Fans of ABC's singing competition hit American Idol are in for an emotional episode Sunday when one of the contestants blows away the judges with his singing. But the story behind his audition song and the relationship with his gay grandfather steals the show.
A "real nervous" Jon Wayne Hatfield began his audition with an introduction. The 21-year-old from Goshen, Ohio, explains how life with his grandparents, "grandma and grandpa," was amazing. Because of a mother who struggled with addiction, they raised him from age five, he says.
"My grandma was my mom," Hatfield says during a video package about his childhood.
"My grandpa was always my best friend," he continues, retelling how his grandfather, Ray, would go out and climb trees with him as a kid. "It was the best life you ever could ask for," Hatfield says.
He tells the judges that he'll be performing an original song called "Tell Me, Ray," which he wrote about his grandfather, who the judges insist join them in the room to watch.
Katy Perry tells Ray that she thinks his grandson is going to sing a song about him, which already brings him to wipe tears from his eyes.
"Yeah, I know," he replies. "It's a tough one."
Returning to the video, Hatfield explains that the family lost his grandmother about three years ago and left his grandfather devastated to the point that he wouldn't speak with anybody, including his grandson, for more than a year.
"Watching my grandpa was the hardest thing...he lost his best friend of 50 years. He wouldn't talk to anybody for about a year-and-a-half — not even me," Hatfield says, adding, "I got mad at myself because I couldn't fix it."
Ray explains that when he was a teenager, he shared a secret with his would-be wife — he is gay.
"She said, 'I love you, and that's okay,'" Ray says.
He explains, "John was the last person I told because I was scared he would stop loving me," as he became emotional.
Hatfield says Ray sat him down after the extended silence and came out to him.
"Hey, don't think that's going to change a damn thing between me and you because you're my best friend, and you're my dad," Hatfield says he told Ray.
He says that because of that experience, he wrote the song "Tell Me, Ray."
"It's a big relief to be able to stand here and be proud and say 'I'm gay,' and there's nothing wrong with it," Ray says.
The judging panel is taken with the story and asks Hatfield to show them his talents, and he performs the song, ultimately earning himself a standing ovation from them.