Tekamah native Nick Townsend’s voice impressed the “American Idol” judges Sunday, earning him a golden ticket to Hollywood on the opening night of the singing contest’s 17th season.
Townsend’s story and the reaction of judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and, especially Luke Bryan, made his segment the Sunday finale and one of the show’s Monday morning headline grabbers.
In the taped segment that preceded his audition, Townsend talked about the death of his two brothers by suicide. His younger brother's death came after Townsend had gone to Japan with a performing group.
“It made me feel selfish, because I left my little brother when I could have been there. All I can think about is he needed me and I left him,” he sobbed.
And Townsend, a 2011 graduate of Tekamah-Herman High School, said he had thought about quitting music. "There have definitely been times that I’ve just wanted to give up, but I know my brothers would want me to keep pursuing my dream and be really proud that I’m here.”
In front of the judges, with his parents Liz and Leroy and sister Samantha, who accompanied him to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for the audition last fall, looking on, Townsend repeated that sentiment.
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“This is what I love to do and they (his brothers) wouldn’t want me to stop,” he said. “I just know they would want me to keep going.”
Delivering a plaintive version of James Bay’s “Let It Go” while playing an acoustic guitar, Townsend connected with the judges.
Richie told Townsend he had a “natural cry” in his voice. ”In our business we call that money,” he said.
Bryan, who also praised Townsend’s singing for its simplicity and ability to sell his voice in an understated and true manner, had a more personal reaction as well.
"I’ve lost both my siblings,” Bryan said. “I just applaud you for keeping a positive attitude and continuing to fight and just try to be a light for your parents.”
“American Idol,” which airs Sundays on ABC, will continue with its audition rounds through March 18. Its Hollywood episodes begin March 24, with the Top 40 showcase round set for March 31.
Townsend’s next appearance on the show has not yet been announced.