Season 22 of American Idol premiered Sunday night (Feb. 18), featuring an emotional audition from a 15-year-old named Triston Harper.

Harper is from McIntosh, Ala., and has quite the backstory, which led him to be front-and-center for Idol judges on Sunday night.

The young hopeful got into music because his mother wanted him and his siblings to be something. Llife has been rough for the teen, ever since he was about 11 years old. His mother married his stepfather, who turned out to be abusive to him, his mother and his siblings.

Harper's life was turned upside down when his family had to leave his hometown to escape the abuse. In his audition, the teen said his lowest point in his short-lived 15 years was when he and his mother were sleeping on the side of the road when he was just 12.

Mom appears in a pre-song promotional video that aired — she's in tears as she describes how hard life has been for their family.

She shared that she believes he is so mature for his age because of the trials and tribulations that he has been through.

"I think that story alone is about as compelling as it's gonna get," Lionel Richie remarks after Harper shares his emotional story.

Luke Bryan adds, "I have been out-country'd by ..."

Katy Perry fills in the blank and completes the sentence, "a 15-year-old."

You can tell that Richie is rooting for the teenager, even before he starts singing. "I just want to get right to the goods, I'm just gonna say this out loud, please God, sing. okay?" he says.

Donning a black cowboy hat and holding an acoustic guitar, the young contestant goes into a version of "Cover Me Up" by Jason Isbell, famously covered by Morgan Wallen.

Bryan, being the only country judge, perked up big time as Harper belted out the vocals with the soul of a 50-year-old man.

"Your voice is a storytelling voice," Richie told the teen.

Perry jumped in, saying, "so authentic, so connected to yourself, singing from your soul, it wasn't perfect, but it resonated with me."

"If I could have an afternoon with you and just say, 'don't do that anymore,' just like, don't do those two things," Bryan said, critiquing his skills.

Perry wrapped up the judges' comments, adding: "You're a shotgun, just watch where you're aiming it."

The judges asked Harper if he wanted his mom, Hattie May, to come in before they'd reveal their decision. It was good news: The judges unanimously decided to send Harper to Hollywood.

Keep up with Harper and the rest of American Idol Season 22 here.

Evan Paul is the host of Taste of Country Nights, a syndicated radio show heard on more than 130 country radio stations nationwide, every night from 7PM to midnight. He plays the best new country music and interviews today's top stars, like Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Dan + Shay, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Lady A, + more! 

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