Claudia Conway made her “American Idol” debut on Sunday, with appearances from both of the 16-year-old’s famous parents and judge Katy Perry quizzing her about her well-being.
The teenager was joined at her taping by her father, Republican attorney George Conway, while mother Kellyanne Conway appeared via video call before and after Claudia — spoiler alert — made it to the next round of auditions. She first sang Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain,” but when that failed to impress the panel, went for Adele’s “When We Were Young.” Judges Perry and Lionel Ritchie voted her through. Luke Bryan declined.
There was a focus on Conway’s backstory and well-being, with Perry asking, “Are you OK?” and giving her a pep talk about finding herself amid “the noise” of her parents’ public lives.
Asked if she was OK, Conway initially replied, “No” — but then added, “No, but yes, I’m good.”
When Perry suggested the reality was more “yes and no,” Conway agreed, “Yeah.”
For what it’s worth, Bryan did not seem to recognize Conway or know her backstory — which the teen explained in a prerecorded interview: “When your mom’s working for the president of the United States, who you very much disagree with, it’s really hard.”
Still, the on-air moment drew heavy criticism, both in op-eds and social media posts. Numerous media figures and critics questioned whether ABC is “exploiting” the teen and her explosive private life, which has often been made public through her TikTok videos. Others cautioned against tweeting or commenting harshly on the actions of such a young girl.
Conway’s “American Idol” appearance was teased in a commercial last week, though she herself first revealed she auditioned for the long-running singing competition on TikTok in November, as 16-year-olds do. Also on TikTok in recent months, she’s suggested her mother is verbally abusive and reacted to allegations that her mother, a former figure in Donald Trump’s administration, posted a topless photo of her on her Twitter account. (Local police in Alpine, New Jersey, launched an investigation into the photo leak.)
Last Monday, she posted follow-up TikToks as she began trending on Twitter, revealing, “I’ve been singing my whole life. I grew up in musical theater. Music has been one of the pillars in my life and I wouldn’t be here without it. I play about eight instruments. I’ve just been doing it since I could walk.”
She denied that her appearance is “a publicity stunt” and she is “a joke because of [her] parents or whatever,” but noted that “American Idol” reached out to her after seeing a video she posted of herself singing.