Monday night (Mar. 19) on American Idol took viewers on a fun audition swirl through New Orleans and Nashville, which, predictably, called up some mighty fine country contestants and a few surprises (such as, um, a dog that did its business on stage—three times—while her owner tried to belt out a tune. Was this an emotional support animal?!).

However, the night's most interesting surprise was something that's genuinely rare in the history of country music: An Asian country musician.

Austin, Texas's Daniel Ethridge proved that the genre shows no diversity boundaries, admitting that his heritage has been seen as something of a curiosity in the frame of his deep love for country music. "I was a small little chubby Asian child," he relates. "People look at me and they're like, 'Okay, this kid's like half Korean and sings country music.' And 'I'm like, excuse me?'"

Ethridge, after charmingly noting his little sister (who drew a picture of him as a panda dressed in pink accessories) would be most thrilled to see him audition, delivered one of the night's two Chris Stapleton covers. This one was "Fire Away," and he belted it with conviction, earning nods from the judges.

Judge Katy Perry was spurred to ask if he had anything original to share, and he did, explaining it was a song he wrote for his aforementioned little sister, who was catching heat from friends at school for bragging about her brother.

The charming tune caught seasoned songwriter Lionel Richie's ears—himself a country music aficionado of color—and all three judges decided without much discussion or fanfare to send Ethridge right along to Hollywood.

American Idol airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8PM ET/PT, and we'll be keeping an eye on all the as standout performances.

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