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‘American Idol’ judges say Caleb Kennedy’s exit from the show was “unfortunate”

ABC/Eric McCandless

American Idol contestant Caleb Kennedy was considered to be a front-runner before he abruptly left the show last week due to the bad optics of a social media photo that resurfaced online.  Now, judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan are weighing in on Caleb’s departure.

As previously reported, the photo showed Caleb, who was 12 at the time, sitting next to a friend who was wearing what looks a lot like a Ku Klux Klan hood. Though Caleb’s mother later said that the friend was dressed up as a character from the film The Strangers: Prey at Night, not the KKK, Caleb said in a statement that the picture “displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way.”

He added, “I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that’s not an excuse.”

Now, Lionel Richie tells People, “A lot of times…we grow up and we make mistakes and we look at our life behind us many times and we say, ‘God, what was I thinking about when I did that?’ This was one of those situations where we kind of give him a big hug from the three of us.”

“He has definitely has a talent,” Lionel added. “The problem is, this is one of those unfortunate decisions that had to be made and we move on. But this will be remembered in his lifetime and he’ll know what it’s all about.”

Luke Bryan, meanwhile, said that “decisions got made and it’s our job as judges to show up and do our best job and comment on the kids who are in front of us.”

“But we wish nothing but the best for Caleb,” he added.

Earlier in the season, contestant Wyatt Pike also abruptly left the competition for as-yet unrevealed “personal reasons.”

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