Young mother Sara Beth quits ‘American Idol’ following Katy Perry’s ’embarrassing’ and ‘hurtful’ ‘mom-shaming’ remark

Early frontrunner Sara Beth quits 'American Idol' Season 21 during the first round of Hollywood Week. (Photo: ABC)

Early frontrunner Sara Beth quits ‘American Idol’ Season 21 during the first round of Hollywood Week. (Photo: ABC)

Earlier this season on American Idol, a plucky and adorable redhead by the stage name of Sara Beth, whom Katy Perry described as “a comic strip character come to life,” tried out for the show. The judges were so surprised by the singer’s baby-faced appearance — they literally thought she was 16, not a 25-year-old mother of three — that Katy pretended to faint, to which an amused Sara Beth said, “If Katy lays on the table, I think I’m going to pass out!”

Katy then quipped, without missing a beat: “Honey, you’ve been laying on the table too much!”

Viewers were quick to blast Katy’s comment as slut-shaming or mom-shaming, and while Sara Beth seemed to laugh it off at time and happily accepted her Golden Ticket to Hollywood, she later took to TikTok to call out the center judge out for the “hurtful” remark, saying: “Katy Perry made a joke that wasn’t super-kind. … It was embarrassing to have that on TV. … I think that mom-shaming is super-lame.”

This Sunday, when Sara Beth returned to Idol Season 21 for the first round of Hollywood Week, she abruptly quit the show — despite delivering what guest mentor Clay Aiken called an “infectiously lovely” rendition of the Police’s “Roxanne” that Sara herself said “went a lot better than I thought it would,” and despite Katy passionately pleading with her to stay.

However, Sara Beth didn’t cite Katy’s crude “table” comment as the reason for her early exit, instead just telling the judges, “This opportunity is really rad, but this is actually going to be my last performance, because my heart’s at home. So, I’m going get home to my babies. They kind of need me.”

Sara Beth’s heart truthfully had never seemed totally in it to win it when it came to Idol. At the time of her audition, she’d only been semi-seriously pursuing music for six months, with her prior experience mostly limited to karaoke nights with her gal pals. Katy suspected that singing wasn’t Sara Beth’s true passion and that Sara didn’t possess that same hunger as other Idol contestants, actually calling Sara an “accidental American Idol” and “hidden gem.” Lionel Richie even gave Sara Beth a no during the New Orleans auditions. And in Hollywood, Sara seemed more ambivalent than ever, admitting, “A big part of me feels like I’m not cut out for show business.”

“I don’t even know what show business is,” Sara Beth said. “I’ve been a mom since I was 18. I’ve been married since I was 18. … I don’t think I realized quite how hard it would be to be away from my kids. They’re all still really young. … There is a lot of guilt when you leave your kids to do something completely selfish.” She also told a producer backstage, who seemed to be trying to talk her out of her decision, “I feel like I’m not gonna win the show anyway, so I might as well go home.”

Sara Beth backstage at Los Angeles's Orpheum Theatre, after deciding to quit 'American Idol's' Hollywood Week. (Photo: ABC)

Sara Beth backstage at Los Angeles’s Orpheum Theatre, after deciding to quit ‘American Idol’s’ Hollywood Week. (Photo: ABC)

“What just happened? She’s gonna leave? What just happened?” Lionel gasped incredulously, after Sara Beth announced her resignation.

“That was a mistake,” said a disappointed Luke Bryan.

But the judges, particularly the headstrong Katy, weren’t going to let Sara Beth go that easily. They immediately summoned Sara back to the stage and urged her to reconsider, with Katy pep-talking her: “I know life is scary. I also know that it’s easier to walk away than to be rejected. … But self-love is just as big as motherly love. Don’t leave the competition.”

The judges then revealed that they had planned to put Sara Beth through to Hollywood Week’s second round, based on the strength of her “Roxanne” performance. “You’ve opened a door you thought you’d never open, and you got a yes. And you may get another yes in the future. Do not give up,” Katy reiterated.

This all seemed like the setup for a classic Idol story arc, a triumph-over-adversity narrative that would satisfyingly end with Sara Beth deciding to face her fears and stay in the game. But while Sara “appreciated” Katy’s words — this time around — Katy’s words did not change her mind after all.

“I’m really humbled and grateful, and Katy had some really nice things to say. It would be nice if my kids were a little older. I understand how big of an opportunity this is,” Sara Beth shrugged, leaving the Orpheum Theatre stage for the second and apparently final time. “But I still kind of want to get home. I am sure when I get home, I will regret it and be like, ‘Man, you should have stayed.’”

It is a shame that Sara Beth took herself out of the running, when there were so many other contestants who would’ve loved to stay in Hollywood but had no choice in the matter. Among the notable cuts during this first round were Lyric Medeiros (daughter of ‘80s adult-contemporary star Glenn Medeiros), who was still too cutesy despite Katy trying to “smack all that out of her,” and McKayla Stacey (daughter of Season 6 Idol finalist Phil Stacey), who enjoyed a sweet reunion with another guest mentor, Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks, but hadn’t quite matured enough to move on.

Also eliminated Sunday were Ashley Tankard, who tried out 15 times to get to this moment, but choked (or more specifically croaked) under pressure; crooning cashier Kameron Lawson, who suffered his own unfortunate frog-throated moment; and a few once-promising contestants whose Hollywood Week performances weren’t shown at all, like Ophrah Kablam, Danny Epp, Owen Eckhardt, and Irish one-hit wonder Keelin. Any of these singers would have been thrilled to have Katy begging them not to go, and would have happily taken Sara’s spot.

Interestingly, another second-chancer and young mom, Fire Wilmore, did make it through to the next round — despite the fact that she was clearly “not comfortable standing up there” onstage, as Luke observed, and giving what was already her third lackluster performance of this short season. I suspect that Fire won’t make it much further, but after producers invested so in much in her — making her the sob-story subject of a two-episode cliffhanger in which she was turned away from her first audition, but given a second chance a month later — the judges probably felt obligated, or were even ordered, to keep her around just a bit longer.

As for the other singers who advanced Sunday, for this first-day challenge they all had to focus on one of three areas in which they wanted to improve, and they had a little help not just from Clay and Jordin, but from a few other Idol alumni. Season 1 runner-up Justin “Lil’ Sweet” Guarini, along with Jordin, was there to fine-tune the contestants’ stage presence; runners-up and fan favorites David “The Macaw” Archuleta and Clay coached the contestants’ confidence; and Season 11 winner/prodigal son Phillip Phillips and Season 16 viral folk-pop sensation Catie Turner specialized in songwriting. And in case seeing the above-mentioned McKayla Stacey, age 16, reunite with Jordin (her actual former babysitter!) or 16-year-old contestant Paige Anne meet her girlhood celebrity crush, Archuleta, didn’t make all you old-school Idol viewers feel old… well, Clay pointed out that some of Season 21’s hopefuls weren’t even born yet when competed on American Idol 20 years ago, in Season 2.

None of Sunday’s performers received any direct verbal feedback from Katy, Lionel, and Luke, but the judges’ whoops, hollers, occasional standing ovations, and murmured comments to each other were enough to illustrate their enthusiasm. Among Sunday’s standouts were Eastern European diva Nutsa, who gave Luke “chills everywhere” with her dramatic tour de force of Celine Dion’s “I Surrender”; rough-around-the-edges country boys Trey Louis and Colin Stough, both total naturals despite having almost no live performance experience; sassy fry cook Zachariah Smith, who didn’t need any confidence or stage-presence coaching to deliver his dynamite version of Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice”; more-than-ready-for-prime-time folk-rock troubadours Mariah Faith and Oliver Steele; soul belters Lucy Love, Matt Wilson, and Kya Monee; and Broadway baby Emma Busse and her steely version of Yebba’s betrayal ballad “My Mind.”

The episode’s pimp spot went to “top 10 material” Iam Tongi, who went viral dedicating his audition of James Blunt’s “Monsters” to his recently departed dad, and continued to make his father proud with a simple and tender cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” that a stunned Luke declared “perfect.”

We also got a few exquisite original compositions, from Haven Madison (who proved her excellent audition song “15” was no fluke by following that up with an emotional song for her struggling brother, “Still Need You”); Dawson Wayne (who I don’t remember from the auditions, but could be a dark horse); volleyball champ Hannah Nicolaisen; and Wé Ani, whose original was so catchy, her peers in the Orpheum Theatre audience were still singing it long after she left the stage. (Side note: Aforementioned eliminee Keelin’s Megan Trainor-esque, anti-ghosting original, “Don’t Call Me,” which she sang at her quirky audition, is still the hookiest original of Season 21, and it ought to become a big hit.)

Hollywood Week continues apace Monday, when Platinum Ticket recipients Tyson Venegas, Kaylin Hedges, Cam Amen, and Elijah McCormick — who were exempt Sunday, instead observing round one from the comfort and distance of their Statler & Waldorf-style balcony seats — will rejoin the competition. And there will be plenty of drama, of course, because this season, the contestants have to choose their own partners for round two’s duets challenge.

Meanwhile, Sara Beth will be watching at home with her three kids, possibly wondering what might have been… but hopefully having no regrets.

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