And that’s why he chose to perform a countrified version of “Stay,” which Rihanna made into a top 10 hit nine years before.
But why was he so shaky with Olivia Faye? Can you tell from this American Idol video?
Here’s some background. The American Idol judges put Thompson and Faye together for the duet rounds. It was kind of an obvious pairing since both singers are from Kentucky. The two first selected “Lean on Me,” from Bill Withers, to perform on stage. But the vocal coaches weren’t that thrilled with their rendition during rehearsals.
So, the two needed to come up with another song. Maybe “The Bones” from Maren Morris would work. But neither knew much about the song and didn’t have that long to practice. So the two settled on Noah Cyrus’ “July.”
And Thompson decided against performing with his guitar. When it came time to sing that night on American Idol, he said he was dedicating the performance to his son.
“Tonight, we decided that we’re not going to be playing any instruments in this round because I’m not the best guitarist,” Thompson explained to the audience. “My son’s name is Walker. He’s definitely the best thing that’s ever happened to me now. He’s my push in all of this. He is all I think about right before I walk up there, and everybody back home.”
Faye agreed with Thompson: “We’re doing this for Walker and Kentucky. We’re going to make them proud.” Instead, the performance truly was shaky, with Thompson making a mistake.
“But, these duet rounds force you to dig in and fight,” Bryan said. “And only the strong survive for both of y’all, but it’s a fight that you’re still in. You’re going through to the next round.”
So yes, Thompson needed a jolt to separate himself from the rest of the 24 excellent singers. And that’s why he went with a long-time favorite song that showed the American Idol judges he was more than just a Kentucky twang. He said the producers initially suggested “Stay” because it was part of Noah’s audition tape. (You can blame his best friend, Arthur, for that). Plus, he posted a version of it on social media last summer.
Thompson performed the song, twice, including in the American Idol finals.
“I think it was just unique for everybody to hear me sing a song like that,” Thompson said. “That’s why now after the show ended, they kind of thought it would be a good idea to make a whole country version.”