“American Idol” saved the best for last during its season 19 premiere Sunday night.
Berklee College of Music student Grace Kinstler, 20, wowed judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, and Katy Perry with performances of Gladys Knight & The Pips’s “Midnight Train to Georgia” and Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman.”
Before her performance, Kinstler shared the story of unexpectedly losing her father last year.
“I used to watch ‘American Idol’ with my dad and my mom,” Kinstler said. “I always imagined if I went, he would be there. But last February, I was at school and my brother called me at 7 in the morning and said, ‘You should look for flights home. They just took dad to the hospital and he’s not breathing.’ It was very unexpected.”
The judges were clearly impressed by “Midnight Train,” but asked Kinstler to sing a second song as well. At the conclusion of “Natural Woman,” the judges were unanimous in their praise.
Bryan compared Kinstler’s performance to previous “Idol” greats Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson, and said it was the first time that someone’s song had moved him to tears during his four years as judge.
“I get brought to tears by stories and backgrounds of what people have been through and their struggles,” Bryan said. “But this is the first time in four years that someone just singing made me cry.”
Perry meanwhile, called Kinstler’s voice “true magic.”
“There’s not a whole lot of critiquing I need to do,” Perry said. “I got a wave of full body chills twice. That’s music. That’s true magic.”
Prior to her audition, Kinstler told “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest that her father was her biggest cheerleader, and that his passing motivated her to seize every moment.
“Him not being here has taught me, live every moment as if it is your last,” Kinstler said. “Take every opportunity, every chance, because you don’t know what chance you can get because of it.”
Get Boston.com's browser alerts:
Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.