American Idol” crowned a new winner last night (May 22). Twenty-year old Louisa, Kentucky native Noah Thompson sealed the deal with a sultry performance of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and his original song, “One Day Tonight.” He beat out fellow country artist, HunterGirl.

After Thompson’s rendition of “I’m on Fire” — from Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” album — judge Katy Perry foreshadowed his victory. “So many people have fallen in love during that song, used it as their first-dance song,” she said. “I think you just swooped in and grabbed every heart in America by singing that song.”


Thompson also performed Rihanna’s “Stay,” his out-of-the-box pick from early in the season, and delivered a perfect duet with powerhouse Melissa Etheridge for her hit, “I’m The Only One.”

“Oh my God … my heart is beating out of my chest, this is crazy,” a stunned Thompson said after being announced the winner.

Thompson’s victory caps an incredible journey that began while he was laying down sheetrock on a construction job, and his friend Arthur signed him up for the show’s virtual “Idol Across America” online auditions.

“As a kid, all I thought about was just playing music, being famous,” Thompson said in his initial “American Idol” audition. “But where I’m from, you don’t really get much opportunities. My family, they believe in me. The guys I work with believe in me. But I’ve just never believed in myself … I would have never signed myself up for nothing like this. I’ve never had that confidence. It’s pretty cool to know that somebody believes in you more than you believe in yourself.”

To his surprise, he passed that round and made it to an audition in front of the judges, who saw something in Thompson as well.

Each week, Thompson found his own voice, be it via the bluegrass stylings of The Steeldrivers’ “Blue Side of the Mountain” or bucking the country trend with “Falling” by Harry Styles. His journey continued with Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.”

During the season, the show’s 20th since debuting on Fox in 2002, “Idol” judge Luke Bryan threw Thompson a monkey wrench, assigning him John Mayer’s “Heartbreak Warfare.” The choice prompted Perry to crack, “Who’s going to pay for an extra hour of therapy?” (Thompson, who thought Perry picked the song for him, didn’t know Perry and Mayer dated.)

Disney Week gave the at-home audience a chance to see Thompson surprised by his girlfriend, Angel, and son in Disneyland, a prelude to a cute performance of “You’ve Got A Friend in Me,” dedicated to Arthur.

Thompson’s finest hour, however, happened in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19, forcing a performance from his hotel room for the songs “Painted Blue” by Sunday Best and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” for his grandmother.

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“You know, when you’re sick, you’re sounding a lot better,” said judge Lionel Richie. By May 15, Thompson had recovered, but was still required to participate in his mentor session with Carrie Underwood via Zoom. He took on the ambitious “So Small” and Larry Fleet’s “Working Man” for his shot at the top three to advance.

The final standings for the finale found HunterGirl, 23, placing second with “Dancing in the Dark,” her original song “Red Bird,” and her reprise of “Riot,” while Leah Marlene, 20, came in third after performing “Cover Me,” which Richie deemed too obscure a Springsteen song.

Said Richie: “I’m telling you, it is important: Song choice is everything now. Familiarity — you want the audience to be singing along with you.”