Dreams of becoming the final “American Idol” are still alive for a pair of St. Louis singers who advanced to the Hollywood rounds of competition that begin airing Jan. 27.
But for a third singer from St. Louis, the “Idol” dream has ended — and at his own hands.
Brandyn Burnette, 25, announced on Friday that, despite a successful audition that garnered across-the-board “yes” votes from judges Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban, he has voluntarily left the competition.
The Ladue High School graduate auditioned memorably, with Connick embracing Burnette as he performed an original song titled “Lost.”
Burnette, who lives in north Hollywood, left the show before Hollywood rounds were filmed. It’s not known whether Burnette’s exit will be mentioned on-air.
Hollywood rounds air Wednesday and Thursday on Fox.
“I want to control the pace — do it my own way,” Burnette said of his career in an inverview Friday afternoon. He said the decision to withdraw from “American Idol” came after discussions with his team, including his manager, with whom he’s worked since age 17. He’s building his career as a singer-songwriter and has started a new project with his girlfriend.
“As alluring as ‘American Idol’ is for me, I wasn’t sure it was the right platform for my creative process — for performing my own songs,” he says. “I love the show. I’ve loved it since I was a kid. But I’m not sure a singing competition that’s primarily covers and a little bit of reality TV was for me.”
Burnette says he’ll look back fondly on the experience, especially at being able to perform “Lost.” It’s rare for a contestant to go through with an original song, and this one is especially important to him. Months before auditioning, Burnette connected with two fans from Milwaukee who were saddened by suicides at their school.
“I was sitting with my guitar in hand, ready to play a happy song for them on Skype. But these girls lost somebody — couldn’t grasp the concept — and I felt compelled. I told them they inspired something. It was one of those moments where a song comes from somewhere else,” he says. “At the last minute at the audition, I said, ‘I have to play this song.’ I knew people needed it.”
Burnette, who has an EP called “Made of Dreams,” also had prepared two other songs — an original titled “I Wanna Be Free” and a Sam Cooke song — but “Lost” won out.
He says leaving the competition was a tough decision. His family, mostly spread out in St. Louis and New York, enjoyed seeing him on TV and taking in his journey. “I had my family all riled up and excited,” he says. “But they support my decision and believe in me.”
Burnette, a former Warner Bros. recording artist who calls himself a progressive soul artist, says he’s looking to tour in spring and is working on a new EP. He’s also considering acting.
Two more chances
Ashley Lusk’s and Evan Cole’s auditions weren’t televised, which could leave them at a disadvantage when it’s time for viewers’ votes. Viewers may not know them as well — if they reach that point in the competition.
This was the second go-round for Eureka High School junior Lusk, who auditioned in Little Rock, Ark. When she auditioned last season, she made it to the final rounds in Hollywood before being eliminated.
“When I was cut last year, it was very upsetting, but I knew things would go on,” says Lusk, 16. “I kept writing music and going to gigs. I was grateful at how far I actually did make it, and overall it was an amazing experience.”
In returning to the “Idol” auditions, she decided to switch her genre. When she first auditioned, she was country. But after listening to a variety of music through Spotify and going to see Alabama Shakes at the Fox Theatre last year, she got into indie blues. “I just fell in love with the music. I’m obsessed with them.”
When she faced the judges for a second time, she was more nervous than before.
“It was really weird,” she says. “It being the farewell season, I was expecting them to pick the singers they really wanted to be on the show.”
She performed singer Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s.” “I really like the song, and I like her voice, and I tried to mimic it.”
Urban commented on her guitar, which has a butterfly on it. She doesn’t remember what the other judges said, but she got three yes votes. “I burst into tears. I was so amazed. It was a feeling like I never felt before.”
At the Little Rock auditions, Lusk befriended Cole, 15, a freshman at Christian Brothers College High School and the son of Alyson and Richard Robinson of St. Louis. Cole, like Lusk, doesn’t remember much about his audition except that Lopez is more gorgeous in person, Urban was nice and Connick gave him good advice.
“He told me I was playing really well and saw room for improvement and that my vocals could use a little tweaking,” says Cole, who received yes votes from Urban and Lopez.
He performed Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” on piano and “Ain’t No Sunshine” a cappella.
“I wanted to come out with a really upbeat song for my first song. And ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ is an oldie but a goodie. You gotta love it,” Cole says.
Cole sings both of these songs on the sidewalk outside Busch Stadium, where he performs before and after Cardinals games.
“I’ve been doing this for three years, and the people don’t disappoint. Everybody is pretty nice, and I do pretty well. And when the Cardinals win, there’s more money,” he says.
This was Cole’s first year auditioning, and the first year he was eligible, barely. He believes he is the youngest contestant to make it to Hollywood this season.
“There’s positives and negatives to it. I can see how it is a negative compared to contestants with more experience. But it’s a plus just being able to sing and play the piano at an early age,” says Cole, who is a fan of Adam Lambert, Chris Daughtry and David Cook.
“It’s amazing being on the last season. I’m so happy to be a part of it.”