An upcoming episode of American Idol promises to make us all ugly-cry. During an audition, contestant John Wayne Hatfield shares an emotional story of how his grandpa, his “best friend” all his life, finally came out to him.
In an official preview clip, Hatfield, 21, steps onto the stage, declaring right away that he is “real nervous.” At the judges’ request, he describes his background, how he grew up in Goshen, Ohio and how he was raised by his grandparents due to his mother’s struggles with addiction.
In spite of these family troubles, Hatfield describes his childhood as “the best life [he] could have asked for,” thanks to his grandparents. “My grandma was my mom,” he says. “My grandpa was always my best friend. He would go out in the backyard and climb trees with me all the time.”
Moving onto his performance, Hatfield gears up for a song he wrote called “Tell Me, Ray” after his grandpa’s name. The judges decide that it’s only right Ray should be brought in to listen, so Hatfield goes backstage to fetch him. By the time Ray is seated on a stool in front of the cameras, he is wiping tears from his eyes.
After a transition to the prerecorded background footage, Hatfield describes the fallout from his grandma’s passing three years ago. “Watching my grandpa was the hardest thing…he lost his best friend of 50 years,” says Hatfield. “He wouldn’t talk to anybody for about a year-and-a-half — not even me.”
Ray recalls meeting his future wife at sixteen, whom he would eventually come out to. “She said, ‘I love you, and it’s okay,'” Ray says.
After not speaking to his grandson for over a year following his wife’s death, Ray came out to him. “John was the last person I told because I was scared he would stop loving me,” says Ray through tears.
But Hatfield immediately offered his full love and support. “I just wanted to put it out there right away, like, ‘Hey, don’t think that’s going to change a damn thing between me and you because you’re my best friend, and you’re my dad,’” Hatfield recalls.
Fighting for composure, Ray says, “It turned out that he was there for me more than anybody.”
The song “Tell Me, Ray,” is about how the two grew closer when Ray shared who he really is. Back in the audition, Hatfield performs the emotional song, earning a standing ovation from the judges and a “yes” all around. Ray is so teary-eyed by the end that Lionel Richie gets up to offer a personal handkerchief.
The episode featuring John and Ray will air February 26 on ABC.