American Idol: McKenna Breinholt Sings Late Mom’s Song, Story Has a Tragic Twist

American Idol 2024 - McKenna Breinholt
(Disney/Eric McCandless) MCKENNA BREINHOLT

American Idol 2024: McKenna Breinholt sings late mom’s “Tumbleweed” as she meets her birth family amid a tragic twist

American Idol is back! Season 22 premiered on Sunday night and what a premiere it was! The editing team deserves some credit as the episode was filled full of emotion yet the talent of the singers still shined through. This season is all about the judges and contestants roots, and how fitting was it that we ended the night with an audition from McKenna Breinholt who had the most special family reunion to date on American Idol as she discovers her roots. (Read our Recap)

However, what the episode did not reveal was more details regarding McKenna’s mom’s life. She died after struggling with a chronic disease, and afterward, her husband took his own life

You know an audition is special when the show previews nearly the whole thing two weeks early. The initial edit of the audition that we covered on the blog, showcased McKenna’s talent, singing, “There Was Jesus” by Dolly Parton and Zach Williams. We learned that McKenna, a 25 year old esthetician from Gilbert, Arizona was adopted, but when she was ready to meet her birth mom at the age of 21, she was informed she had passed away, and that her name was Amy Ross Lopez, a talented singer. McKenna’s adopted family do not sing.

(Disney/Eric McCandless) MCKENNA BREINHOLT

McKenna is joined by her Grandma Pauline and her Birth Family

After McKenna performs, she reveals that her mother performed in a band called Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl. McKenna describes Amy as a “wild child, but a cool girl.” McKenna is then asked to bring her family in, and she is shocked when she sees her birth family alongside her adopted family. The emotion is so real and raw with Katy exclaiming, “I just said go get your family” as she realizes what had happened. She then has each family join McKenna at her side, dividing her birth family (the Lopez’s) to one side and the Breinholt’s to the other side. Katy is in tears and asks if McKenna can play one of her mom, Amy’s, songs.

McKenna Honors Late Mom Amy Ross Lopez with a performance of her song “Tumbleweed”

American Idol 2024 - McKenna Breinholt
(Disney/Eric McCandless) MCKENNA BREINHOLT

McKenna sings the folky “Tumbleweed” by Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl and it is even prettier than her initial audition. She’s got a storytelling voice that is gorgeous. It has a bit of the smokiness that Season 17 standout Laci Kaye Booth had and the huskiness that Season 18 standout Julia Gargano possessed. She has the makings of a front runner. Her family is in awe of the moment with her one birth relative exclaiming, “McKenna, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Pauline, her grandma, said, “it’s like a ghost.”

Katy remarks, “music is connection, music is emotion, music is heart. You’re not the only person out there searching for your birth family.” She said others can relate and calls her adoptive parents “wonderful” to be so “open, loving, and supportive about this.” She calls McKenna’s singing “healing.” The 3 judges send her through with 3 big yeses with Katy saying, “Amy Ross Lopez told me to tell you yes.” The show ends with Amy Ross Lopez’s “Tumbleweed” playing in the background.

The music video of “Tumbleweed” can be found here. The song is beautiful. McKenna truly got her talent from her mom. Her group, Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl released two albums that are available on streaming, “Just Like The Others” (2008) and “Children of Fortune” (2010), and from the few songs I listened to, Amy was a very talented singer and songwriter.

Amy Ross Lopez died in 2013 after a battle with the autoimmune disease, Lupus, her husband died by suicide days later.

According to Amy’s obituary from The Billings Gazette dated October 22, 2013, she died on October 14 of that year from complications of systemic Lupus. Born on September 11, 1973 in Billings, she began playing the piano by ear at age 4

She married her husband Derrick Ross in her 20s and they stayed married until her death. It’s not clear if Derrick was McKenna’s father, but the two had no children together otherwise. He was the “Nowhere Man” in the couple’s duo. Tragically, Ross died by suicide. According to an article from The Herald Review, Ross bought a gun two days after Amy’s death and shot himself in the head.

Ten years later, the couple were so beloved, that a documentary was created chronicling the duo’s musical partnership. A friend remarked, ““The one thing I know about Derrick and Amy is that they wanted people to hear their music. For an artist, their art is their legacy. They just want to put it out there.” And now Amy’s daughter serves to advance her mother’s legacy through her own talent.

Dolly Parton and Zach Williams React to McKenna’s Viral Audition

After the initial preview of her audition, Zach Williams and Dolly Parton, the singers of McKenna’s audition song, reacted to her audition. Zach Williams and the American Idol page co-posted the reaction to Instagram. Both Zach and Dolly liked her raspy tone. Dolly said, “I think Jesus was right there”. They wished her luck in the competition and called it a “blessing” that she picked the song.

Premiere Night was a good start to Season 22

Overall, the premiere episode was full of talent and beautiful moments. McKenna’s touching audition and Ajii’s take on “Lose Control” stood out as the best auditions of the night as they were unique and brought artistry to the table. However, past NFL player Blake Proehl who brought pop perfection to “In Case You Didn’t Know” could be a future star. Additionally, we saw two nice takes on “Bring It On Home To Me”. One was by platinum ticket winner, Odell Bunton Jr. who brought big vocals and a whole lot of runs to and another was by British born Mackenzie Sol who brought real emotion and soulful vocals to the song.

About Blake Busch 242 Articles
I am a graduate of Drake University with a BSBA in marketing and minor in data analytics. My favorite shows to follow are American Idol and The Voice. I also love crime thrillers, Top Chef, and Masterchef. My hobbies include cooking, baking, playing basketball, and watching sports.