Multiple award-winning singer-songwriter Luke Bryan is a popular country music artist – and a very rich man. He’s sold millions of albums, definitely no small feat. But it would seem like he genuinely deserves all the success he has, not just because he’s talented, but because he’s nice.
And Bryan demonstrated this kindness during an episode of American Idol. As a judge on the show, one of his jobs is to look out for the contestants – and be a friend to them if at all possible. During the 2019 season, Bryan decided to pay an extra amount of attention to a young man who came out on stage.
The teenage contestant, Colby Swift, came dressed as a cowboy, something a country music singer like Bryan would notice. And he also noticed something else. Indeed, with everybody watching, he called for the camera to focus on Swift’s shoes, leading to a touching moment afterwards.
American Idol has been going since 2002, and has had multiple judging panels over the years. Ever since season 16, the main judges have been Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan – all people with lots of experience in the music industry. They watch the contestants auction and give their thoughts.
For his part, Bryan has long been a fan of American Idol. The singer told Rolling Stone in 2018, “I remember being inspired by it as a young musician. The main thing with me is I remember when Carrie Underwood [the winner of season four] rolled into Nashville. It energized the whole city.”
Of course, Bryan was over the moon when he was asked to do American Idol. He told Rolling Stone the series “felt like it was going to be a blast to be a part of.” He added, “I jumped right on it. It was never a moment’s thought for me, because I get inspired. I judge and I watch this like a fan of music.”
And one of Bryan’s main motivations for going on the show was getting a chance to interact with the contestants. The singer continued, “I’m in there on the emotional ride with these kids. When they start singing and they are moving me emotionally, I get wrapped up in the moment.”
Meanwhile, Bryan knows all about emotional rides, in every sense of the word. His own backstory is every bit as saddening as the tales revealed on American Idol. When Bryan was 19, he was preparing for a career in music when his older brother Chris died in a car accident. And the news devastated the whole family.
But tragically, another similar awful event took place when Bryan was an adult. His sister Kelly, the mother of three children, died suddenly at her house. Doctors and researchers could never name what exactly it was that killed her. Bryan told 20/20 in 2013, “My only older siblings… gone from the world, in a flash in two, two different, crazy, tragic manners we’ll never know, and never understand.”
Sadly, tragedy struck the family once again after the children’s father Ben Lee Cheshire died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2014. Two of Kelly’s children were actually adults by that point, but Bryan and his wife Caroline decided to take in the one who was still a teenager, Til.
It was, of course, a very emotional time for Bryan. He told People in 2013, “I woke up one day and I’m raising a teen. And it’s a challenge because my main thing with Til is just properly giving the right amount of advice and realizing you’re talking to someone who is becoming an adult. I have to be that parent role where if he does something, he needs to get in trouble, but I want to be a friend to him too.”
Meanwhile, Bryan drew on his own life experiences in order to connect with some of the contestants on American Idol. During the first episode of the 2019 season, he met Nick Townsend, who had lost both of his brothers to suicide. In the video, uploaded to the show’s official YouTube channel, Bryan tells him, “I haven’t brought this up on this show because I haven’t had to, but as somebody that – I’ve lost both of my siblings – I just applaud you for keeping a positive attitude and continuing to fight and just try to be a light for your parents.”
After that, in episode four of the season, there was another contestant who Bryan was drawn to, Colby Swift. The teenager’s story was relayed for the audience and it definitely tugged on the heartstrings. Swift’s mother had abandoned the family when he was ten years old, leaving after she said she was going to get ice cream.
By comparison, Bryan is very close to his own mother. He is her last surviving child and he’s very aware of that. He told Billboard in 2018, “I’ll get random calls from her when she’s having bad days. One day, she’s missing my brother and one day, she’s missing my sister. And one day, she wants to be around me more, because I’m all she’s got left.”
Meanwhile, Swift’s audition for American Idol, also uploaded to the show’s YouTube channel, is full of jokes, which amuse Bryan immensely. He sees himself in the young man, telling judges Perry and Ritchie, “I don’t know if a kid has ever walked in here and been more me at nineteen.” But when Swift’s pre-filmed story is shown, it opens with him saying, “I look like a kid who just jokes around all the time, but all that joking is to get what happened in the past off of me.”
In the video, Swift tells the story of his mother’s abandonment. “When I was a kid, it was my sister’s birthday, we were all playing outside and stuff, and I see my mom’s car. I asked my dad, I screamed, ‘Hey, where’d mama go?’ He goes, ‘She went to get some ice cream, she’ll be back…’ My mom turned around from the car, looked at me and smiled. I guess the line was long, because I haven’t seen her in nine years.”
Swift had to deal with guilt at a very young age. He explains, “It was hard after my mom left, it was. As a little kid you don’t know what to do. If you caused it, if you did it.” Indeed, he thought about his mother all the time, but eventually he tried to put the past behind him, adding, “I just keep on looking forward.”
In his video segment, Swift says he did have one supportive parent, however. He adds, “My dad has always been there for me, no matter what I do in music he always has my back.” And Swift’s dad Justin contributes his thoughts, saying, “It’s emotional for me when I hear Colby sing, cos he’s gone through so much in his life. It just makes me proud, I am his biggest fan.”
Swift continues, “Music is my dream and American Idol’s about that. I wanna be a hero country singer. I’m shooting for the moon.” Then, the camera cuts back to the audition room, and Bryan speaks first. He tells the teenager, “First of all, I’m glad you’re here. We’re excited to hear you, man.”
In the video segment, Swift puts on a performance of “Cast No Stones” by country music singer Cody Jinks. However, the judges aren’t entirely sure if his singing is strong enough. Once done, Swift says, “I’ll be honest with you, I’m very nervous.” But the judges are intrigued, with Bryan adding, “You’re interesting.”
Perry tells the young singer, “Colby, first and foremost, you’ve got something.” But she isn’t sure about his music, saying, “It’s inconsistent – meaning it needs a lot of work. It’s just not completely there yet. Unfortunately, now’s your shot.” So would Swift go through to the next round, after all that?
Luckily, Richie decides to support him, adding, “Let me tell you what you can’t teach. That magnetism which makes people look at you and go ‘Now who the heck is that?’ You’ve got something that makes us pay attention to you.” And Bryan concurs, “You’re just unpolished, man, you’re so unpolished. Anyway, um, let’s vote.”
Despite his being “unpolished,” Swift is sent through to the next round. Bryan says, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to let you leave us.” And Richie has high praise too, adding, “I’m just in awe. Okay? I love what you’re about. I love your presence. And then you open your mouth and start singing. It’s a yes from me.”
Meanwhile, the next time Swift saw Bryan and the other judges, it was for the show’s “Hollywood Week.” And the video was again uploaded onto American Idol’s official YouTube channel in March 2019. This time around, he’s seen dressed as a cowboy and he announces that he will be performing Freddy Fender’s song “Before the Last Teardrop Falls,” dedicating the tune to his little sister.
However, Bryan speaks up and stops the song before Swift can really get started. He asks, “Colby, could you sing this without the guitar? The Spanish part?” And Swift immediately begins doing that. Thankfully, the audience sound impressed – there are plenty of cheers to be heard in the background.
Footage shows the audience going wild after Swift’s performance is over and backstage, he is overcome with emotion. He says, “I never thought I’d get a standing ovation, man.” But at the judge’s panel, Bryan brings up something he had noticed. The singer tells Richie and Perry, “Both pairs of his boots have holes in the bottom.”
Richie adds, “Well, we can get him a pair of new [shoes].” And that’s exactly what Bryan decides to do. Later, he speaks to Swift on the stage again, asking, “Colby, can you show the camera the bottom of your shoes there?” So Swift upturns his feet to show everyone his battered-looking footwear.
In the video, Bryan then asks, “What size shoe are you…? It wouldn’t be a 12D, would it?” And Swift answers with, “I mean, whatever fits.” Bryan then announces, “Well, I’m a 12D, I’ll solve that little problem.” And as everyone applauds and gasps, Bryan brings out a pair of his own cowboy boots and handed them over to Swift.
Needless to say, Swift is absolutely thrilled. Then at the urging of the judges, he puts the boots on. Then Bryan announces into the mic, “Colby, those boots are made for walking to the next round. Your whole line is going to the next round.” Once more, the members of the audience burst into cheering and applause.
Meanwhile, people watching the show, as well as those on it, were impressed with Bryan’s kind deed. Maggie Freemont, writing for Entertainment Weekly, wrote, “You guys! I knew we’d have some emotional singing to make me feel not dead inside, but I didn’t know we’d have Luke Freaking Bryan giving a kid the shoes off his own feet.”
However, American Idol is a fierce competition – and Swift didn’t make it all the way through to the end. Unfortunately, while participating in the group rounds, Swift forgot the lyrics to the song he was meant to be singing, “Grenade” by Bruno Mars. Because of this, he was eliminated from the show.
Bryan gave Swift a big hug before he left. According to The Daily Mail, he said, “They told me those boots were your lucky boots, and then you put my boots on and this happens.” Obviously, Swift was disappointed, but he still appeared to have enjoyed the experience. Aside from anything else, he had gained a valuable keepsake.
Swift had won over three talented musicians with his performances, definitely no small feat. The newspaper added that he said, “To have Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Katy Perry stand up for me – that’s a blessing, man. I am leaving with my head held high – and Luke Bryan’s boots. They’re my boots now, they ain’t yours no more.”
Apparently, many fans were not at all happy to see Swift go. Directing anger towards the judges, one user wrote on Twitter in March 2019, “You all are so unfair, you cut Colby Swift for forgetting the lyrics of some song he probably never heard, but then you put the next guy that forgot the lyrics through, to be fair you need to call Colby back.”
But things worked out fine for Swift in the end. In June 2019 not long after his TV appearance, a record company nabbed him. A post Swift shared on Facebook that month said, “Cotton Blossom Music is excited to announce that Colby Swift has officially signed with our team… Welcome to the team Colby!”
And later that month, Swift shared a link on Facebook implying that he would be auditioning for The Voice. For its part, the show is another TV talent competition which has ordinary people show off their musical skills in front of a panel of judges, who are currently Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton, John Legend and Kelly Clarkson.
As for Bryan, he thinks that encountering people such as Swift has helped him grow as a person. He told Today in July 2019, “Just when I think I’ve got it bad, you meet somebody else that’s dealing with really, really challenging stuff.” Indeed, so many of the American Idol contestants, like Swift, have had obstacles in their lives.
Bryan told Today, “… The way I conduct myself, hopefully, and the way our family can inspire some people, you know, that’s the special element… I have so many fans walk up and go, ‘You know, just the way you lived through tragedies really inspired our family to get through our own personal tragedies and struggles.’”
Apparently, Bryan wants to come back for the next season of American Idol, if his fellow judges do. He told People in May 2019, “We’re proud of what people at home are watching. I mean, I know Lionel and Katy are getting it when we walk down the street when somebody comes up and says, ‘We love the way you’re treating these kids on American Idol.’ It truly feels really great!”