biggest country music influences and inspirations range from the very old country stars as well as the newer country artists. There are so many that I draw from and enjoy; Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Keith Whitley, George Strait, Hank Williams Jr., Chris Stapleton, Riley Greene, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Koe Wetzel, and so many more.
During your time on Idol, you performed several originals, which you penned yourself. Are you a self-taught songwriter or were you influenced by a relative/musician?
The short answer to this question is that Yes, I am a self-taught songwriter, and musician.
The longer answer to this question is that I have a lot of family members who play instruments and who sing, my great grandmother even wrote a few songs, my great uncle was in a bluegrass band, there were two minister’s of music in the family. I wasn’t around those people often; some I barely even know; my great grandmother was deceased before I was even born. I didn’t inherit it or learn it because I was around people who played or sang all the time.
Some people say, it’s in my blood, but I say it’s a God given talent!! God has given me this gift and I’m very Thankful for that!
Are you working on any original music? Can fans expect to hear that soon as I know they are eager to hear it?
I’m always working on original music; I always have musical phrases going through my head. Recording and releasing music is a process and takes time. I’m not sure that I always get my music out as fast as my fans would like for me to, but I am continuously working on original songs!
Fans want to know, will your song “Mama Said” be released or appear on an upcoming EP/LP?
I have definitely had tons of requests for “Mama Said” to be released as a single or on my next EP. I am sorry to be vague, but I don’t have a specific release date for “Mama Said” or any of my other originals at this time.
Do you have any aspirations to one day play the Grand Ole Opry?
I think it would be an honor to get to play at the Grand Ole Opry one day! To be on stage where many awesome artists have played; that would be something!
You recently hung out with Idol winner Chayce Beckham & Hannah Everhart, would you guys ever write music together and maybe release a collab together?
Anything is possible! I’m open to writing with them and hanging out.
What’s next for Caleb in 2021? Any tours in the works?
Only God knows what’s in my future. I do still have two years of school left and I know I need to get that under my belt. I do love performing! I just want to have an open heart and mind to trust God to open the doors that need to be opened and close the doors that need to be closed.
To stay up to date with Caleb Kennedy, you can visit his website at www.CalebKennedyMusic.com. Fans can also follow Kennedy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or stream his music on Spotify, iTunes, Pandora and anywhere music streams.