American Idol Season 21 returned on Sunday night (March 5) with Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie, continuing their ongoing search for the next big superstar.

One hopeful who struck a chord with the celebrity cast was Elijah McCormick from Raeford, North Carolina, whose audition took place in the final minutes of the two-hour telecast.

McCormick not only left a big impression on the judges with his voice — he also shared a heartbreaking, inspiring story of how he recently experienced a brush with death.

“High school was when I fell in love with music. I just got lost in it,” McCormick began. “But on graduation day 2019, I was in a bad car accident. The car caught on fire. I had to learn how to walk and talk again.”

“I got a phone call. I thought it was just a fender bender. But when I got there, it was terrifying,” McCormick’s mother, Teshauna, who accompanied her son to his audition, shared. “I really don’t know where I’d be if he hadn’t made it.”

McCormick flatlined multiple times while being airlifted to the hospital and on the operating table. In a twist of fate, he got a second chance at life — the rising star made huge strides on his road to recovery. After spending 79 days in the hospital, receiving multiple surgeries, which included open heart surgery, he found his voice again.

Fans who tuned in to catch the latest episode of Idol got to hear McCormick’s voice as he delivered a top-notch rendition of Rascal Flatts’ “Bless the Broken Road.” His cover, which included numerous vocal runs and natural vibrato, had Richie uncontrollably weeping.

“Got me, boy,” Richie said, through tears, as Perry tried to console him.

Afterward, all three judges got up to give McCormick hugs before delivering their comments on his performance.

“I just got to say it. I mean. The last person I saw approach singing like you was Willie Spence,” Bryan said, while Richie agreed. “It’s the same approach.”

“I mean, you hit one of those notes, and I thought of Willie, and from then on, I couldn’t recover,” Richie shared of the former Idol contestant, who died in a car accident in 2022. “I was trying to look very dignified, and then you just beat me up some more. But let me tell you this. God brought you back nine times for you to do something amazing. I’m so glad you’re here with us. That was just one of those moments in my life that I’ll never forget.”

“Elijah. Do you understand that this is the beginning of your story?” Perry added before McCormick revealed that his mother signed him up for Idol before his accident.

“Wait. What? So you’re just here fulfilling your destiny,” Perry confirmed before all three judges invited McCormick’s mother into the audition room to include her in the news that her son would be competing in Hollywood Week.

“I was not supposed to be here. I have to fulfill my purpose,” McCormick, who earned his golden ticket, shared.

American Idol airs Sundays at 8PM ET on ABC.

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