‘American Idol’ judges stunned by 21-year-old California singer. ‘May be the winner’

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A piano intro chimed through our screens. A crystalline voice floated above it.

Abi Carter, an Indio, California, native, accompanied herself on the piano, singing Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” for the “American Idol” judges on the show’s Feb. 25 broadcast.

As she sang, a deep stillness settled into the audition room.

The song seemed like breathing for the 21-year-old singer. Her voice crescendoed with the piano and the passion of the song. Then, the intensity dissipated.

Her voice wafted into the final chords and into the quiet. The room was still.

Suddenly, all three judges stood up, applauding. And they weren’t the only ones. The crew members on set were clapping too.

“That may be the winner of ‘American Idol’ right there,” judge Luke Bryan said. “I’ve never heard the crew clap.”

The cameras caught Carter’s eyes — wide as she watched the room’s reactions.

“We don’t have to vote,” said judge Lionel Richie.

Without a vote, the judges gave Carter a gold ticket that will send her to Hollywood for the next round of “American Idol.” Gold tickets are given to select contestants whose auditions impress the judges.

Carter is a multi-instrumentalist, a singer and the second of seven children in a close-knit religious family with a single mom, she said. Her music is the story of a village.

Despite their busy household, Carter’s mom Andrea F. Engel Carter always supported her daughter’s love of music, gifting her a keyboard when she was young so that she could start gigging.

In the Feb. 25 broadcast, viewers saw Engel Carter and other members of Carter’s family with their ears pressed against the audition door, tears of pride in their eyes.

In 2016, when Carter was 13, she performed with Engel Carter, who is also a vocalist, for Open Call, an annual sold-out event at a 1,127-seat theater in Southern California. The two won “Best Vocal Act” that year, Coachella Valley Weekly reported.

According to a Facebook post announcing the duo’s participation, Carter auditioned for Open Call to help her mom with her stage fright. She also told the organizers that it was her dream “to be able to make a living using her voice.”

In 2018, Engel Carter noticed an announcement for a guitar giveaway by acclaimed bluesman John Carey, according to Coachella Valley Weekly.

Engel Carter wrote to him, saying she wanted her daughter to have the opportunity to win the guitar. According to an interview with Carey in Coachella Valley Weekly, Carter was one of 12 students who submitted her grades and an essay as to why she should be chosen to receive the guitar.

She won. After one of Carey’s performances, she was awarded the Schecter electric magenta guitar, according to the outlet. That day, she performed with Carey, playing her new guitar.

“I chose Abi because of her overall plan to achieve greatness through education and understanding that education comes first,” Carey told Coachella Valley Weekly.

In her interview with the paper, Carter credited her mom.

“She is my rock, my motivation, and who I strive to be like. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her guiding me along the way,” Carter told the outlet.

Six years later, on “American Idol,” she echoed this sentiment.

“My mom is my biggest supporter,” Carter said during the episode.

At the end of her audition, her family rushed into the audition room for a rowdy, heartwarming group hug.

After her audition, viewers watched as Carter’s ticket got upgraded from gold to platinum. This rare tier means that when she goes to Hollywood, she gets to skip the first round altogether and go straight to round two. According to “American Idol,” only three people are awarded platinum tickets.

“I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the sheer AMOUNT of support I have received,” Carter wrote in a post on Instagram. “I couldn’t feel more loved right now.”

Indio is about 130 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

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