One of the most memorable auditions on the current season of American Idol came from an unassuming source: a Georgia teenager with a guitar. Fifteen-year-old Ethan Payne didn’t seem all that different from the hundreds of other young hopefuls we’ve seen on the show’s audition rounds, but the reaction from one judge made it clear he was already a standout.
As it turned out, Payne was already acquainted with judge Luke Bryan, having met him through Make-A-Wish Foundation a few years earlier. Payne lives with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder, and back in 2016, Make-A-Wish brought Payne to one of Bryan’s concerts, where the singer invited him on stage to perform alongside him. Bryan even gave Payne one of his own guitars to take home and hone his musical skills with – and that’s exactly what Payne did. When the teen appeared in front of the judges, Bryan recognized him immediately – and the guitar he was carrying, which was the very same one Bryan had given him years ago!
In a sweet reversal of their first meeting, Payne “invited” Bryan to sing with him during his audition, and of course, Bryan obliged. It certainly helped that the song Payne chose for his audition was Bryan’s own “Do I.” The duo’s unplanned duet quickly won over audiences, as well as the other judges, who sent the teen country singer through to Hollywood.
In his on-camera interview after the audition, Payne reiterated how much Bryan and his music have meant to him. “I think of Luke as like a father figure. I felt honored, I felt like I was one of his own. We harmonized, we did stuff that was unrehearsed, and it went perfect.”
While Payne is just now getting the attention of national audiences, he’s been sharing his music on his Instagram for a while! Along with fun snaps of his teenage life, he occasionally posts short videos of him singing and playing guitar, often covering familiar songs. While we wait to see how Payne’s Idol journey will continue, check out the highlights from his Instagram!