“You’re top-10 material” – Katy Perry
“You just knocked my socks off” – Lionel Richie
“You remind me how untalented I am” – Luke Bryan
That barely scratches the surface of the praise Walker Burroughs received from the three American Idol judges during his televised audition earlier this month.
But the experience left the 20-year-old from Birmingham, Alabama, mesmerized.
“Truthfully, I don’t remember most of what happened in that room.”
What’s easier for him to recall is how he came to be a contestant on the current season of the popular ABC program.
A large part of it was the influence of his parents, Colleen and David Burroughs. They are the founders of Passport, Inc., a multidenominational ministry of summer camps, educational programs and missions. But they also were each from highly musical families. David Burroughs’ father, Bob Burroughs, is an accomplished composer of church music.
“We all grew up around the piano or around the table, singing,” David Burroughs said.
Their son made his musical debut at a Passport camp when he was in elementary school. Colleen Burroughs said she could tell then he possessed something special.
“I thought ‘oh my word, this is something very different,’” she said. “From the first, it’s been like air to him. He’s really natural.”
She isn’t the only one to see that in Walker Burroughs.
“You have a super-cool, pro vibe,” Idol judge and pop-star Katy Perry said after Burroughs played the piano and sang Ben Rector’s “Love Like This.”
At Luke Bryan’s request, Burroughs followed with a performance of a portion of Lionel Richie’s hit “Hello.”
“I want to put you in front of some talent and blow the competition away,” Richie responded.
Richie, Perry and Bryan presented Burroughs with a golden ticket, possibly advancing him to the show’s Hollywood round. The next episode airs from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, but neither network officials nor Burroughs would comment on whether he appears in that or any future episodes.
Burroughs shared about his American Idol experience with Baptist News Global. Some of his comments are presented here, edited for clarity.
What’s it like to be famous?
Oh gosh. I don’t know if I’m, like, famous. In Birmingham people recognize me. I’ll just be walking through the grocery store and people will say “I’m pulling for you.” I was in the drive-thru at Zaxby’s and the person behind the window said: “Oh my God, you’re Walker Burroughs.” It’s extremely new to me. I’m still trying to maintain myself, keep the intentional interactions I like to have with people.
Your interaction with Lionel Richie and the other judges – was any of it scripted?
I have been shocked at how real it is. The interaction between the performers and the reactions from the judges and interactions with judges is all super-real. We have never done a second take with it. That is all filmed and is all exactly what happened in that moment. Yeah, the judges are theatrical sometimes, and that’s part of what the audience wants. My interaction with Lionel Ritchie – I think we just connected.
How did it feel to hear him say you had knocked his socks off?
I remember feeling really good afterward and knowing I had done my best. When we watched the take for the first time, when I sang “Hello” and did that little wave, I said out loud: “I did that?” I hadn’t remembered any of the big parts of it.
How did you remain so composed and at-ease in that audition?
I’m going to credit a lot of this to past experience but largely to Belmont (University). I get to perform super-often because I am a music performance major at school. While I was absolutely terrified, I have enough experience to make it look like I’m relaxed. What typically happens when I perform is I get terrified and nervous and then I start performing and the nerves go away. That’s what happened in high school at the talent shows and I was amazed that it worked in this situation.
Have you been approached by an agent?
I have not. It’s only been that one episode. But I have had people reach out for little gigs. The local baseball team asked me to come sing the national anthem.
How long have you been into music?
My family is extremely musical. My dad writes music. My mom sings. My grandpa was a composer. I started the guitar in the third grade and piano around the same time. In middle and high school I got into the band programs and later the choir program, and that made me want to study music education.
How involved were you with Passport growing up?
I went to Passport before I was old enough to go to Passport and I went all the way to the 12th grade. Some summers I went to two different Passports camps. In the fourth grade, I got to perform in the variety show at camp. I did “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. It was my first performance in front of people, ever. I think it ultimately led me to be the musician I am.
How are your parents handling all of this?
They are basically as supportive as any parents can be. They’re telling me to keep yourself grounded and remember where your gift comes from.
What was your professional goal before American Idol – and has it changed now?
It was to be a choir teacher in a high school. But I have never been opposed to the idea of pursuing a music career in performance and writing and releasing music. I just thought it was unrealistic. I’m down for putting music teaching on hold while I see how far I can go with this.
What have you learned from being on this early stage of the show?
The thing I’m learning right now is about self-confidence. I think for my entire life I have equated any form of self-confidence to arrogance. My discovery recently is that it’s ok to have self-confidence. I’m learning the language of being confident in myself without being arrogant.