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Mississippi Makes Noise at American Idol This Year

Photo courtesy of ABC

It’s no secret that The Magnolia State is full of talent. Season 23 of American Idol has spotlighted a trifecta of musical talent with three young singers: Kayleigh Clark, Colin Stough, and Zachariah Smith.

Each contestant received a golden ticket to Hollywood during their American Idol audition, catapulting them into the spotlight, with opportunities for which each artist expresses tremendous gratitude.

“I’m so grateful. It’s such a blessing!” Kayleigh Clark, the 17-year-old singer from Sumrall, exclaimed.

Clark helps her family on the chicken farm and has sung in church since she was three. She shared, “When I was little, I was always humming, singing, or tapping, and my Mama would say “Kayleigh, you’ve got be quiet for just a minute.” One day, I told her, “Mama, I have a song in my heart.” After that, my Mama said she never said a word about my singing again. Music is what I was meant to do.”

Kayleigh Clark (Photo courtesy of Kayleigh Clark)

“One day, I came home to my mama and my best friend sitting on the couch, and they told me I had a Zoom audition with American Idol,” Clark recounted. “I was shocked!”

From there, Clark went on to New Orleans to perform at a live audition. “It all felt so real when we pulled up to the hotel, and there was a huge Idol sign, and I saw Ryan Seacrest walk through the door.”

Clark shared that she told everyone she would marry Luke Bryan when she was a little girl. “When it came time for my audition, I kept telling myself don’t you go in there and make a fool of yourself! After my audition, for Luke to tell me that I could be a top 10 contestant meant the world to me. Lionel Richie is iconic, and even though Katy Perry said no to me, she is very sweet and gave me a lot of great feedback that I’m going to take to Hollywood week.”

“Obviously, my dream is to be a famous singer, but I also hope to show little girls that you can do whatever you put your mind to. I’m so very grateful for my family. My parents have always supported me, and my brother has too.” Clark’s older brother is an active duty B-52 pilot for the United States Air Force.

“Mississippi has given me so much support. I wouldn’t be anywhere without my family and the people who have supported me.”

Kayleigh Clark and Amory’s Colin Stough became fast friends during their auditions in New Orleans. Clark shared, “Our moms met each other first, and they hit it off and became friends too! After our auditions, Colin and I went to dinner in New Orleans, and we talk all of the time. We’ve become very good friends.”

The 18-year-old Hatley High graduate, Colin Stough, wowed America with his rendition of Simple Man. “My mom signed me up to audition for American Idol. Music has always been a hobby of mine,” Stough shared.

Colin Stough (Photo courtesy of ABC)

“The whole experience has been an opportunity to overcome fears and gain confidence. At the New Orleans audition, all contestants were in what they call a holding room. We all perform and play in front of each other, which helps calm the nerves. All of the judges are incredible, and what they say is genuine,” Stough shared.

With musical inspiration from artists like Keith Whitley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Marcus King, Stough said this opportunity has changed his life.

“I appreciate everything. There’s not a better home than Mississippi. Whether you’re playing baseball, racing cars, or rodeoing, it doesn’t matter. I feel like Mississippi is one of the strongest states for support out there.”

The talented HVAC technician also expressed, “For all the small town Mississippi kids out there, just like me, I’d like to say, as long as you work at it, nothing is impossible.”

Since the audition process, Stough has performed locally with his friend and American Idol contestant, Zachariah Smith, who is also from Amory.

Stough and Smith recently performed in Amory and did a meet and greet at Amory’s Main Street Mudbugs Festival. They also performed for students at a local high school, where they both appreciated the opportunity to inspire students and encourage them to go after their dreams.

Smith shared, “I knew Colin a little from eating burgers at Bill’s Burgers, but when American Idol came in and filmed the segment about us in Amory, we became great friends. I love Colin. He is a great buddy of mine.”

Like Clark, Zachariah Smith has been performing his entire life. “I’ve been singing in church since I was six years old. I’ve been doing more gigs since the audition aired, and I have to say, I’m truly blessed.”

Zachariah Smith
Zachariah Smith (Photo courtesy of ABC)

The 19-year-old auditioned for Idol online and was brought to Nashville for filming. “The audition process is a once and lifetime opportunity, and I’m so thankful that American Idol allowed me to do this. It’s changed my life. It’s changed my family’s life.”

Smith has been working at Bill Burger’s in Amory and is married with three children. “Business at Bill’s has picked up like crazy! It’s so cool to see the support of a small Mississippi business. People come in, eat a good burger, and they get to see that guy from American Idol. We love it!” Smith’s Father-in-law is the owner of Bill’s burgers, and his wife has worked there for 20 years.

Life has changed for the Smith family since American Idol aired, and Smith shared, “The support that we have gotten from Mississippi is amazing. There is so much love that comes out of this whole process. God bless Mississippi. Y’all have changed my and my family’s lives for the better.”

Smith has dreamed of being an entertainer his whole life. He said, “To the kids who are struggling and you don’t connect with anything but music, that is me. Never give up on your dreams. I dream of connecting with people on another level through music because when words can’t talk, music will.”

Sharing a favorite quote, Smith said, “Remember, with a whole lot of faith, a whole lot of luck, and some love to see you through, dream big, and it just might come true.”

As fans continue to rally around Mississippi’s musical trifecta on American Idol, Kayleigh Clark, Colin Stough, and Zachariah Smith are sure to receive a lot of love as they reach for the stars and set out to accomplish their dreams.



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