Cecil Ray Keeps It Country on ‘American Idol,’ and Gets Jimmie Allen’s Phone Number [Watch]
American Idol contestant Cecil Ray proved his passion for country music during Sunday night's episode (April 4), opting for selections within the genre for both his solo and duet performances.
When he took the stage alone, Ray opted for Tracy Lawrence's 2004 hit "Paint Me a Birmingham," offering a performance that was soulful despite some pitch issues and the extra nerves that came with performing in front of a live, in-person audience. The Idol hopeful got an extra boost of confidence from his duet partner and mentor, Jimmie Allen, who bonded with him over some mutual life experiences they share.
Ray opened up to the country star about some of the money struggles he'd been going through as he tried to grow his musical career. "It's not easy, I can tell you that much. I mean, financially, I'm not where I wanna be," the young singer admitted.
That's something that Allen could easily understand: He's been vocal about the fact that he was homeless for a period of time after moving to Nashville in pursuit of a career in country music. The two artists also share another important life experience, too, in that they're both fathers.
Ray has an infant daughter, and on an earlier episode of Idol, he shared that a big part of his motivation for trying out for the show was to teach his baby girl to follow her dreams. Meanwhile, Allen is now a father of two; while he was getting his start in music, though, he was a dad to young son Aadyn.
"I look at you and I see me. I was broke, bro," Allen told Ray with a laugh. "But it was something in my son that kinda kept me moving forward...Think about your daughter, remember why you're here."
The pair has such a strong connection, in fact, that Allen grabbed Ray's phone and put his number into the younger singer's contact list, making him promise to get in touch after his run on American Idol was over. "I'm here because someone decided to help me, and if I can be that for Cecil, I'm down for it," Allen explained.
The extra confidence boost led to a more focused performance from Ray during the All-Star Duets portion of the show. He and Allen sang "Freedom Was a Highway," which Allen originally performed as a duet with Brad Paisley.
In their feedback, judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie critiqued Ray's pitch issues and lack of self-confidence. "Cecil, you're the underdog here. You know, the movie about the underdog, they gotta take that turn at one point. So you need to start taking that turn," Perry told him.
"You kinda got swallowed up a little bit. There was just some pitch problems that I haven't really heard from you," agreed Bryan. "And I don't know if it's just because of the crazy room and the band and lights and camera and action...Just understand, man, it's gonna get harder every round, and you're gonna have to be on point, every round."
For his part, Richie was sympathetic to Ray's confidence issues. "I just saw myself onstage about a hundred years ago. It's stage presence and attitude. Your hand got stuck in your pocket and you haven't pulled it out yet...Attitude is what we need now," said Richie.
American Idol airs on Sunday and Monday nights at 8PM ET on ABC.
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