Former Cal Bear soccer star Grace Leer qualified for the Top 11 on American Idol thanks to the above rendition of the classic song, landing herself squarely, from what it seems like as an outsider of the show, in the top with the glowing reviews.
The judges had some pretty awesome things to say about Leer’s performance that landed her onto the next stage.
“That was big and bold, and like you were singing to thousands,” Katy Perry said.
“You just showed America that you have a big, big, big, big voice,” Luke Bryan said.
She advanced to the top 11 and will continue to square off on the show that airs, virtually now instead of in person, on a stage in Hollywood, on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET.
As a senior, Leer was a Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable mention in 2014 and started 10 games during his final season in Berkeley. She appeared in 22 games overall and had a career-high six goals in the 2014 season, including the equalizer against USC that was named Goal of the Week back in 2014.
She finished her five-year Cal career with 13 total goals, four assists and 30 total points as three of her goals were game-winners for the Bears.
American Idol contestant Grace Leer is carrying the torch for country music in the Season 18 Top 11 on the TV singing competition. The California native and current Nashville resident says she'll always find a way to imbue a bit of country flair into her performances, even when she's not singing a traditionally country song.
For her Top 20 performance, Leer chose Faith Hill's "Cry," but after she was announced as one of the remaining 11 finalists, the singer performed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," a selection that, per the week's theme, reminds her of home. The song is a classic that's been covered by, among others, Martina McBride and LeAnn Rimes, whose renditions Leer looked to as inspiration for her version.
"Just like what I did with "Natural Woman" [in a previous round], I took "Over the Rainbow" and knew I wanted to make it country, so I took influences from Martina McBride's version ... as well as LeAnn Rimes, so that's why it was very big and modeled after those powerful singers," Leer told media on a conference call following Sunday night's (May 3) Idol episode, noting that she worked with the AI band to make sure there was plenty of pedal steel in the arrangement.
"I understand that it wasn't a traditional country song ... but I definitely had those country influences to it and I'm still very happy with my performance," Leer continues. "But I understand, if given the opportunity to move forward, that I still way to play to the country audience."
After her Sunday night performance, judge Lionel Richie offered Leer the advice to remember her audience: "If country is your aim ... stay right there. Just hone in on where we're trying to go," he suggested. Leer says that while she appreciated Richie's feedback, she believes she balanced her country leanings with the theme of the episode, which was focused on songs that remind the contestants of home.
"They encouraged us to pick a song that reminds us of home, and, for me, immediately, "Over the Rainbow" was the first song that came to mind," Leer shares. "I didn't grow up in the South, but, for me, my love of country music is very much there, and I am a county artist through and through."
The next episode of American Idol is Sunday (May 10) at 8PM ET on ABC. The week's theme is Disney songs.
"American Idol" is down to the top 10! ABC7's Janet Davies spoke with amazing Grace Leer, a California girl with country chops and strong ties to Chicago.
"I just want to do it for my life," Leer said. "I love singing. I love being on stage. I love making music."
Leer's been singing all her life. She became a school soccer star and answered the call of Nashville.
"I loved the storytelling of country music," she said. "I just loved the melodies."
Leer's father is an actor and model right here in Chicago. Her brother, Chris, is a men's soccer coach at Northwestern.
"I've come to Chicago just to hang out with my dad, he lives right downtown," she said. "We've done the Hot Chocolate run. I love Chicago as a city, it's awesome."
Grace was an "American Juniors" contestant - one of many early stages.
"I just remember her mom and I looking at each other going, what was that, wow ok she's got something!" said her father, Bruce Leer.
You may have seen Grace's dad cheering her on in the audience.
"Grace has been giving me chills and tears singing from the time she was three and I'm very passionate about her performing," he said. "Whether she wins or not, listen, we're gonna be proud of her not matter where she ends up."
"When I sing it's just such a passion of mine," she said. "There's really nothing else I wanna do in this world. It's just what I love."
The newest season of American Idol premieres on Sunday, Feb. 14, and new trailers for the show are giving fans a look at the changes made to production amid the coronavirus pandemic. The previous season ended remotely due to the pandemic, and this season will return to production with a number of safety precautions in place. Ahead of the season premiere, PEOPLE shared a pair of new trailers for the series, which show one of the new protocols the reality competition is following this season.
As the auditions take place, judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie are all seated at three separate stations in the room rather than their usual single table, as hopefuls audition in front of them, looking for a golden ticket to Hollywood. The rest of the trailer features the judges speaking separately to the camera, sharing quotes from some of music's greatest artists. "Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories," Richie said, quoting Stevie Wonder. "Music proves we are the same," Bryan declared in the words of John Denver. Perry quoted Kenny Rogers, telling the camera, "Music should make you laugh, make you cry, or make you think."
An additional trailer features more of the same, including Bryan telling one contestant, "This is the first time in four years just someone singing made me cry." The country star also quotes David Bowie, announcing, "Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming." "Dreams, if they're any good, are always a little bit crazy," added Richie, quoting Ray Charles. Perry shared some words from Reba McEntire, stating that "To succeed, you need three things — a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone."
Along with Perry, Bryan and Richie, Ryan Seacrest will return as host and Bobby Bones will return as Idol's in-house mentor. In September, Bryan told Entertainment Tonight that he and his fellow judges would be together in-person when Season 19 returns. "We will be in person together," he said. "One big happy, crazy family giving Lionel anxiety."
One of the outfits Perry can be seen wearing at her judges' table is the same one she wore in a recently-released clip of herself and Bryan on set performing a song called "2020 Sucks," which the show released on New Year's Eve. "Is this six feet on your TV channel? / Will we ever see a brighter day? / 2020, you have sucked / 2021 will you kiss 2020 in the butt," Perry sang while lying on top of a piano that Bryan was playing. "We are hoping for a brighter day / 2020, can you just go the hell away." American Idol returns on Sunday, Feb. 14 on ABC.