Noah Thompson, this year’s American Idol champ, is true-blue country. But he relied on the cover of a famous pop song to sway the judges and fans his way.
We’re talking back when Thompson was trying to break through in American Idol. He put his own spin on Rihanna’s “Stay” to make it to the top 24. And then he used the song in the finals to win the crown.
Thompson conceded he’s been a fan of the aching love song for several years. And when he performs it, the song also shows Thompson’s versatility.
“I just think the lyrics and everything are so beautiful,” Thompson told Taste of Country Nights. “Anybody can connect with that song, man. You know what I’m saying, with their significant other, whatever. You know what I mean? That’s just a beautifully written song. I love the lyrics of that song. It’s just very, deep and meaningful.”
Mikky Ekko and Justin Parker wrote the song. Rihanna recorded it, with Ekko singing backup, and then released “Stay” in 2013. It was her 24th career top 10 hit. Meanwhile, Thompson, the future American Idol winner, was in elementary school when the song took off across the world.
“I’ve always loved that song,” Thompson said. “Like, I’ve listened to it plenty of times before Idol, but I had never thought about getting on a show and using that as one of my bigger moments. You know what I’m saying? Because it definitely was. I think that was kind of a turning point for me with that song.”
In another interview, he explained why the song worked on American Idol. “I guess nobody expects a kid with work boots and flannel to walk out and sing a Rihanna song.”
Thompson relied on it to make the top 24. He explained his decision as to why he picked it.
“This isn’t a song I would usually do but it reminds me of being back home,” Thompson said. “Because it is a song me and my girlfriend Angel would sing together. Singing that song kind of shows what else I can do. I was hoping maybe that’s what the judges would want to see.”
Then on May 22, the night of the finals, he leaned in on Stay to win American Idol. HunterGirl was runnerup.
Luke Bryan, one of the American Idol judges, told Thompson the night of the final that the panel knew he was “special,” when he first sang Stay. “You proved it even more just now.”
So Thompson released his own country version of “Stay” last month.
“I was really excited coming out of the show with the idea of making it a full country version, man,” he said. “Everybody, like my whole label, they were all down for it. I mean, they were just excited about it. So, we went ahead and did it, and I was pumped about it, for real.”