American Idol saved one of the best for last — Julia Gagnon.

Raised in Cumberland, Maine, the 21-year-old college student has spent time in the school of hard knocks.

Gagnon was born in Guatemala, and put up for adoption as a baby. Childhood in the U.S. was mostly a blast, surrounded by a loving family. But she experienced bullying in school.

“In Maine, not a lot of people look like me. And it was really hard to deal with,” she explained in the pre-recorded spot. It still touches a raw nerve.

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Gagnon was always curious about her birth family, and in her late teens embarked on a journey to find them. Her father hired a private investigator, and in 2020 located the youngster’s birth mother, Sara.

“She did let me know that she didn’t want me to go,” Gagnon said, adding that Sara conceded she wasn’t able to provide a better life.

The Idol stage would provide a platform for Gagnon to “do something for” her birth mom. “I felt really helpless, because I can’t go to her in Guatemala. It’s really far. But she’s really proud of my voice. And she wanted to see me do something big.”

For an amateur singer, there are few bigger stages than Idol.

As the final audition for season 22, Gagnon brought out the big guns. The hopeful sang Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t Not Way,” peppered with high notes, and low, feel, control, power and oozing soul. That big thing, it happened.

Proof of it came when the judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie gave a standing ovation.

“Did that come out of your mouth,” Richie remarked. “I am in shock. I grew up with Aretha Franklin. There are certain songs you just don’t sing. Because you can’t touch the original. You just made it not only your song, but you did things that were just beyond. That was amazing. That was absolutely outstanding.”

Bryan was touched by her “amazing falsetto,” and Perry was convinced that she has “several soul singers” inside her.” Not just one. You could go really far. You could be top 10.”

She’s certainly going to Hollywood. Gagnon earned the final Platinum Ticket for the season.

Watch the performance from ABC’s American Idol below.

Lars Brandle
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