‘American Idol’ Music Director Spills the Tea on the 2021 Finale


American Idol finalist Willie Spence recently celebrated Mother’s Day by delivering a stunning performance of the Joe Cocker classic, “You Are So Beautiful.” And before the powerful song was through, both Spence and his dear mother watching from home were in tears.

But they weren’t the only ones.

“I couldn’t stop crying,” American Idol’s music director, Kristopher Pooley, admits during a recent interview with Taste of Country. “The fact is that we are experiencing these performances much the same way as the people at home are, and sometimes that gets pretty embarrassing because we will be done with the song and will all be sitting back there in tears.”

It’s just the reality of the behind-the-scenes happenings on one of television’s most beloved singing competition shows, whose season finale is set for this Sunday (May 23). This year, in its fourth season since ABC launched its reboot, many believe that American Idol has turned out one of the most impressive Top 3 lineups in recent memory, led by country music hopeful Chayce Beckham.

“Chayce is special in a lot of ways,” says Pooley, who also serves as a producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist on the show. “Musically, he can connect to a story, he can tell a story and he has a story. He’s also a genuinely nice guy who comes into a room and looks everyone in the eye and knows everyone’s name. He will go far because of his talent, but he’ll also stick around because he treats everyone with so much respect.”

And then there is Grace Kinstler, a 20-year-old Chicago native and a college student at Berklee College of Music.

“Grace is always trying to remind herself to pull back a little bit and connect with the story even more,” says Pooley, who was born and raised in Detroit and has also worked with American Idol judges Lionel Richie and Katy Perry outside of the show. “She is so incredible.”

Rounding out the Top 3 is Spence, a larger-than-life teddy bear of a human whose future looks nothing but bright.

“Willie sings that way every single time,” Pooley says of Spence’s Luther Vandross-style vocals. “He never holds back.”

And in simply looking at the Top 3, one can see firsthand the true beauty of the show.

“Music in general transcends, or at least it has the potential to transcend any of your previous biases or preconceived notions,” Pooley says. “It crosses race and ideologies and culture. It’s the one thing we can all agree on.”

While the Top 3 duke it out on Sunday’s finale, Pooley will certainly have his hands full, as he will be directing a 3-hour show that will include roughly 25 songs and multiple special guests, including country favorites Luke Combs, Sheryl Crow and Mickey Guyton. And even while he’s doing that, Pooley still can’t get over his excitement about the country talent that the show has already churned out during the past four seasons.

“I mean, there is Gabby Barrett, and then we had Lauren Mascitti, who I believe is going to be a huge star,” explains Pooley. “And I also hear Laci Kaye Booth is going to have an album coming out that’s going to be incredible.”

Of course, the show wouldn’t be American Idol without country’s very own Luke Bryan, either.

“Luke is a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of guy,” Pooley says with a laugh. “He’s funny and he’s a straight shooter and he’s just a really nice guy.”

See Country Stars On American Idol, Then + Now:

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