'American Idol' judges react to finalist's exit after racist social media post

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"American Idol" judges Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie have weighed in on the exit of finalist Caleb Kennedy, a 16-year-old singer who left the show following a controversy over an old video of him that surfaced online.

Kennedy was eliminated from the competition and issued an apology for a video that appears to show a younger Kennedy sitting next to a person wearing a white hood similar to a Ku Klux Klan hood.

Richie and Bryan were asked about Kennedy's departure after Sunday night's show.

"Well, losing great talent is always (hard)... this is our class," Richie told Entertainment Tonight. "This is the class of 2021. So, you know, it was an unfortunate situation. We had to ride with what's happening with ABC, and you know that's where we play. So you know we wish him all the best, but that was just one of those unfortunate things that happens along the way of life."

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"You know, we love these kids, we love every aspect of their growth and all of this, but it's certainly devastating news when we hear about this," Bryan told ET. "But like we said, our thoughts will be with him as he grows as an artist."

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The two judges also spoke about it in a virtual Q&A following the show, according to USA Today.

"First and foremost, as judges and as a judges panel, we love these kids, and we get emotionally involved," Bryan said. "We wish nothing but the best for Caleb, and it does make for a very, very challenging and upsetting week."

"We grow up, and we make mistakes, and we look at our lives behind us many, many times, and we say, 'God, what was I thinking about when I did that?'" Richie said. "This is one of those situations."

The teen country singer from Roebuck, South Carolina, shared the news on May 12 about his departure.

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"Hey y’all, this is gonna be a bit of a surprise, but I am no longer gonna be on ‘American Idol,'" he wrote in a statement on Twitter. "There was a video that surfaced on the internet and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way.

"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 have let down. I’ll be taking a little time off social media to better myself, but saying that, I know this has hurt and disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me. I’m so sorry! I pray that I can one day regain your trust in who I am and have your respect! Thank you for supporting me."

Kennedy's mother, Anita Guy, said in a statement to the Herald-Journal that the video was taken when he was 12 and had nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan.

"I hate this has happened and how Caleb is being portrayed by people online,” Guy said. “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. Caleb doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. He loves everyone and has friends of all races."

The field of finalists on "American Idol" was reduced to three on Sunday night's episode, with Chayce Beckham, Grace Kinstler and Willie Spence remaining to compete for the title.

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