Luke Bryan cradled a baby boy on Monday’s episode of American Idol as he listened to one of the most moving auditions yet of the new season.
Marcio Donaldson, 28, had come to the show with a painful story of being brought up in a roach-infested home in California’s crime-riddled Compton before he was taken into ‘the system’ of child services.
Then just six months ago he had a knock at the door — with authorities asking if he would take-in a week-old baby his drug-addicted sister could not keep.
Baby sitting: Luke Bryan held a contestant’s adorable baby boy during Monday’s episode of American Idol
‘I looked down and I said I’ll take him,’ he said with tears. ‘I didn’t want him to go through what I went through.
‘It was the right decision. He’s changed my life,’ he said.
Marcio took baby Rashad with him to his audition on the show, with Luke, 41, instantly asking to hold him, with Marcio warning: ‘He’s a real baby.’
The hopeful then burst into tears after his performance of Labrinth’s Jealous which was clearly dedicated to his new son, saying ‘I so love him’ as Lionel Richie, 68, went over to give him a comforting hug.
Real baby: Marcio Donaldson warned Luke that the child was a ‘real baby’
Big hug: Lionel Richie hugged Marcio after his audition
‘Your voice is a real voice,’ Luke then told him. ‘Is it technically perfect? No, man, but it’s real. You ride that horse as far as it will take you.’
Katy Perry, 33, added: ‘I think you’re a really sensitive, emotional, beautiful, vulnerable soul. We’re always looking for people to sing with their feelings.’
After getting three yeses to go through to the next round, Marcio rushed forward to thank the judges and take back Rashad, who was holding his golden ticket.
Getting emotional: The Compton native got emotional as the judges praised hm
Pop star: Katy Perry told Marcio that they were looking for people to sing with their feelings
‘God bless you for being such an incredible stand-up man,’ Katy told him. ‘You’re an incredible example.’
Another painful childhood sparked one of the night’s other music highlights as Brandon Elder, 22, sang an original song for the woman who took him in as a youngster but later died of cancer.
He explained how his birth mother had been only 15 and claimed: ‘She supposedly traded me for a car.’
Original song: Brandon Elder performed an original song dedicated to the mother who adopted him who died of breast cancer in 2016
The woman who took him then was not able to care for him either, until he finally was adopted by the woman who raised him but who died of breast cancer in 2016.
He recalled how she got him his first guitar when she was already sick, saying: ‘I started singing a lot in front of her — she liked it, so I just kept singing.’
As he sang the song dedicated to her and ‘the greatest love that anyone can ever know,’ Lionel and Luke both repeatedly looked down as if struggling to hold together their emotions.
Close bond: The 22-year-old singer was shown with his mother who after adopting Brandon got him a guitar after she became sick with cancer
‘I’m honestly honored — you did something few people can do, you wrote a song magically from the heart that had two chords,’ Luke told him. ‘You just slayed it in my opinion bud.’
Lionel added: ‘Speaking on behalf of songwriters around the world, you expressed everything to where the first time you ever hear it, you get it’
Clutching at his heart, Lionel added: ‘Man that was … amazing.’
Feeling it: Lionel and Richie both struggled to hold together their emotions
He got three yeses, with Luke telling him: ‘I didn’t see you coming, brother, but now you’re going to Hollywood.’
Amalia Watty, 28, used all the pain of her upbringing in her music, explaining how she moved to New York to be with the father who abandoned her at three, but only got to meet him once.
‘As a girl you want to have that relationship with your dad… but it didn’t pan out that way,’ she said tearfully, adding: ‘This is my chance to put all the pain behind me, to use it as fuel for my music.’
New chapter: Amalia Watty used her painful upbringing to fuel her musical ambition
After Lionel joked about her stealing his old large afro hairstyle, they were stunned by her version of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love, with Lionel telling her: ‘Your range, your sound, your uniqueness — all the things we’re looking for. The potential for where you could be, if developed properly, it could be a fabulous career here.’
The latest round of auditions also saw the judges nearly spark a sibling rivalry that two sisters had gone out of their way to avoid.
When pop hopeful Taryn Coccia, 17, decided to audition, her sister Payton Taylor, 20, agreed to play guitar to help her.
Same style: Lionel showed how he used to style his hair like Amalia
Moving forward: Amalia was overjoyed to learn she was going to Hollywood
But after the judges seemed undecided on the teen’s chances, they instead persuaded Payton to sing, too — and were instantly won over by her take on John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery.
Asked why she ‘chose to remain silent,’ the loyal older sister said: ‘I wanted today to be Taryn’s day — she’s prepared and done a lot of work, and this was Taryn’s dream to come on and do this … you don’t ever want to step in the way.’
It looked like the judges were instead going to deliver the youngster a double blow — sending her home and instead giving a Hollywood ticket to the sister who did not even enter the show, with Katy giving her a ‘not yet.’
Teen talent: Taryn Coccia, 17, auditioned with her sister Payton Taylor, 20, playing guitar
Sibling rivalry: Katy stirred up a sibling rivalry by asking Lionel if Taryn’s sister could sing
Sister act: Payton performed an impromptu audition for the show
But she was finally shown running out holding a golden ticket — with her family clearly shocked to see both women with them when only one entered.
‘We’re sisters, so we’re always going to be there for each other. But we’re always down for some competition,’ Taryn said.
‘How sweet is that,’ Lionel told the other judges, admitting: ‘That could have been disastrous.’
Two auditions: Taryn looked on as her older sister auditioned
The episode caught the judges celebrating Katy’s birthday, surprising her with cupcakes, a room full of puppies, and even her own dog, Nugget, popping out of a cake.
They also gave her a thoughtful gift — a dress that she had gushed over when one of the contestants showed up in it, having told Kenedee Rittenhouse: ‘That dress has made such an impact on me.’
Katy gave the 19-year-old hopeful a second chance when she failed to win them all over with her chosen song, I Told You So by Carrie Underwood, the hero of her hometown Checotah, Oklahoma, where the youngster once even sang with her idol onstage at school.
Birthday girl: Katy celebrated her birthday with her cute dog Nugget
Sweet gift: The pop star was gifted a dress that she admired when it was worn by a contestant
The dress: Kenedee Rittenhouse wore a dress that caught Katy’s eye
‘Sing Firework because I can barely sing Firework,’ Katy quipped smiling as she added: ‘Just sing the chorus because that’s the hardest part.’
After her performance, Lionel told her: ‘Do you know how hard that is to stand in front of the artist who does that all day long? So difficult.’
Luke admitted they were ‘very on the fence’ with her Carrie cover — but her second chance got her sent through.
Oklahoma girls: The 19-year-old hopeful was shown performing while in school with Carrie Underwood, the hero of her hometown Checotah, Oklahoma
Second chance: Kenedee took advantage of her opportunities and belted out Katy’s song Firework to earn a ticket to Hollywood
Meanwhile, Cody Martin, 26, came out singing Happy Birthday for Katy — with it being so soulful the sent him straight through without even listening to his actual audition pick.
Korean-American country singer Daniel Ethridge, 22, was also given a second chance with the judges asking him to sing an original song after failing to fully impress them with his cover.
He then won them over with a touching song dedicated to his sister for ‘believing in him,’ with the line: ‘I promise you one day they’ll know my songs.’
Birthday song: Cody Martin sang Happy Birthday to Katy and got a ticket to Los Angeles
Party hat: Katy wore a birthday hat while Cody sang to her
‘I believe that you can go places,’ Lionel told him, insisting: ‘That was a great song.’
After getting his golden ticket, Daniel admitted: ‘I’m going to call my parents and cry like a little baby.’
Trevor McBane, 22, had one of the strangest jobs of the contestants — running a goat farm in Savannah, Oklahoma, with his 81-year-old grandmother who he called his ‘best friend.’
Moving forward: Korean-American country singer Daniel Ethridge also advanced
And he also raised one of the biggest laughs when he revealed the name of his farm’s new baby animal, calling it Simon Cow, with Luke asking about the obvious pun on former Idol judge Simon Cowell: ‘Does it have a mean moo?’
Lionel praised his ‘growl’ on Zac Brown Band’s Colder Weather, with Luke admitting: ‘You’re not perfect in your delivery — but man I believe in ya. I think you’re as raw as we’ve seen, in a good way.’
Katy gave a third yes as she told him: ‘You’ve got a vibe for sure.’
Goat farmer: Trevor McBane raises goats for a living and recently named a baby cow Simon Cow
Genavieve Linkowski, 18, gave up her dreams of musical stardom when she was just 12 to play mom to her nine younger siblings after their mother fell ill from heart failure.
‘She did every single thing in her power so I could just work on healing myself and it happened,’ mom Tamara said. ‘My prayer now is that her dreams come true.’
The judges clearly felt that her dreams could just come true with some of the highest praise of the night, with Luke telling her: ‘You just had magic in your voice. You’re going to go high in this thing, I’m calling it.’
Magical voice: Genavieve Linkowski was praised by Luke for having ‘magic’ in her voice
Lionel then made a major compliment as he told her: ‘The first time I heard a voice like this, raw, that absolutely blew me away… it was Celine Dion. Your high register reminded me so much of her. Big props.’
‘Idol baby’ Victoria McQueen, 15, was born on the day the show first ever aired, June 11, 2002 — also the cut-off point for entry, making her the youngest contestant the show could have.
‘I’ve watched this on TV my whole life and I can’t believe I’m here,’ she excitedly told the judges.
Big family: The eldest of 10 children at age 12 helped raise her sibling after her mom fell ill
Her audition seemed to be destiny, too, with all three wowed at her version of Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry About A Thing that Lionel said was ‘pitch perfect,’ adding: ‘You couldn’t get it any better.’
‘You’ve got a great voice and you were given a gift to deliver it,’ Luke told her, while Katy added: ‘Honestly, there’s something written in the stars for you.’
Dominique Posey, 26, works as a legal secretary for the district attorney in Birmingham Alabama, with Katy telling him after his version of Donnie Hathaway’s A Song For You: ‘I don’t know if that’s your purpose, I think you’re purpose is probably to deliver some beautiful music to the world.’
Youngest contestant: Victoria McQueen, 15, was born on the day the show first ever aired, June 11, 2002
Next stage: The teenager received a ticket to Hollywood from the judges
‘I would say heck yes,’ she added, with Luke — who said the performance gave them all ‘goosebumps’ — adding: ‘I would say hell yes.’
When Samothias, 20, first walked into the audition room, it was his hairstyle with short dreads that got the attention, with Lionel saying: ‘The hair walked into the room immediately.’
But once the judges heard his soulful version of Chris Stapleton’s Tennessee Whiskey alone at the piano, attention instead went to his voice, with Luke: ‘We’ve got a great performer in front of us.’
Beatiful music: Dominique Posey after his version of Donnie Hathaway’s A Song For You got a ticket to Hollywood
Piano man: Samothias impressed the judges with his take on Tennessee Whiskey
Vocal coach Britney Holmes, 28, sang an almost perfect version of Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing, but failed to get sent through.
‘I really want to feel — I don’t want to just listen,’ Katy told her, asking: ‘How are you going to give me those chill bumps?’
‘You have the voice — you don’t have the trigger that fires it,’ Lionel told her, added as he debated his deciding vote: ‘If I could tell you throw away everything you know about teaching and go for feeling. I know guys who can’t read music, but they’re the hit songwriters.’
Nice try: Britney Holmes gave it her best shot but didn’t connect with the judges
Britney was shown leaving the audition and telling her family: ‘Didn’t make it, but I tried.’
Opera trained college student Audriana Bolton, 20, had bragged before her audition: ‘People compare me to Ariana Grande, Mariah Carey, and Christina Aguilera.’
She then showed off how she can reach the incredibly high so-called ‘whistle tone’ that Mariah made famous — but still failed to get a single yes, with Katy saying: ‘I really don’t know who you are as an artist.’
No go: The vocal coach broke it to her supporters that she didn’t make it
Away from the contenders, Luke was shown getting lessons from Lionel who taught him how to properly play his hits such as Lady and Easy.
‘The opportunity to work with Lionel is so exciting for me,’ Luke said. ‘From being in a country music cover band that played Lionel Richie songs, now I get to hang with this guy.’
American Idol returns on Sunday on ABC.
Music lessons: Luke was shown getting lessons from Lionel on how to properly play his hits such as Lady and Easy