"We get emotionally involved in these kids," said Luke Bryan. "We want the best for Caleb."

By Ruth Kinane
May 17, 2021 at 10:05 AM EDT
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The American Idol judges have spoken out about contestant Caleb Kennedy's departure from the show, after a controversial video leaked online.

"First and foremost, as judges, we love these kids," Luke Bryan told PEOPLE after Sunday's semi-final episode. "We get emotionally involved in these kids. We want the best for Caleb. As far as the nuances on how ABC gets viewed, either way, decisions got made and it's our job as judges to show up and do our best job and comment on the kids who are in front of us. But we wish nothing but the best for Caleb. It does make for a very, very challenging and upsetting week."

AMERICAN IDOL - LUKE BRYAN, LIONEL RICHIE
Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC (2)

Fellow judge Lionel Richie added, "A lot of times, we think about it, we grow up and we make mistakes and we look at our life behind us many times and we say, 'God, what was I thinking about when I did that?' This was one of those situations where we kind of give him a big hug from the three of us. He has definitely has a talent. The problem is, this is one of those unfortunate decisions that had to be made and we move on. But this will be remembered in his lifetime and he'll know what it's all about."

Kennedy left the show after a controversial video surfaced online, showing the young singer with a friend wearing a white hood similar to the ones worn by Ku Klux Klan members. The 16 year old shared a statement on Instagram in which he apologized, saying that the video "displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way."

He also wrote, "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 let down."

American Idol's finale airs Sunday at 8 p.m.ET/PT on ABC.

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