Caleb Kennedy from ‘American Idol’ faces felony DUI after fatal crash

Former “American Idol” contestant Caleb Kennedy has been charged with a felony DUI after a fatal crash in his home state of South Carolina.

South Carolina Highway Patrol master trooper Mitchell Ridgeway confirmed to USA TODAY on Tuesday that the country singer, 17, has been “charged with felony driving under the influence resulting in death,” after driving a 2011 Ford Pickup into a building.

A person inside the building sustained a fatal injury as a result of the collision, Ridgeway said.

The crash, which occurred Tuesday at approximately 12:41 p.m. on a private road in Spartanburg County, remains under investigation by the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

According to Ridgeway, the driver of the vehicle was taken to Spartanburg Medical Center. The second person that was in the building was also taken to the hospital, then died from their injuries. 

Kennedy began his “Idol” journey in October 2020 and eventually made it to the Top 5 before abruptly leaving the show after a controversial social media post resurfaced online. In a Snapchat post, Kennedy appeared beside someone wearing what seems to be a Ku Klux Klan hood. 

Former "American Idol" contestant Caleb Kennedy has been charged with a felony DUI after a fatal crash in his home state of South Carolina.

“Now that I’m home, I try to be me, but I’m also scared of someone videoing me when I go to Academy or Walmart. You have to worry about things like that now,” Kennedy told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, in June 2021.

While speaking about his time on the show, Kennedy admitted he underestimated the pressures of performing on a popular show like “Idol.” 

“You think it’s all going to be fun, and a lot of it is, but it will slap you in the face really quickly. I wasn’t ready for it,” he said. “There’s no way to emotionally prepare for ‘Idol.’ Because no one is ready for it, no matter how you prepare.”

Caleb Kennedy talks his ‘American Idol’ experience, video controversy: ‘I wasn’t ready for it’

However, he noted that he didn’t have regrets despite the challenges, adding “I did love it.”

Last May, viewers were surprised when Kennedy failed to appear on the show to perform alongside the season’s Top 5 contestants. Host Ryan Seacrest barely touched on Kennedy’s absence on air, saying at the top of the show that the high school student “will not be continuing in the competition.”

However, in a virtual Q&A after the show, judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan gave their thoughts on the controversy. “First and foremost, as judges and as a judges panel, we love these kids, and we get emotionally involved,” Bryan said. “We wish nothing but the best for Caleb, and it does make for a very, very challenging and upsetting week.”

‘American Idol’ judges weigh in on Caleb Kennedy controversy: ‘Challenging and upsetting’

Richie added that he hoped the controversy would be a learning experience for the teenager. “We grow up, and we make mistakes, and we look at our lives behind us many, many times, and we say, ‘God, what was I thinking about when I did that?’ This is one of those situations,” he said.

Kennedy took to Instagram to apologize and officially announce his departure on May 12.

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“Hey y’all, this is gonna be a bit of a surprise, but I am no longer gonna be on ‘American Idol,’ ” he wrote. “There was a video that surfaced on the internet and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way. I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that’s not an excuse. I wanna say sorry to all my fans and everyone who I have let down.”

Kennedy’s family told the Herald-Journal at the time that the video was recorded when he was 12, and his mother, Anita Guy, said the video “was taken after Caleb had watched the movie ‘The Strangers: Prey at Night’ and they were imitating those characters.”

“Caleb doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” she added.

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Contributing: Jenna Ryu, USA TODAY; Linda Conley, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

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